When we see the first signs of spring we all get excited to start seed.…
I am an avid indoor vegetable gardener and because of that, I am always searching for the perfect potting soil. But I found all the different soils commercial available confusing so I set out to learn the basics. So I started with organic potting soil vs non-organic potting mixtures.
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As an organic vegetable gardener the question “What is organic potting soil and should you buy it?” is an important one.
Organic potting soil vs non-organic potting mixtures, which is better?
It is very important to know that the term”Organic” in potting soil does not mean without chemicals. The term is used in the scientific sense meaning materials that are carbon-based. That is, materials that are made from decaying plant material, microorganisms, seaweed, fish meal, bone meal, worm castings, etc.
Are potting soil or mixtures the same as “dirt”?
There is a difference in the terms “soil” and “mixtures”.
Potting soil contains “dirt” but is very different from the dirt or soil in your garden. This type of soil is organic because the soil contains organic materials.
Potting mixtures are dirt-less. These mixtures are made from materials other than soil. Potting mixtures are non-organic, containing no organic material.
Non-Organic potting mixtures
Non-organic potting mixtures do not contain any organic matter.
The mixtures are made up of different components. Often a percentage of
The benefit is that the mixture will have a neutral PH and be contaminate free. Meaning there should be a very low risk of any bad bacteria or insects.
But there are no nutrients in the basic mixture.
Most companies put fertilizer into the mixture because plants need nutrients. Many of these fertilizers are slow-release to keep a steady level of food to your plant. This makes it easy. There is no guesswork regarding the best type, amount and timing of fertilizing your plants.
Potting mixtures are very light and well-draining.
The fertilizer is chemical-based. Because of that the problem is that it is sometimes difficult to know what is really being used as a fertilizer. It is even more difficult to know if there are any harmful effects of these fertilizers.
Occupational Health and Safety did a great article about the overall effects of chemical fertilizers.
Many people including myself want to grow edibles, herbs, and vegetables, in a natural way.
Organic potting soil
Potting soil is specifically blended for growing in pots.
Garden soil will easily compact in pots. This is not good for your potted plants. Your plants need a light fluffy soil that will allow the roots to easily grow. The soil that you put in your pots needs to drain quickly so that the pot does end up muddy. So ever use regular garden soil. Also, don’t use Raised Bed soil because this type will also compact too much for small containers or pots.
The organic potting soil contains organic matter, as described above. Organic matter is a wonderful material for healthy plants. It is the natural food your plant uses to build a healthy cell structure and produce fruit.
There are problems with organic potting soil.
Since it is a complex structure of different living microorganisms, some are helpful and some harmful, it is difficult to ensure that you always get a helpful mixture.
The nature of organic matter means that there are living organisms and decaying matter at different stages.
This complex system is hard to make perfect in a bag!
There are many complaints against miracle grow organic potting soil because their mixture had a history of fungus gnats. It appears that they have changed their mixture to minimize the problem since it was first reported. Miracle Grow is not alone. Many other complaints about other well-known brands have been reported as well.
The University of Maryland Extension has a great but scary article on organic in the garden. It is worth reading.
You can help ensure problem-free organic soil. It does take effort and some of the benefits may be lost. As a way to avoid chemical-based fertilizers, it will be worth it.
If you suspect that your potting soil has insects or bad bacteria
You can to kill insects or bacteria
Heat the soil.
Put your potting soil into an oven-safe pot
Place the pan in an oven at 300 degrees
Let the soil get to 180 degrees in the center. Reduce the oven temperature to 180 and leave the pot in for half an hour.
Don’t let the soil temp go above 200 degrees. The higher temps could release salts in the mixture that could harm your plants
If you are not sure if you have insects
Put the soil in your container without plants. Water lightly. Keep an eye on the soil for a few days to see if there are any bugs that appear. When the soil appears to be bug free then plant as normal.
But if bugs do appear, use the heating method to kill the gnats.
If you have planted and bug appears
The best and easiest way to keep the gnats under control once you have plants growing is to use glue traps. They are the same glue traps used for mice. Just stand the trap up in the pot. The color will attract the bugs and the glue will kill them.
DIY making your own potting mix
The best thing to do if you have the time and the space is to make your own potting mixture. This can be a great way to ensure that your plants get exactly what you know that they need.
Worm composting indoors is a great way to start or enhance your potting soil.
When making your own potting mixture or soil remember what your plant roots need:
Nutrients, water but well-drained and air. A light and fluffy mix is very important when planting in a container.
Another important thing to know is that as of today there are no government regulations regarding the labeling of potting mixtures. It is important to read carefully, ask questions and use a company that you trust.
So now you know the basics regarding organic potting soil vs non-organic potting mixture. knowing the pros and cons will help
For more indoor container gardening tips visit how to set up your indoor garden