What you need to know Before Using Garden Soil in Pots

Whether you’re starting seedlings or have a limited amount of space, utilizing pots and containers can add a lot of versatility to gardening. But when growing plants in pots or containers, specific soil requirements must be met if you wish to keep your plants alive. Having said that, you may want to think twice before using garden soil in pots.

So can garden soil be used in pots? Plants that are grown in pots require a soil that’s light, has good moisture retention and good drainage. While garden soil can be used in pots IF combined with the right supplements, potting soil fulfills all the soil requirements needed for growing plants in pots or containers.

Transforming garden soil into potting soil can be done with only a few ingredients and in just a few simple steps. Additionally, creating your own potting soil can cost a fraction of what most bagged potting soils cost at the store!

How to Turn Garden Soil into Potting Soil

If you don’t have access to potting soil or just want to save money, creating your own potting soil is the way to go. To turn your garden soil into potting soil you will need the following ingredients:

Garden Soil:  Most any kind of soil from your garden or raised bed will do. Try to avoid using soil with heavy amounts of clay however, as clay is prone to compaction and has poor drainage as a result.

Peat Moss: Peat moss is primarily made from decomposed sphagnum moss as well as other decomposed plant matter found in bogs. Because peat moss is a very light, fluffy and absorbent substance, it provides excellent aeration and water retention when added to soil.

Perlite: Perlite is a volcanic glass that has puffed up and expanded as a result of undergoing extreme heat; similar to the process in which kernels of corn expand into popcorn. Thanks to its extremely low density, perlite is great at improving soil aeration and drainage thus making it a great ingredient for potting soil.

Perlite can be purchased on amazon.com be clicking here

To turn your garden soil into potting soil, combine it with equal parts peat moss and perlite along with a touch of water to moisten up the mixture. Additionally, fertilizer or compost can be added if you wish to enrich your potting soil with extra nutrients and organic matter.

While this is a great method for creating potting soil, there are countless other recipes out there that work just as well. For example, here is an example of another great and inexpensive potting soil recipe:

Garden Soil’s Effectiveness when used In Pots:

Although garden soil may work great in your garden or raised bed, its effectiveness just doesn’t translate all that well when it is used in pots or containers. There are a few key features garden soil lacks that makes it an ideal medium for container gardening.

Loose Soil Structure: Potting soil is far looser and therefore much lighter than soil found in the garden. As a result, a container filled with potting soil is much lighter and easier to move around compared to a container filled with garden soil.

When it comes to starting seeds or seedlings in pots or containers, a loose soil structure is crucial for germination and root development. Additionally, the loose structure of potting soil also allows water to easily pass through it, thus allowing plant roots easier access to water.

Moisture Retention: When starting seedlings or seeds in containers, having a consistent level of moisture in the soil is also important for proper growth and development. If the soil is too dry, your seeds will not germinate. Too wet of soil however, can cause stunted growth and yellow leaves.

Depending on the type of soil your garden has, using it in containers may cause it to dry up fast or hold onto too much water. Potting soil however, has been proven to keep moisture at a consistent level when used in pots and containers.

Sterile Potting Medium: Another quality garden soil lacks that potting soil possess is a freedom from plant pathogens and weed seeds. Younger plants and seedlings are much more susceptible to plant diseases and root borne pathogens. By using potting soil in your pots and containers, you can minimize the risk of young plants and seedlings dying from disease and or pathogens by a great margin.

What happens when garden soil is used in pots?

Garden soil compacts when added to a pot
Garden soil compacts when added to a pot

Although your garden soil may be packed with nutrients and microorganisms that are beneficial for plants, it should never be used in pots. When garden soil is used in pots, it will compact resulting in little to no aeration and poor drainage. In turn, this will suffocate your plants and kill them. Using a quality potting soil is crucial as its loose structure resists compaction and allows air and water to easily pass through it.

For more information on soil compaction, check out my article: The Effects of Soil Compaction in the Garden


In conclusion, you should avoid using garden soil in pots and instead opt for potting soil. While garden soil may have plenty of nutrients and organic matter, it lacks the consistent moisture retention, loose soil structure and sterilization that allows potted and container plant to germinate and grow. Alternatively however, combining your garden soil with peat moss and perlite can create an adequate potting mix for container gardening.

So there you have it! Now you know exactly what kind of soil you need for container gardening.

Related Questions:

Can Bagged Garden Soil be used in pots?

Bagged Garden soil is similar to bagged topsoil sold in stores however; it is amended with organic matter and peat moss. Bagged garden soil can be used in pots but it’s not recommended. Although bagged garden soil is loose and rich in nutrients, it’s still prone to compaction which can suffocate the roots of potted plants. To be safe, only use bagged garden soil in gardens or raised beds.

Can You Reuse Potting Soil?

In most cases, potting soil can be reused. Before you reuse your old potting soil however, it’s recommended that you revitalize it by combining it with new potting soil and some fertilizer. The only time where reusing potting soil is not recommended is if the plants you grew in it came under attack from a bacterial or fungal disease. In this case, said potting soil should be discarded.

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