Make Your Own Potting Soil

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The right potting soil is one of the secrets to gardening success. I learned long ago that it’s much cheaper to make my own potting mix!

Container gardens are on my mind, as the winter chill is easing. I like to grow a few pots of various vegetables and flowers before the usual frost-free date here, May 15, to get a jump on summer.

How to Make Potting Soil

I learned long ago that it’s much cheaper to make my own potting mix and store it in an old trash can, rather than paying for big sacks of potting mix. I can customize the mix for various plants, too.

The lighter the better when it comes to potting mix. Loose and porous mixtures not only make a container lighter to move, but they transport water, fertilizer and air to plant roots quickly.

It only takes about 20 quarts of custom-blended potting mix for this smashing window box.  It’s on the acid side, with extra peat moss to provide more moisture for the begonias and callas. Credit: Doreen G. Howard

The perfect growing mix does not contain soil or garden dirt. It’s composed of peat moss, vermiculite or perlite, sand, and shredded bark or compost. Plants such as lettuce and many flowers like Russian sage and marigolds want sweet soil with a pH of about 7.5. Some are acid lovers, like ferns, asters and strawberries. They need a pH of about 5.5 to 6.0. Start with the basic recipe below and then add soil sulfur to lower the pH or lime to raise the pH. Both additives are sold in 4-pound bags and are found at garden centers.

If rapid drainage is needed, as in the case of cacti, succulents and lavender, add extra sand. For ferns and woodland flowers like primrose that require very moist conditions, include more extra peat moss for water retention.

Potting mix is easy to make and stores well in a sealed container. Credit: Doreen G. Howard

Basic Container Mix

1 bucket (2-½ gallons) peat moss
1 bucket (2-½ gallons) vermiculite or perlite
A half bucket (1-¼ gallons) screened compost or composted cow manure
2 cups fine sand
2 cups pelleted time-release fertilizer
½ cup lime (to counter the acid of peat and keep the pH level near neutral)

Mix thoroughly. Makes enough to fill two 14-inch tubs or five 12-inch hanging baskets. Double or triple recipe for bigger containers.

How Much Mix Do You Need

Potting mix is sold by volume (measured in quarts), and most pots are measured by their diameter. To translate quarts of mix into various pot sizes, use this quick reference.

Container Size & Amount Needed

Pots & Tubs
8-inch        3 quarts
10-inch      6 quarts
12-inch      8 quarts
14-inch      12 quarts
16-inch      20 quarts
20-inch      24 quarts
24-inch      28 quarts
30-inch      72 quarts
36-inch      96 quarts

Hanging Baskets
12-inch       6 quarts
16-inch      10 quarts

Window Boxes
24-inches by 6-inches      12 quarts
36-inches by 6-inches      20 quarts

Next week, I’ll cover the right fertilizers for containers and tips for success.

So ask me questions you want answered in the comments below.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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Novice gardener

I would like to know which herbs and vegetables (salad reens, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, celery) I can successfully grow inside my home since I do not have a garden. I plan on making your homemade soil recipe.

I currently live in northern florida (yulee) and I keep the temperature at about 76°F. There is a decent amount of sunlight coming in through my glass porch doors which is where I keep my only successful indoor plant: basil.

Do you recommend any specific pots/pot size as I don't want to end up with plants that require huge pots as they grow.

Any help is appreciated.

Indoor Gardening

Hi Anna, thanks for writing! Your house temperature is perfect, so don’t change that. You can grow a few plants with sunlight from a window, but most vegetables are going to need strong, direct light to grow well. A low-energy grow light suspended 2 to 4 inches above your plants is the best way to grow veggies indoors. For recommendations on growing salad greens indoors, try here: https://www.almanac.com/blog/natural-health-home-tips/grow-your-own-salads-indoors-all-winter. For pot size, it all depends on the vegetable: Tomatoes are going to need at least a 12-inch-wide by 12-inch-deep pot; kale or spinach, green onions, and celery will need a shallower pot, but just as wide; and carrots will need a pot at least 12 inches deep, but any width (depending on how many you would like to grow). When growing indoor veggies, remember to feed the soil an organic fertilizer, like fish fertilizer, every 3 to 4 weeks to keep the plants strong, happy, and healthy. Good luck, we hope this helps!

4n1 Cherry tree

My first time with any tree. Wanted to know the mix/ratio to transplant my cherry tree in a 20 gal container. Basically, what is needed from bottom to top? Thank you in advance.

Growing fruit tree in container

Add a layer of gravel or rock to the bottom of a container that has drainage holes. Then, add some potting soil for the roots to rest on. Add the tree, and then the rest of your soil.

Coffee grounds

Hi,

Can I use coffee grounds to a potty soil mixture? If so what do mixture ratio do recommend?

Respectfully,
Ed

coffee in soil mix

To us, coffee is best used to amend soil over the long-term to improve soil structure. We would use sparingly, with no more than 20% of the total mix. Mix into the soil to make nutrients more accessible to the plants.

container soil mix for ornamental grasses

could you please advise what is the best mix and ratio for such plants.

Thank you

grass mix

The recipe above is suitable for almost anything; as noted, the soil pH may need to be adjusted. The pH for lawn grass should be 7. If the pH of the soil mix is too low, add lime. If it’s too high, add ground sulfur. You can test the soil’s pH with an inexpensive kit available at most home and garden supply stores and nurseries.

I meant "Desert Rose" plants not Dessert! LOL

Sorry I guess my auto correct just assumed I was trying to say Dessert on my last comment to you... My apologies.

mixing bagged garden soil with bagged potting soil

I accidentally bought a very large bag of Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm, & Citrus Garden Soil which after opening and almost using to re-pot my 3 dessert rose plants, (two are brand new, and one I've had for about 10 years and only re-potted once) realized it said it was for "in-ground" use!

I also have a few of new pothos hanging plants and a small bonsai plant (all in their original plastic store containers) that I am about to re-pot into new more permanent pots as well, so I already have plenty of regular potting soil on hand.
So my questions are...
Being I have no plans to plant anything "in the ground" at this time, can I actually mix some of this "garden soil" in with the regular potting soil so as not to waste it?
And if so, what would the ratio be?
Also, would I be able to do that for the dessert rose plants as well as the bonsai? Or do I need to go back and buy the actual Cactus, Palm and Citrus "Potting Soil" for the dessert Rose and bonsai plants?
Thank you in advance for your time and any advice or suggestions you can offer that I may not even be thinking of at the moment is greatly appreciated. :)

soil mix

Read the ingredients on the bags. You want enough “dirt” in the garden plants to hold some moisture and fertilizers/nutrients you might add. Desert plants, the rose included, tend to be particular about water/drainage. The desert rose is a succulent. It needs conditions that are bright, warm, and dry. Therefore, you do not want to over water nor have water collect in the container, so the cactus/palm soil is best for the desert rose, as cactus and palm are also desert plants. Soil for the bonsai would depend on the plant.

I am growing heavy feeding

I am growing heavy feeding plants in containers.I have decided to use a recipe with equal portions of Cowmanure,perlite,coco coir,potting soil(made of old tree leaves etc).Is this mix good?

original recipe soil mix

Make sure that the cow manure is aged (usually a year is safe). Perlite, check. Coco Coir, ok (it adds to the absorbency and drainage of potting soil and is used as an amendment). Soil made of old tree leaves…if it’s a very old decomposed pile it might just be fabulous. To be sure on all of this you might do a soil test (get a kit at a garden store) and check the mixture’s pH vs that which your crop needs. (You did not say what you are growing.)

Question regarding garden soil

Hi,
I "mistakenly" planted some tomatoes in Kellogg organics garden soil. Do I need to replant them again using actual potting mix or is there anything I can add to the garden soil they are already in? Please help...don't want to waste all these nice tomato plants.

Thank you!

garden soil vs potting mix

Adding some compost is a good idea. Your tomatoes should be fine.

Coconut Coir

After reading how make your own potting mixes, Shredded bark is mentioned and I'm wondering if Coconut Coir would be a viable substitute for the shredded bark. Thanks

coconut coir in potting mix

You can certainly use coconut coir, but you should use it in placement of the peat moss.

Bell Pepper Plants

According to the Farmer's Almanac website, my bell peppers want loamy soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.5. Would your standard recipe work for the peppers or would I need to add some sulfur to lower the pH? If so, how much sulfur would you recommend? I tried adding sulfur to a potting container for hydrangeas once and I just ended up burning them to death : ( Don't want to get the same results for my peppers.

container mix pH

The basic container mix recipe above should be at about neutral (7.0), or perhaps a tad acidic if the lime didn’t compensate quite enough for the peat. Before you add the ½ cup lime, mix in all the other ingredients and then test the pH (soil test kits are available at garden centers). This will tell you whether you are within the 5.8 to 6.5 range or if you need to add just a little lime to move it back toward neutral a bit. Hope this helps!

Measurements

In your above mix recipe would I use a regular measuring cup that measures dry ingredients? For example the 1/2 cup of lime. I would use a 1/2 cup using a dry ingredient measuring cup? Correct? Thanks

measuring cups

You’d probably find that a dry ingredient measuring cup might be more convenient, since it is made for the ingredients to fill to the top, so that you can level it off. However, you can also use a measuring cup meant for liquid ingredients. This type is a little harder to keep the top of the dry material level, since the top measure line falls below the rim, but for potting mixes, it should work fine. Either would be a good addition to your gardening tool collection.

soil recipe for roses

Would this recipe work or container roses?

Soil for Roses

Yes, it could be used. You may need to do some supplemental fertilizing.

Amount of fertilizer?

Is the 2 cups of time release fertilizer right in tbe recipe? The reason I ask is that my time release fertilizer (basic 3 month type) calls for about a cup for 50 square foot beds mixed into the top 6-8 inches. The recipe above is for about 1 cubic foot which is far more concentrated. I have already potted veggies. I am just double checking that it does not hurt my plants...

Hi Nathan,

Hi Nathan,

The 2 cups of fertilizer is accurate. You mix this into the entire 1 cubic foot of potting mix.

Please help me! I live in

Please help me! I live in zone 8b, and I would like to start a garden. I have a few questions before I get started. I've read so much that now I'm feeling confused....meanwhile I have a table of plants staring at me....
1. I'm pretty sure I can plant 2 determinate tomatoes and strawberries in a 55gallon barrel/ garden tower. Can Bush string beans go in too, or do they not like acidic soil? If so, would the beans go in the bottom?

2. I want to make my own potting mix. I want to use 6cuft sphagnum peat moss, 3cuft Kellogg Raised Bed Mix, 1cuft Bagged garden compost, 1cuft steer manure compost, 1 cuft sand and some red wrigglers. I don't want to spend $24 on vermiculite :'( will this work? If not please fix my "recipe" :-)

3. I want to grow sweet potatoes in an old tub.Is there a certain potting mix I should use or is mines ok?

4.Lastly, I would like to get some carrots somewhere in there if possible :-D

THANKS IN ADVANCE FOR ANY HELP OR TIPS!

I'm doing my first container

I'm doing my first container garden. I bought a Big Bag raised bed, which is 50" in diameter and 12" deep. How much potting mix will I need, and can you give me a recipe that won't break the bank? I'm planting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash. Thank you for your help.

I don't know very much about

I don't know very much about gardening. I just bought some organic gardening mix. I am wondering, can I use it directly for planting tomatoes in a pot? Do I have to mix it with native soil or anything else? I don't have good soil at all at home...Thanks in advance for your help

No you can just use that

No you can just use that straight out the bag perfect the way it is I wouldn't even add fertilizer for a month or so

I start and transplant about

I start and transplant about 400 veg and flowers from seeds. I use Bordines potting mix and use 6 bags at 3 cu ft each. $22 and change is getting expensive. Can I mix my own for this volume and cheaper? Also is the compost you buy in bags safe for seeds? Thank You, Dennis

Bagged compost is weed-free,

Bagged compost is weed-free, from my 20 years experience of using it.  Price the materials to make your own potting mix to see if it's cheaper to make your own.  Prices vary so much by region, I'd hate to say it's cheaper.

I am using a wooden box

I am using a wooden box approximately 24" x 120" for a garden of fruits and vegetable. Would this type of mix work or what would you recommend?

For raised gardens, layer top

For raised gardens, layer top soil, composted cow manure, peat moss and a double layer of compost.  At the start of every season, add more compost.

Is it absolutely necessary to

Is it absolutely necessary to use manure / screen compost. Can it b garden soil, cheap potting mix…/and I add to it

no but your plants will

no but your plants will thrive with either these items contain essential macro nutrients the plant needs
to become big and strong

I want to make my own potting

I want to make my own potting soil to save money. So where can I get the raw components for the best price?

I don't know where you live,

I don't know where you live, so it's difficult to cite a specific retailer.  Generally, big boxes like Menard's and Home Depot have very competitive prices.

in some areas your local

in some areas your local landfill sells it real cheap but big box places like home depot and lowes always has decent stuff or you could always make you own by collecting local food scraps grass clippings leaves and other organic materials. Im thinking of starting a program in my town to collect restaurant waste as well as residential.

Last year for my balcony

Last year for my balcony container garden, I was advised to use Baccto Professional Planting mix. It worked fine for my lettuces, but for my pineapple tomato plant, carrots, and strawberries, it was a disaster. Would this mix you posted be better for fruit/root veggies, or is there something I could add to the Baccto I still have from last year. I haven't grown food in about 30 years. Thank you.

I'm not sure if this is the

I'm not sure if this is the right post to ask this question...I have a pot of calla lily and the leaves are getting yellow...do you think is because of to much water?...have them in the dinning not outside I see the leave sweating lot of water don't know what to do...any help will be really appreciated.Thank you very much

There are two reasons for

There are two reasons for yellow leaves on callas: too wet soil and not enough light. Let soil dry out between waterings indoors and move the pot to an East or West facing window.

I just bought a pamdree mix

I just bought a pamdree mix from Millers LLC in Hyrum Utah (you can google them they supply garden centers all over the intermountain west) and they did several tests to get a better pH and balanced nutrients in a clean and organic mix. I haven't planted anything yet (it snowed yesterday) but it's nice and fluffy and if you live nearby their plant you can pick it up in bulk. It cost me $80 for 1 cubic yard and was more than enough for my 10 3 foot 10 inch deep bed. They even scrubbed the bucket clean before scooping it and placing it in our truck. Does that sound like an okay price? This is the first time I've done square foot gardening although I've got two row gardens out back (we have high winds and need the harder soil for the plants that could blow away otherwise). I like that it was easy. I'll keep you posted if it grows anything.

Prices vary from region to

Prices vary from region to region. If you are happy with the mix and plants grow well, that's all that matters.

Hi there, i have some self

Hi there, i have some self sown baby trees and srubs which i dug up out of the garden last Autumn and put into pots, Lilly Pillies, Camilias and Azaleas there all doing very well and are now about 5" tall. my question is should i pinch out some top new growth to encourage side shoots? (I am in Australia, so its spring now over here.)

Karen, don't pinch until you

Karen, don't pinch until you plant in the ground. If you intend for them to be solely container plants, repot to a larger container and pinch after you see new growth.

For succulents and other

For succulents and other plants that need dry feet, add perlite. Half garden soil and half perlite. Then throw in about 25 percent finely shredded pine bark.

Hi Doreen,I recently

Hi Doreen,I recently purchased a bulk amount of garden soil from a local landscape suppply outlet.They told me that it does contain some peat and would be suitable to use as potting mix however i find it stays very wet to use for my succulents, what would you recommend i add to it to help it to dry out quicker?

Inside winter gardening

I have had vegtable gardens off and on for many years. With the rising costs in the market, I am wondering if there are any vegtables that can be grown indoors through the winter months in a window with lots of sun, in a cold climate? Thinking of tomatoes and peppers..but how would they be pollinated???? Just curious and trying to eat healthy and affordably.

 It would be possible to grow

 It would be possible to grow small vegetables like cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs inside during the winter months, but with anything bigger, like squash, it would be difficult. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of sunlight during winter, so you would have to have grow lights--lights that produce light sufficient for plants to grow on and produce a little heat. You can pollinate plants yourself too--just take a cotton swab and transfer pollen between the male and female plants. 

question

im trying to start a garden, its says this mix is for containers, would it work with vegetables. i have mostly peppers and tomatoes. currently using miracle grow mix but i want something cheaper.

Lasagna Gardening

Because I couldn't go down with a garden, I've built layers in containers and on the ground using the Lasagna method. We've had extreme temperature fluctuations this Spring but I don't know if that is the cause of my stunted tomatoes and peppers. Should I start over? The average temp is in the 90's now. Thanks for your advice.

I prefer 1/3 sand, 1/3

I prefer 1/3 sand, 1/3 compost 1/3 spagham peat moss

I'm pretty new to gardening,

I'm pretty new to gardening, with sand do you use coarse sand or fine sand or both. I was thinking for my summer plants (I live in Australia) a potting mix of peat moss, vermiculite, shredded pine bark, and either a coarse or find sand?
Thanks,

How much...

If I have a container measuring 6' X 2' X 1/2' (Length X width X height to get area...how do you convert that to quarts?

Re: How much

Multiply 6 by 2 by .5, which is 6.  That's how many quarts you need.

It would be about 15.5qts for

It would be about 15.5qts for 6cu ft - a gallon and a half is just ridiculous.

Garden uses

Can I use this mix for my garden soil (in the ground?) Or is it best for potted plants? I have raspberry, rose bushes, veggies and herbs that do fairly well every year but I know they can yield a lot more then what I'v been getting.

Re: Garden uses

This recipe won't work in the garden.  You can augment your soil with compost or manure, peat (if you need more acid) and shredded leaves.  Simply layer the materials over the existing ground and mulch with the leaves or finely shredded bark.  All are organic and will break down into nutrients during the growing season.  BTW, roses love peat, as they flourish in a slightly acid soil.  So do raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.  Also spread your coffee grounds around them.  Some rose experts suggest burying banana peels at the base of rose bushes to supply magnesium.

Confused!!!

OK, I've read the comments about the Basic Mix recipe, and my page shows that the 2-1/2 gallons of peat moss is in the recipe. Is there something else missing? I am really confused here!

Re: Confused!!!

Nothing is missing, Jennifer.  I left out the peat in the initial posting of the blog.  We corrected that error after readers brought it to our attention.  The recipe, as written above, is correct.  Sorry for the confusion.

My apologies

As a number of readers noticed, I left out the first ingredient in the potting mix recipe.  Please add this to the mix: 1 bucket (2-1/2 gallons) peat moss.  My apologies for not proof-reading the post thoroughly.

Bad recipe!

This recipe is definately missing something, I would NOT use this as is!!!

Basic Container Mix Recipe

I have a question. As I was reading through this article, the recipe for the basic container mix said to add a 1/2 c. lime to counter the acid of peat to keep the PH near neutral. Peat is not listed in the recipe. Did it just get deleted or am I missing something?

shamrock plant

I always kill my shamrock plant and would like to know what I can use on it to keep it full and alive besides typical watering and sunlight.

Re: shamrock plant

Shamrocks (oxalis) are bulbs.  The foliage dying naturally is part of the cycle after blooming.  Let the plant die, the container dry out and then dig up the little bulbs.  Store them in dry peat moss in a dark area.  Plant bulbs about 2 inches deep in pots at the end of August or in September.  Water well and place in a sunny window.  Bulbs will sprout and the cycle will begin again.

question

this is a neat column. i hope this isn't a dumb question but does the basic container mix have the peat moss in it? i don't see it listed and was confused. thanks for your help.

Re: Question

Ann, you are absolutely right.  I make an error and didn't list the first ingredient, which is one bucket (2-1/2 gallons) peat moss.  I didn't proof-read thoroughly.  Sorry!

Thanks

No problem, thanks, Doreen, for responding to me!

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