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Not All Soils Are Created Equal

Posted on February 17, 2022 in Garden Gab

Let talk dirt!  Or what I really should say is soil.  So often these terms are used interchangeably but not all soils are created equal. Sure, they look similar but in science class you will learn that soil usually contains the following ingredients-minerals, organic matter, living organisms, gas, and water.  Dirt, on the other hand is primarily made up of sand, silt, and clay and sometimes rocks. After reading those descriptions, can you pick which is better to grow your plants in? Would you want a living ecosystem or something that is dead and doesn’t have the capability to support life? Of course, you would choose the living ecosystem because you want your plants to flourish.

So now that we have learned that healthy living soil equals healthy living plants.  How do we know which one to choose?  As you walk into the garden center, there are several pallets of soil.  There is topsoil, peat, compost and probably several options of potting soil. Each one has a different purpose, so which one is best for me?

Topsoil is literally what the name says it is.  It is the top 5-10” of soil.  Although true topsoil is great for your yard and garden, there are no real regulations on what topsoil can contain.  So sometimes when harvesting topsoil, they mix in some of the sub soil which can be sand or clay depending on where it came from.  Sand and clay are not ideal for growing plants so if the topsoil mix you are buying contains too much of either it will affect how your plants grow.  So the quality of the top soil you are purchasing matters.  Topsoil is often used in grow grass, plant shrubs or trees, or even in raised garden beds. Topsoil mixes are heavy and can turn concrete like in a container so steer clear of this one for your flowerpots.

Peat is used solely soil amendment. It has an acidic PH and is ideal to add to an area where you are planting acid loving plants like evergreens, hydrangea, or blueberries. But you want a 50/50 mix of peat and topsoil. Peat alone isn’t ideal to grow in because it is poor in nutrients and doesn’t contain any of the helpful living organisms you find in soil.

Compost is usually used as a soil amendment also.  It contains decomposing organic materials such as plant and food waste. It is usually rich in nutrients.  Compost also should be mixed with topsoil. A little goes a long way so usually an inch or two of a good compost will work wonders in your garden.  But planting directly in compost isn’t recommended as it can stunt the growth of some plants.

Finally, we come to potting soil.  Did you know that potting soil does not contain any soil at all? Yes, all potting soils are actually soilless.  They contain a mixture of peat, compost, and vermiculite or perlite. Some are heavier on the peat component, and some are heavier on the compost. They are designed to be lightweight and blended to hold moisture while also draining well so your plants roots are drowning. Sometimes these potting soils are also organic meaning the no pesticides or chemicals were used in the ingredients. These are usually marked the word Organic or OMRI on the label.  Potting soils can also contain time released fertilizer and a wetting agent.  The potting soil we use in all our containers is Pro Mix.  This is a super lightweight soil that dries out thoroughly between waterings.  This reduces the likelihood of root rot and other soil borne diseases. I usually recommend using this one if you remember to check whether your plants need water daily.  Or if you have chosen plants with low water requirements. If you are someone who has a crazy busy schedule or consistently forgets to water, I recommend picking Baccto potting soil.  This potting soil hold more water which works well on hot dry summers or if you habitually forget to water. But if we have an extremely wet summer, your plants could suffer because the soil will stay too wet too long.  Because of this, some of our customers have even mixed the two options for their own customized perfect blend.  Potting soil is perfect for container plantings and can even be mixed with topsoil for raised garden beds.


Picking the right soil for the job is first step for successful gardening. Without good soil, garden success is pure luck. So now that you know all the dirt on soil options, you are one step closer to having healthy and happy plants this summer.



Gardeners know all the good dirt!  Or now that we know, should we say soil….

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