When I first got some pots, I wondered if I could use the soil from my garden. So, I did some research into it and gave it a try, and put together this helpful article to explain it.
So, can I use garden soil instead of potting soil? You can use garden soil instead of potting soil for potted plants as long as the garden soil is healthy. If the garden soil has too much clay, sand, weeds, or chemicals, it’s much better to use good potting soil.
So, below I will explain how to tell if your soil is good enough to be used in pots and whether you can mix potting soil with your garden soil.
Can garden soil be used in pots?
Garden soil can be used in pots but only if it’s healthy enough and free from chemicals. If the garden soil contains too much clay or sand then it will not be suitable.
Too much clay will cause water to accumulate in the soil and not drain well. And too much sand will cause the soil to dry out faster without the plant getting enough moisture.
You want a soil that is loose to retain enough moisture while draining out the excess. If the garden soil does not have this texture, you either need to amend it or use potting soil.
Potting mixes on the other hand are very low in clay and are lighter, looser, and aerated. The loose soil makes it easy for your plants’ roots to grow well.
The garden soil may also contain weed seeds that will end up sprouting in your potted plants. These weeds will take up the nutrients from the soil that are supposed to be used by your plants.
So you’ll end up having to take out the weeds when they begin to sprout. The potting soil is sterile and won’t have such a problem of weed seeds in it.
Another problem garden soil may have is it’s full of chemicals. This may occur because there was a lawn earlier that was sprayed with fertilizer and pesticides. The chemicals leach into the soil and stay there for several years.
If you use such garden soil in your potted plants, the chemicals will carry over into it. This is especially dangerous if you’re growing vegetables and fruits in the pots.
It’s best to test your garden soil to see if it’s suitable to use for your potted plants. The best way to do this is to send a sample of your garden soil to a local extension service. They will test the soil and send you a report along with the necessary amendments for a small fee.
How do you turn garden soil into potting soil?
Once you have done a soil test for your garden soil, you’ll get a report with the necessary amendments to make it suitable.
If there are chemicals in the soil, I would suggest not to use the garden soil and get some good potting soil for the plants.
Otherwise, you can follow the advice of the report and add the necessary materials. Then you should be able to use the garden soil in your pots.
The simplest way to amend the garden soil is to keep adding organic matter to it over time. This helps change the texture of the soil making it more suitable for growing plants.
The organic matter you can add to the soil includes plant matter. This can be already decomposed and rich material like compost or plant material like dried leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, and newspapers.
This organic matter breaks down over time and gets converted to a fertile material with suitable texture for the plants. The organic matter also encourages beneficial organisms to thrive in the soil enriching it further with the food soil web.
Here is a cool video of a guy who turned his lawn into very healthy soil using wood chips. The good thing about using organic matter is one you put it on you can leave it and nature takes over the rest.
Do remember that changing your garden soil does take time and you may need to wait months or years. If you don’t have the patience, it’s better to start with good potting soil. And keep adding organic matter to your garden soil so it will be ready in some time.
What garden soils should I avoid?
You can tell bad quality soil by its color and how compact it is. Another indication of quality garden soil is how many worms you find when you dig in the soil.
Worms are a surefire way to check if your soil is healthy. If you don’t see many worms when you dig down a bit it means that your soil is poor quality. Then it’s better to use a potting mix for your pot plants.
Another type of soil that can be bad for particular plant varieties is soil which is too sandy. If you live near the beach, or sand dunes you might have soil that is too sandy.
You will know if your soil is too sandy just by looking at it. If it looks like there is too much sand, then it isn’t good for most common plant varieties. Cacti and similar plants like to grow in sand.
Can you mix potting soil with garden soil?
There is an intermediate way where you can use a mix of both potting soil and garden soil. The garden soil still needs to be of good quality to use for the plants.
The amount you need to mix depends on the quality of the garden soil. If it’s good you can mix more of it otherwise you should mix less of it.
As a general idea, you can mix 1/3rd garden soil and 2/3rd potting soil to create a mixture suitable for the potted plants. This helps you get the most efficient soil while spending less money.
How do you use garden soil or potting soil?
The procedure to plant in pots is the same whether you use garden soil or potting soil.
Make sure the pot is clean before putting the soil and the plant. You can sterilize the pot using a mix of 1 parts bleach with 9 parts water.
Keep the pot in this mixture for an hour. Then wash the pot well with water. Let the pot dry out before using it.
Now it’s time to add the garden soil or potting soil to the pot. If you’re planting seeds, you can place the seeds in the soil based on the packet instructions. Usually, you plant seeds ¼ inch inside the soil.
If you’re planting seedlings, you need to dig a hole in the center of the soil. Make sure the hole is deep enough for the roots to sit in it.
Put the seedling inside the hole and cover it well with the soil. Press the soil near the base so that the plant is stable in the soil.
Once the plant is placed in the pot, you need to water it well till the water runs out from the drainage holes at the bottom.
Can I use garden soil for potted vegetables?
You can use garden soil for the potted vegetables as long as it follows the same principles we discussed.
The garden soil has to have the right mix of sand and clay. It should have the right texture so it retains enough moisture for the vegetable plants while draining out the excess.
You don’t want weeds in the garden soil. And most importantly, you don’t need your garden soil containing harmful chemicals that will leach into your vegetable plants.
You will get all the details about your garden soil with a soil test. Use that to understand whether the garden soil is suitable for your potted vegetables.
You can use garden soil instead of potting soil provided your soil is healthy enough. Poor quality garden soil has too much clay, sand, weeds, or chemicals.
You can either buy good quality potting soil or amend the garden soil if you have the patience. You need to get a soil test done on the garden soil. Then amend it with nutrients based on the recommendations.
This can be a slow process depending on how much you need to alter the garden soil. Adding organic matter to change the texture of garden soil could take months or years.
Selecting the right type of soil is one of the important considerations for container gardening but there are several others you can find below,
Backyardgrowers.com: 10 Indications Your Soil is Bad and How to Fix It
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.