How to Make the Right Potting Mix for Container Plants

One of the many advantages of container gardening is that anyone can do it. Whether you have a small apartment balcony or a large sunny backyard, there is always room to grow a successful container plant. While plant selection and sunlight requirements are essential to a thriving and rewarding container, having the right potting mix is crucial.

Plants that are grown in containers need the right potting mix to succeed. Soils such as topsoil or garden soil are too heavy and compact for containers. They are too dense and may contain weeds, insects and diseases that will inhibit successful growth for your plant.

While not initially obvious, the best potting mix is not soil at all rather it is a lightweight mixture of peat, limestone and fertilizers or moisture retention polymers. The proportions and components vary largely from manufacturers. Ideally a good mix holds moisture but leaves enough room between the components to allow the roots to take in air, water and nutrition.

Making your own potting mix is easy, fun and incredibly rewarding. With some basic ingredients, you can reap the benefits and bounty of homemade potting mix. The University of Illinois Extension Service offers a simple recipe for making potting mix.

1 bushel shredded sphagnum peat moss
1 bushel vermiculite
1 ¼ cups ground limestone
½ cup phosphate fertilizer either 0-20-0 or ¼ cup 0-45-0
1 cup slow release granular fertilizer such as 5-10-5
Yields 2 bushels

This recipe will provide enough nutrients (along with proper and regular watering) for your growing plants. There are some plants such as orchids and succulents that have different nutritional and drainage needs and the above recipe may need to be amended. Also, different plants such as blueberries like a more acidic soil so more peat moss will be needed to accomplish this.

Once the potting mix is made a suitable container is next. A key element that must be provided for your potted plant is drainage. A container must have a hole, or series of small holes on the bottom to allow drainage. A wet soil does not allow air to circulate to the roots and they soon develop root rot which is incredibly difficult to recover from.

To aid in proper drainage (as well as saving money) is to fill the bottom â…“-¼ of the container with empty plastic milk jugs or other similar non-biodegradable material and then cover with your potting mix. Leave approximately 1 inch from the lip of the container, add your plant or plants and water thoroughly. Try to resist the urge to “pat down” the mixture as this unnecessarily compacts your soil. Your water should drain from the bottom of your pot within 10 seconds. If not, you may have either compressed your potting mix or you will need to use a lighter mix.

With regular water, weekly fertilizing and proper sunlight, you will have a successful potted plant in no time at all!