Make your own potting soil with these recipes

DIY potting soil: 6 Homemade potting mix recipes for the home and garden

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I’m a huge fan of container gardening, and I know I’m not alone. Urban and small-space gardening is on the rise, houseplants are strutting their stuff all over Instagram, and few people have the time and energy to dedicate to a large in-ground garden these days. But with hundreds of seedlings to start and over 50 large pots to fill each season, my container gardening habit used to come with a hefty price tag. When I started making my own DIY potting soil, however, I cut my container gardening budget by two-thirds! Here’s how I make homemade potting mix for all of my containers, houseplants, and seed-starting needs.

What is potting soil?

Before I introduce my favorite DIY potting soil recipes, let’s talk about what potting soil actually is. The most important thing to understand about potting soil is that it doesn’t actually contain real soil. Potting soil, also called potting mix, is a soilless blend of ingredients used to grow plants. Whether you’re starting seeds, rooting cuttings, potting up houseplants, or growing patio containers and hanging baskets, potting soil is the ideal growing medium for containerized plants. All good-quality potting mixes, including homemade potting soils, have a few things in common.

  • They’re better draining than the average garden soil.
  • Potting soil is more lightweight than garden soil.
  • It’s easy to handle and consistent.
Homemade potting mix recipes for the house and garden.

Making your own potting soil blends is easy and inexpensive.

Like commercial potting soils, you can make many different DIY potting soil blends, each with a different texture, nutritional content, density, and water-holding capacity, all matched to the needs of your plants. Carefully select the ingredients you use and combine them in the correct ratios to tailor each DIY potting soil you make for the specific needs of each plant you’re growing.

For example:

  • Lighter, finer-textured mixes are best for use when starting seeds and rooting cuttings.
  • Mixes containing a high percentage of coarse sand or pine bark are best for potted trees and shrubs.
  • DIY potting soil with a sandy or gravely texture is ideal for cactus and succulent growing.
  • When growing a mixture of annuals, perennials, vegetables, and tropicals, the best fit is a general, all-purpose potting mix – one that’s suitable for growing lots of different kinds of plants.

There are dozens of specialized potting soil mixes you can make.

How to make your own homemade potting soil mixes.

Mix and match several ingredients to make your own potting soil blends that are tailored to the needs of the plants you’re growing.

Potting soil ingredients

Most commercial and homemade potting soils consist of a blend of the following ingredients:

Sphagnum peat moss:

The primary ingredient in most potting soils is sphagnum peat moss. A very stable material, peat takes a long time to breakdown and is widely available and inexpensive. It bulks up potting mixes without adding a lot of weight, and once wet, it holds water fairly well.

Sphagnum peat moss is well-draining and well-aerated, but it’s very low in available nutrients and it has an acidic pH, typically ranging between 3.5 and 4.5. Limestone is added to peat-based potting mixes to help balance the pH. I use bales of Premier brand peat moss for my homemade potting soil, blended with crushed limestone at a rate of 1/4 cup lime for every 6 gallons of peat moss.

Discover how easy it is to make your own potting soil.

Sphagnum peat moss is the most prevalent ingredient in potting soil.

Coir fiber:

A by-product of the coconut industry, coir looks and acts a lot like sphagnum peat moss in both commercial and DIY potting soil blends. It has more nutrients than peat moss and lasts even longer, but it’s more expensive to purchase. Coir fiber’s pH is close to neutral.

Often sold in compressed bricks, coir fiber is considered by many to be more sustainable than sphagnum peat moss. BotaniCare is one available brand of compressed coir fiber.

Perlite:

Perlite is a mined, volcanic rock. When it’s heated, it expands, making perlite particles look like small, white balls of Styrofoam. Perlite is a lightweight, sterile addition to bagged and homemade potting mixes.

It holds three to four times its weight in water, increases pore space, and improves drainage. With a neutral pH, perlite is easy to find at nurseries and garden centers. One popular brand of perlite is Espoma perlite.

Perlite is an essential ingredient for making your own potting soil.

Perlite is a volcanic mineral that’s mined and then heated until it expands.

Vermiculite:

Vermiculite is a mined mineral that is conditioned by heating until it expands into light particles. It’s used to increase the porosity of commercial and DIY potting soil mixes. In potting soil, vermiculite also adds calcium and magnesium, and increases the mix’s water-holding capacity.

Though asbestos contamination was once a concern with vermiculite, mines are now regulated and regularly tested. Organic bagged vermiculite is my favorite source.

Vermiculite is used to lighten potting soil mixes.

Vermiculite particles are much more fine than perlite, but it, too, is a mined mineral deposit.

Sand:

Coarse sand improves drainage and adds weight to potting mixes. Mixes formulated for cacti and other succulents tend to have a higher percentage of coarse sand in their composition to ensure ample drainage.

Limestone:

Add pulverized calcitic limestone or dolomitic limestone  to peat-based potting soils to neutralize their pH. Use about 1/4 cup for every 6 gallons of peat moss. These minerals are mined from natural deposits and are readily available and inexpensive. Jobe’s is a good brand of lime for use in DIY potting soil.

Fertilizers:

Add fertilizers to peat-based potting soils because these mixes don’t naturally contain enough nutrients to support optimum plant growth. A good DIY potting soil recipe includes a natural fertilizer, derived from a combination of mined minerals, animal by-products, plant materials, or manures, rather than a fertilizer that’s comprised of synthetic chemicals.

I use a combination of several natural fertilizer sources for my homemade potting mixes. Sometimes I add a commercially-made, complete organic granular fertilizer, such as Dr. Earth or Plant-Tone, and other times I blend my own fertilizer from cottonseed meal, bone meal, and other ingredients (my favorite fertilizer recipe is provided below).

The best fertilizer to use in homemade potting mix.

Commercial granular fertilizers make fine additions to DIY potting soil, if you don’t want to blend your own fertilizer.

Composted wood chips:

Composted wood chips lighten up potting mixes by increasing the pore sizes, and allowing air and water to travel freely in the mix. They’re slow to breakdown but may rob nitrogen from the soil as they do, so the addition of a small amount of blood meal or alfalfa meal is necessary when using composted wood chips as an ingredient in DIY potting soil recipes. Use composted wood chips in potting mixes designed for potted perennials and shrubs. To make your own, get a load of wood chips from an arborist and let them compost for a year, turning the pile every few weeks.

Compost:

Containing billions of beneficial microbes, and with superior water-holding capacity and nutrient content, compost is an excellent addition to DIY potting soil. Because it plays such a huge role in promoting healthy plant growth, I use it in all of my general homemade potting soil recipes. But, I don’t include it in recipes for seed-starting as it’s too heavy for young seedlings. I use leaf compost from a local landscape supply yard, but bagged compost from Dr. Earth Compost or Coast of Maine are other favorites.

Good quality, DIY potting soil should be light and fluffy, with a well-blended mixture of ingredients. When it’s dried out, it does not shrink significantly or pull away from the sides of the container.

DIY potting soil ingredients, plus 6 great recipes.

By blending the right ingredients together in the correct ratios, it’s easy to make DIY potting soil recipes.

How to make your own homemade potting soil

Mixing your own potting soil blend is easy, and it means you have complete control of one of the most critical steps in the growing process. For container gardeners, a high-quality potting soil is a must. Making your own potting soil allows you to better cater to the needs of your plants. The results are more stable and consistent, and you save a ton of money.

The following DIY potting soil recipes use a combination of the ingredients I listed above. Mix large volumes of homemade potting soil in a cement mixer or a spinning compost tumbler. To make smaller quantities, blend the ingredients in a wheelbarrow, mortar mixing tub, or a large bucket. Be sure to mix everything thoroughly to ensure a consistent result.

How to make potting soil with 6 recipes.

I mix my homemade potting soil ingredients in my tractor cart, but you can use a wheelbarrow or large bucket, too.

6 DIY potting soil recipes

General potting soil recipe for flowers, tropicals, and vegetables

6 gallons sphagnum peat moss or coir fiber
4.5 gallons perlite
6 gallons compost
1/4 cup lime (if using peat moss)
1 & 1/2 cup of the DIY container fertilizer blend found below OR 1 & 1/2 cups of any granular, complete, organic fertilizer.

DIY container fertilizer blend:

Mix together
2 cups rock phosphate
2 cups greensand
½ cup bone meal
¼ cup kelp meal

Potting soil recipe for potted trees and shrubs

3 gallons compost
2.5 gallons coarse sand
3 gallons sphagnum peat moss or coir fiber
2.5 gallons composted pine bark
3 gallons perlite
2 TBSP of lime (if using peat moss)
1 cup granular, organic fertilizer (or 1 cup of the DIY container fertilizer blend found above)
1/4 cup organic cottonseed meal, if growing acid-loving trees and shrubs

Potting soil recipe for succulents and cactus

3 gallons sphagnum peat moss or coir fiber
1 gallon perlite
1 gallon vermiculite
2 gallons coarse sand
2 TBSP lime (if using peat moss)

Potting soil recipe for seed starting

2 gallons sphagnum peat moss or coir fiber
2 gallons vermiculite
1 gallon coarse sand
3 TBSP lime (if using peat moss)

How to make your own seed-starting mix.

Seed-starting mixes are lighter and finer in texture. Vermiculite is a better choice than perlite due to its smaller particle size.

Homemade potting soil for transplanting seedlings

2 gallons sphagnum peat moss or coir fiber
2 gallons vermiculite
1 gallon finely screened compost
3 TBSP lime (if using peat moss)
2 TBSP granular, organic fertilizer (or 2 TBSP of the DIY container fertilizer blend found above)

Potting soil recipe for houseplants

2 gallons sphagnum peat moss or coir fiber
1.5 gallons perlite
2 cups coarse sand
3 TBSP lime (if using peat moss)
2 TBSP granular, organic fertilizer (or 2 TBSP of the DIY container fertilizer blend found above)

Make your own potting soil for houseplants.

When repotting houseplants, use your own homemade mix for great results.

When making DIY potting soil, use the batch as quickly as possible. But if storage is necessary, place the mix in sealed plastic bags in a cool, dry place.

Watch this quick little video for a lesson on how I mix a batch of my DIY potting soil: 

For more on how to garden successfully in containers, check out my book, Container Gardening Complete (Cool Springs Press, 2017).

Book on growing tomatoes in containers

If you enjoy growing in containers, you might also enjoy these related posts:

Have you made your own homemade potting soil before? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.

Pin it! DIY Potting Soil: 6 recipes for making homemade potting mix for indoor and outdoor plants and seed starting. #DIY #pottingsoil #gardening #gardeningprojects

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19 Responses to DIY potting soil: 6 Homemade potting mix recipes for the home and garden

  1. Jeremy says:

    Great potting soil mixes. I am a huge DIY gardener and always love to see what everyone does too. I think you have list bone meal twice in a recipe..not sure if you meant blood meal..under DIY container fertilizer blend

    Happy gardening ..love all your articles

  2. Musette says:

    Jessica, I purchased the coir you linked – it came in sheets. Do you shred it dry or wet it, then shred? Thanks!

  3. Laura Harrison says:

    The video didn’t show you adding any lime, however, the recipe in the article mentioned limestone. Do you add that in your cart?
    I am planting lots of vegetables in felt bags this year. I find Miracle Grow potting mix too expensive to fill them all. Do you have a recipe for felt bag soil mix or do you think I need more or less of a certain ingredient for the felt bag growing method?

    • The general potting mix here will work for fabric planter bags. In the video I didn’t add lime because the fertilizer I added to my pots that year contained lime. But if I’m mixing straight, yes, I always add lime.

  4. Hoosierphilly says:

    I am trying a floating lake garden, in bags over PVC pipe for irrigation and a screen overhead this year and also some bags on the beach (which gets 1/2 the sun time). Hope the mixes work.

  5. Dulcinea says:

    Hi Jessica,

    You use a lot of coarse sand for your soil mixes. I find it hard to get. There is play sand, construction sand etc. but coarse sand is not available in stores I went to. It is of course available on Ebay and Amazon but expensive. Any suggestions?

    Thanks.

  6. KZ says:

    Thanks for the post! Just a quick note: Sphagnum mosses or “peat mosses” are living mosses that are often found growing on the surfaces of wetlands called “peatlands” or “mires”. In contrast, ‘peat’ refers to dead, partially-decayed plant remains (often including the remains of Sphagnum mosses) that accumulate in waterlogged ecosystems such as peatlands. Peat is thus a form of organic soil. However, the process of peat generation and accumulation is very slow (only 0.5 – 1 mm per year) and represents a significant source of carbon storage on a global scale. While peat harvest is not sustainable, best practices do exist for the harvest of peat mosses (meaning that the moss can regenerate following harvest). So, if one has a choice, it’s best to buy products containing Sphagnum moss but not Sphagnum peat. Cheers!

  7. Lorraine Durgee says:

    Thank you for making small recipes for potting soils, I have a small flower garden so this will be perfect. Can’t find construction sand, it’s hard to find.what stores carry this sand? & large bags of perlite& vermilite.

    • Hi Lorraine – Most hardware stores carry coarse builder’s sand in 50 pound bags. A farm or feed shop or plant nursery should have large bags of perlite and vermiculite.

  8. Terence Poje says:

    Thanks for this post Jessica! I love the fact that you provided specialized recipes depending on what you’re planning. One thing that would make this even more complete is a recipe for in-ground planting. I know some people might use a potting mix to amend their soil when planting a shrub or perennial, but one of my local garden centers has an awesome planting mix specifically for in-ground and I’d like to find a way to copy it but I’m not sure what the ingredients are …. and if it’s really all that different from a potting mix. It smells a bit like Pine so I’m assuming there’s pine bark mulch, and I see either perlite or vermiculite. What else is in it and what the ratios are is the problem. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  9. Jay says:

    Thanks for the recipe. Question, if I use “General potting soil recipe for flowers, tropicals, and vegetables” how would I go about re-using the soil mix in subsequent years? Would you recommend 1/3 used soil to 2/3 your recipe? 50/50? Would you add any other amendments?

    Thanks!
    Jay

    • I recommend replacing 100% of the mix every year, if possible. Simply from a nutrition and disease suppression standpoint. But, if you can’t afford complete replacement each year, I’d blend it with another third of compost each spring to boost nutrient levels and enhance the microorganisms.

  10. Jamie says:

    I am planting an indoor atrium area that I have built around an indoor swim spa wanting to plant a variety of indoor plants from hibiscus, tropicals, ferns etc what type of mixture u suggest?

  11. Francesca says:

    Thank you for your informative article. I have a big planter for a Dieffenbachia plant that is re-growing from what was once a large plant. I’d like to bring it to my office on the 4th floor, and would need the potting soil to be light so that I can carry the planter. How can I make a very light-weight potting soil? Thank you

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