how to prepare soil for container gardening

How to Prepare Soil for Container Gardening


Soil remains to be one of the most important raw materials needed for any plant to grow. Without soil, it is impossible for a plant to grow. In fact, any kind of container gardening will be incomplete without good quality soil.

Are you tired of continuously replacing your plants due to a lack of nutrients and proper hydration? How about investing in some good organic or chemical fertilizers but they eventually kill off the plants due to adverse reactions with the roots?

Preparing soil for container vegetable gardening can be challenging especially for beginners without the best soil preparation tips

Having these problems is not new at all because most vegetable container beginners in pot cultivation fail just after their first attempted when their indoor potted plants die within days (read months) of planting them.

As a gardener, you can opt to make everything from scratch, including the best soil for outdoor potted plants. It might seem tiresome to some but the results will have you happy that you chose to go through with it.

This article is a complete DIY on how to prepare the soil for container gardening helping you make the best soil for outdoor potted plants.

Planning Out What You Will Need

a) Amount

So you want to know how to prepare soil for container gardening? You should have an idea of how much soil you are going to need before you start making a soil mix for gardening.

How much soil you need depends on how many containers you are going to fill and how big they are. Make sure to consider the type of plants that will be planted in each container because this will affect the amount of soil needed as different plants grow differently.

Take into consideration the size of the plants because a plant that is tall will need more soil than one that is short. How many other plants you have in your container garden will also affect the amount of soil needed?

How deep you fill the containers with soil will make a difference too as some plants grow better when they are planted deeper into the soil and others do better when they are planted on top of the soil.

b) Vegetables

As stated earlier, whatever it is you choose to grow has an effect on how to prepare soil for container gardening. If it is a vegetable you wish to grow, the soil needs to be mixed with fertilizers and nutrients that will be good for the vegetables.

How much fertilizer and nutrients depends on your climate as different parts of the country need different amounts of the two. also, the plants come with different nutrient needs so if you are new to growing, it is best to go with what the package recommends.

c) Acidity Range of the Potting Mix

The acidity range of the potting mix determines the kind of plant that you can grow in it. How do you know about acidity? Well, there are two ways to go about it. You can either ask around and find out or buy a tester kit and test it for yourself.

A clear idea of what you are planning will help you know which is the best acidity range that you should stick to.

d) Seeds or Seedlings

When learning how to prepare soil for container gardening, knowing whether you will be planting seeds or seedlings will help. This is because seeds do not need a potting mix that has a lot of minerals but seedlings do.

When planting seeds, it is advisable to just mix in a little soil. And when you are planting seedlings, prepare the potting mix according to what type of plant you are planning on growing.


What You Are Going to Need

  • Coconut coir
  • Perlite
  • Vermiculite
  • Vermicompost
  • Sand

Steps on How to Prepare Soil for Container Gardening

To get to know how to prepare soil for container gardening you do not need to follow the following consecutive steps. The only thing that you need to make sure you know about is the ratios that you will be mixing to the ingredients to make the most of the potting soil.

For this mixture, you are going to do 2 quarts of vermiculite, vermicompost, and perlite, 4 quarts of coconut coir, and a quarter cup of sand. Take the mixture and mix it all together making sure that every component has been well mixed and your soil mix for container gardening will be ready for use.

In case you find yourself wondering about the pH levels of the soil, you can take time and measure them. If the pH is lower than what you expect, you can raise it with baking soda. If you want to lower, it then you can do that with the help of limestone.

Qualities of a Good Soil for Container Gardening

When preparing the best soil for outdoor potted plants there are some indications that can highlight if what you create is a great quality soil that will sustain your container gardening or not. These are:

1. Drainage

A good quality soil for potting has to be well-drained. How you can test the soil is by dropping a few wet spoons on it from an average height. How quickly they fall will give you some indication of whether or not you should use that soil.

Great soil for container gardening has good drainage which means that water flows through it faster than other soils, ensuring plants do not get too soggy and allowing excess water to flow away and evaporate rather than being retained in your potting mixture.

If the material used for container gardening retains water easily then your plants may suffer root diseases like Phytophthora due to the fact this condition enhances the ferments needed for them to grow and spread themselves.

2. Organic Matter

The best soil for use in container gardening should contain some organic matter. This is because organic material helps to retain water, it gives nutrients to the soil and it makes it easier for drainage in the best soil for container gardening.

In fact, most soils have quite a lot of organic matter already so you are unlikely to need extra as long as you use this type of soil at all and not one that just has sand and clay.

organic matter

3. Contain No Pests and Diseases

For potting soil, it should contain no pests and diseases that can attack your plants and cause them to die. It should be clean.

4. A Proper Acidic pH Level

The best soil for container gardening should have a proper acidic pH level. How do you test this? Dig up some of the soil in a tub or pot that doesn’t have any plant growing yet and test it with a pH meter (which you can get at most pet supply stores).

If you don’t have one, mix equal amounts of vinegar and water until you see the color change from yellow to blue (the acidity will turn it into a bluish-gray color). If it changes colors, then your soil is too basic (alkaline) for containers.

5. Should Have Mineral Aggregates

A great potting soil should contain aggregates such as vermiculite and perlite. These are made of minerals that help the soil hold water in and drain well.

Because containers do not have arable land to absorb rainfall, you have to make sure your potting soil has these elements.

How to Recharge Soils in Container Vegetable Gardens

Learning how to prepare soil for container gardening may not be the only thing you should be able to do for your potting mix. You should be able to know what you can do to rejuvenate or recharge your potting mix.

Learning how to do this will save you a lot of trouble and hassle since you won’t necessarily have to make a new potting mix every time you choose to plant vegetables in your container garden.

So how can you do this: Here are a few steps that you can follow to recharge your soil making it as good as new.

a) Scrap the topmost layer- If it is time for you to plant your container garden, and the soil looks a bit too packed or compacted for you to work with, then you should remove some of the topmost soil. This will make your potting mix a little loose thereby making it easier and more convenient for you to work with.

b) Check the soil level- You should also check the soil level. If you notice that it is a little too low, then you should add some more soil accordingly. You can choose to fill up the remaining space using the normal garden soil which still works great for your potting mix.

d) Remove any big debris or unwanted materials from your soil- Given that this is soil that has already been used, the biggest probability is that it has some unwanted materials like stone and twigs that shouldn’t be there. Remove them.

e) Add organic additives like manure, fertilizers, or vermicompost – This is optional but highly recommended since manures provide nutrients needed by your potted plant’s roots which will give them an edge against diseases and pests. For this step, you should add about one cup of manure for each pot depending on how much soil it has in it. Organic fertilizers like fish emulsion or seaweed extract are also great since they have all the required nutrients (and more) that your plants will need for healthy growth.

f) Place it in another pot and start planting all over again- at this time your soil has fully been recharged and at this point you can choose to place it in buckets where you will store it for future use or just set it ready for the next vegetable planting.

The Do’s and Don’ts in Container Gardening

i. Using Mycorrhizal Fungi

Mycorrhizal fungi are known for providing nutrients to the soil. It’s an organic way of rejuvenating or making your soil better which is something that has been recommended to gardeners.

They do this by providing your vegetable garden with water and nutrients that are then used by the vegetables to grow to their full potential.

Mycorrhizal Fungi can be bought in the market in either liquid or powder form. Mix it up with water, soaking your soil, and watering your plants with a spray bottle after you’ve done this. You will also have to keep repeating this process so that the mycorrhizal fungi are continually supporting your soil and not just for one-time use.

In case you are using fertilizers at the same time, check the concentration you mix with your potting mix because these fungi do not do well with fertilizers.

ii. Containers

You can use any container that you like, whether it’s metal plastic, or wood. You just have to make sure that the container has drainage holes to release in excess water. When choosing your container, keep in mind that plastics will retain more heat than metal and wood while on the other hand metals and woods are more durable.

If you want to repurpose your old pots then make sure you’ve scrubbed them clean along with removing all dirt, debris, and pest residues. You can use sandpaper to erase any writing or labels on the outside of it as well so that you know what kind of soil is contained inside it. If there are cracks polish those up so that roots don’t get stuck inside them making potting difficult later on.

The most important part about containers is the amount of soil mix you are able to use. How much soil mix should you use? Use enough to cover the roots of your plants and fill in around the plant itself about a quarter-inch or so deep for better aeration.

iii. Putting Rocks at the Bottom of a Container.

There is the belief that layering rocks at the bottom of the container increase the drainage of the container. This is not true and should not be attempted by any gardener.

They take up space of the container soil mix that could be used for the plants. Rocks also provide a place where roots can grow and get stuck, making potting difficult later on.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to prepare soil mix for container gardening has proved to come with its advantages and a list of close to no disadvantages. You can make the most of your current soil mix by using it severally, let’s say 2-4 times before disposing of and making another one.

Learn how to make the best soil for outdoor potted plants and you will be a step ahead of other gardeners, with the capability of making the best soil for the vegetables you chose to plant.

Always start small and advance slow but be sure that what you do is right and perfect as should.

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