The Best Potting Soil: Choose The Right Potting Mix

The Best Potting Soils: How to Choose The Right Potting Mix For Your Plants


If you’re growing in containers, chances are good you’re using some kind of potting soil for your precious plants.

But what if I told you that the “soil” in your pot isn’t technically “soil” at all? What if I told you that it’s a mix made of composted tree materials, peat moss, and a myriad of other ingredients?​

Well, it’s true. Potting soil is a man-made creation that is in some ways superior to normal garden soil when it comes to growing plants in containers or pots.

In this article, you’ll learn exactly what potting soil is, what makes good potting soil, and some of the best brands and recommendations for different types of plants.​

Potting Mix Options From Amazon:

  • Best Brands: Espoma and Fox Farm
  • Best for Orchids: Sun Bulb Better Gro
  • Best for Succulents: Hoffman Cactus Mix
  • Best Organic Option: Black Gold Organic

The Best Potting Soil

As with many things, there is no one singular “best” potting soil on the market. The best potting mix will depend on what you’re trying to grow and how much you want to spend.

That said, here are my top recommendations, broken down by brand and by what type of plant you’re trying to grow.​

Top Potting Soil Brands

Because there are so many different brands available for purchase, we decided to provide you with information on the best potting soil around.

Here are the overall top three brands that we particularly enjoy:


Espoma Organic Potting Soil Mix - All Natural Potting Mix For All Indoor & Outdoor Containers...
  • FOR USE ON: Not just an indoor potting soil, this...
  • CONTAINS: This organic soil for plants &...
  • MYCO-TONE: A proprietary blend of endo & ecto...

The Espoma Company is a family-owned organic potting soil brand that has been in operation for over 90 years. They know how to create high-quality potting mixes full of organic materials that perform well for almost any type of plant.

Fox Farm

FoxFarm Ocean Forest FX14000 -1.5 Cubic Foot Organic Potting Soil
  • SIZE: 38.6 quarts of FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting...
  • APPLICATION: Ultimate potting soil that has...
  • CONTENTS: Blend of earthworm castings, bat guano,...

Fox Farm makes one of the coolest bags of potting mix on the market. But aside from the design, they also include a lot of things that other mixes don’t: crab meal, fish emulsion, and a good mix of aerating and water-retention ingredients.

It’s a bit more expensive than most, but their Ocean Forest Potting Soil is some of the best you can get.

The Best Potting Soil for Specific Plants

As we mentioned earlier, certain plants require special types of potting soil. Here are some popular plants and our favorite potting soils to use with them:

Best Seed Starter For Vegetables

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This is an excellent mix for seed-starting, and it’s perfect for all your fruit and veggie starts. Once your plants have gotten off to the right start, go ahead and fertilize or transplant as needed into your regular garden soil of choice.

Best Potting Soil For Succulents

Hoffman 10404 Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix, 4 Quarts, Brown/A
  • Provides the drainage cacti need to flourish.
  • You will receive (1) 4-quart bag with this order.
  • Ready to use, so that you don’t need to take the...

For cacti and succulents, we recommend using Hoffman Organic Cactus and Succulent Mix. It will ensure that your plants have the proper drainage that they need and will prevent them from being too overwatered.

Best Potting Soil For Orchids

Better-Gro Special Orchid Mix - Premium Grade Orchid Bark Potting Mix for Potting, Repotting,...
  • Multi purpose potting mixture for growing...
  • A Dynamic combination of western fir bark,...
  • Promotes healthy, strong growth by providing...

For orchids, we recommend using the Sun Bulb Better Gro Special Orchid Mix. It is incredibly light and will allow for your orchids’ roots to be well ventilated.

Best Organic Potting Soil for Indoor Plants

Espoma Organic Potting Soil Mix - All Natural Potting Mix For All Indoor & Outdoor Containers...
  • FOR USE ON: Not just an indoor potting soil, this...
  • CONTAINS: This organic soil for plants &...
  • MYCO-TONE: A proprietary blend of endo & ecto...

When it comes to indoor potted plants, you want a potting mix that was good water retention, but is also loose and friable so it doesn’t waterlog your plants and cause root rot. You also want one full of organic materials that will fertilize your houseplants for many months on end. For this reason, we recommend Espoma Organic’s mix. It ticks all of those boxes and is produced by one of the more sustainable soil companies out there.

Best Organic Potting Mix​

Sun Gro Horticulture SUNGRO HORTICULTURE Black 8-Quart Gold 1302040 Organic Potting Soil
  • The all purpose organic potting soil that fits all...
  • Offers premium quality at outstanding saving
  • This product is made in United States

Finally, if you are looking for a potting soil not otherwise on this list that is specifically organic and are trying to avoid Miracle-Gro products, this is our recommendation: Black Gold All Organic Potting Soil.

It’s healthy, safe for your plants, and perfect for all types of gardens. Black Gold is well-known in the gardening world, having been used by many growers for decades.

What’s In Potting Soil?

Standard potting soil is generally comprised of three things:

  • Composted tree bark
  • Sphagnum peat moss
  • Vermiculite or perlite

While there can be many more ingredients, these are the base three that make up the bulk of most potting mixes.

These three ingredients are meant to hold nutrients and moisture while still giving your plants plenty of air.

What Makes a Good Potting Soil?

The simplest definition of good potting soil is this:

The best potting soil is one that offers the perfect amount of stability, nutrients, moisture, and air.​

Let’s go over each of these, one by one.


Quality potting soil will contain all of the nutrients that your plants need to thrive. They will include humus, finished compost, and / or gypsum and other ingredients to ensure optimal nutrition.


High quality potting soil will be light, fluffy, and not compact easily. It will allow the roots to access air and oxygen so they can develop optimally.​

Moisture Retention

While aeration is important, the best potting soil must balance aeration with water retention. They need to drain well to avoid mold or rot, but hold on to some moisture so your plant’s roots can drink.​


Good potting soil will have a consistency that makes it easy for plants to anchor their roots. It provides stability for a plant’s root system, preventing them from falling over or being torn out by the wind.

Weight vs. Quality

It’s important to understand that the quality of your potting soil is not directly related to its weight.

It’s easy to mistakenly assume that the heavier your potting soil is, the better it will be for your garden. In actuality, potting soil only ever becomes heavy due to two reasons: it is very wet, or it has lots of sand in it. Some companies also add in normal dirt or sedge peat, weighing the mix down.

None of these things are good, and it is best to avoid them.

Mold or Fungal Growth

Mold on potting mix.

Potting soils available for sale at garden centers are almost always sterilized and treated, meaning they should be free of mold or fungal issues. But once you open up the bag, you’re exposing it to mold, fungus, and mildew.​

Generally speaking, light mildew, fungi, and mold are not big issues. They usually will be dried up by the sun without ever causing any harm to your plants, and they are simply a sign that your soil might be too moist.

If you do want to prevent them from growing, though, simply spread out your potting soil on a sheet and let it dry in the sun for a few days before use.

Fertilizer Types: Slow Release vs. Starter

When you look at all the different types of potting soil available, you will most likely notice that many of them will mention fertilizer and use phrases such as “starter charge” and “slow release.”

Starter Charge​

If a potting soil says that it has a “starter charge” of fertilizer, this simply means that it contains enough fertilizer to last your plant through the first few times it is watered. You will still most likely need to add your own fertilizer to the soil, but the starter charge at least helps your plants to get through the initial stages of their growth.

Slow Release​

If a potting soil says that it has “slow release” fertilizer, this means that it contains slightly more fertilizer, but only enough for approximately a month.

Again, you will have to eventually add your own fertilizer, but slow release will last for at least a few weeks.

Maintaining Moisture

In addition to fertilizer, many potting soils will also contain added chemicals or ingredients that are meant to help retain moisture. This is a great feature, and it allows you to water your plants a little less often than normal.

You still will need to keep an eye on everything and make sure that you do not leave your garden for too long, but it does give you some breathing space.

An important thing to keep in mind with potting soil that has water retaining features is that you must avoid overwatering. Because the soil holds more water than normal, you will have to make sure that your normal watering patterns do not leave it too saturated.

Mulch, Manure, & Garden Soil

A question often asked by new gardeners is:

“Can I use mulch, garden soils, or manure as a replacement for potting soil?”​

The short answer to this question is no.

Garden soil is basically potting soil, but it is made up of worse materials like sand, unfinished compost, and heavier materials.

Mulch is composed entirely of raw wood products, and is meant to be placed on top of soil in order to prevent the evaporation of water. This does not work well with flower pots, and is better suited in outdoor gardens and landscaping.

Manure also does not work well as a base mix for potted plants. It contains high amounts of nitrogen, and should be mixed into soil to prevent it from being too concentrated. This product is better suited for outside gardens as well.

Potting soil, on the other hand, can be used for both flowers and vegetables, and it almost never runs the risk of harming a certain type of plant.

Special Potting Soil Mixes

While the basic mixture of pine bark, peat moss, and either perlite or vermiculite is sufficient for many people, there are two common situations where you might require a different mix.


Orchids require a large amount of drainage, meaning that regular potting soils are generally too heavy for them. If you plan on growing orchids, make sure to look for a specialty potting mix that is specifically meant for this flower.

Cacti and Succulents​

Cacti and succulents require soil with increased drainage. You can either look for a potting soil that is meant for these plants, or you can make a mixture of 50% regular potting soil and 50% sand.

Mixing or Making Your Own Potting Soil

Everyone likes to do things differently, and some people find that it works best when they add certain additional ingredients to their potting soil.

Plants are generally forgiving as long as they receive the right amount of water, so feel free to experiment with adding things such as plant clippings, sand, clay, and different types and amounts of fertilizer.

If you start to run out of one type of potting soil and would like to switch to another, it is also possible to mix them. Make sure that you blend them together as much as possible, and simply use your new creation as you normally would.

Last update on 2024-07-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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