When to plant a vegetable garden

What Kind Of Soil To Use For Container Vegetable Gardening

What Kind of Soil to use for Container Vegetable Gardening

The question of what kind of soil to use for container vegetable gardening is one on the most important question one should be getting answers to when starting on container vegetable gardening.

Growing vegetables in containers has become a necessity. It is everyone’s desire to eat fresh vegetables that they can easily grow in containers. In some cases we find ourselves living in urban setup. Does this mean that we can never grow vegetables? Urban gardening often means growing vegetables on rooftops, balconies, alleyways, sidewalks or whatever little space you have available – hence the need to answer the question of what kind of soil to use for container vegetable gardening.

Choosing the right kind of soil for vegetable container gardening for beginners is not easy. I was getting really frustrated by the results that I was getting from my container garden. It was until I learnt about the right kind of soil to use for container gardening that I started getting good harvest from my gardening. I know you might be going through the same feeling I had before. If you are just starting on your container gardening, I will help you make the right decision when it comes to knowing what kind of soil to use for container vegetable gardening.

Soil being one of the most important things you need when you think of growing vegetables, you will want to start with the best kind of soil. Not soil from your yard, but what’s known as a potting mix. Potting Soil, contain the right blend of materials like coir, peat moss and/or compost. It creates an ideal growing environment for roots inside a pot.

One of the biggest challenges of growing in pots is the fact that the potting soil can’t regenerate or gain any extra nutrients from the earth. However, the roots of a container grown plant can’t sprawl out or go deeper into the soil to get what it needs. Plants growing in pots depend on us to give them what they need to survive. That’s why it’s very important to choose the best soil for container gardening.

with the best kind of soil for container vegetable gardening and the best soil preparation, vegetable container gardening can be possible for those who do not have space to create a vegetable garden at home or in the front yard.

In this article, I will be looking at the best potting mix for vegetables. Additionally, I will help choose the best potting mix for your vegetables.

What is a Potting Mix?

As you try to understand what kind of soil to use for container vegetable gardening, it’s important to understand what potting mix is and the different ingredients that it’s made of. Potting mix is also referred to as potting compost. It’s a soil-less medium in which you grow vegetables and other plants in a pot or a container. It is strictly designed for container gardening. Potting mixes are filled with organic matter to provide essential nutrients to the plants. This includes compost, peat moss, and a good percentage of bark chips or pine bark. Potting mixes also help balance the pH levels for the plants while providing better aeration. Additionally, they have good moisture retention.

Potting mixes can be easily customized depending on the requirement for each vegetable plant.

Ingredients in a Potting Mix

It is important to understand the ingredients that are used in making potting mix.

Most commercially made organic potting mix for vegetables contains the following ingredients:

  1. Sphagnum Peat Moss: Peat Moss is the primary ingredient in a potting mix. This is known to be a very stable material as it takes a long time to break down. It is readily available hence making in less expensive. It builds up the potting without making it bulky. The good thing about it is that it is well-drained and well-aerated as well. However, the downside is the acidic nature of peat. But usually, limestone helps solve the problem by balancing the pH.
  2. Fertilizer: Most peat mixes don’t have enough essential nutrients at all, and a good quality natural fertilizer is an essential. The fertilizer must be a healthy blend of mined minerals, plant materials, and animal by-products to support top plant growth.
  3. Perlite: It is a mined, volcanic rock. So, when it is heated, it tends to expand in size. Ultimately, we get perlite particles that are light in weight and make a good addition to potting mixes. And above all, these particles hold their weight in water about four times. Therefore, increasing pore space and improving the overall drainage of the mix. It is easily available at most local nurseries.
  4. Vermiculite: Vermiculite is a mineral that is conditioned by heating until it expands into light particles. It’s used to increase the porosity of commercial potting soil mixes. In potting soil, vermiculite also adds calcium, magnesium and increases the mix’s water-holding capacity. Asbestos contamination was once a concern with vermiculite, but nowadays mines are regulated and regularly tested.
  5. Sand: Coarse sand helps improve the drainage while adding a slight weight to the potting mixes. However, a little too much coarse sand may be giving your potting mix good drainage but does not make for an ideal potting mix.
  6. Limestone: Limestone really helps when it comes to neutralizing the soil pH. You can either add dolomitic limestone or a pulverized calcitic limestone. Both these minerals are mined from natural deposits and are widely available at a low price.
  7. Compost: It has an immaculate water-retention capacity and nutrient content. This is why it plays a major role in forming the best potting mix for vegetables and also helps maximize plant growth.
  8. Wood Chips or Pine Bark: Wood Chips and Pine Barks are known to lighten up the overall feel of a potting mix. This is done by increasing the pores so as to allow good air circulation without compromising the structure of the mix. Additionally, they also breakdown slowly but tend to compete with the soil for nitrogen. This is why a small amount of blood meal is used in potting mixes that have wood chips.

Types of Potting Mixes

  • Lighter & Fine Textured Mixes: Best used for seed starting purposes and also for root cutting.
  • Coarse Sand and Pine Bark Mixes: Mixes that contain a considerably higher percentage of coarse sand and pine bark are observed to perform best for potted trees.
  • All-Purpose Potting Mixes: This type of potting mix is best suited for almost all container gardening needs – and more specifically for vegetables and perennials.

What to look for in a good quality of potting soil mix for containers

  • The medium is light and fluffy.
  • It has good drainage, but also holds moisture.
  • It’s porous so that water and air can easily reach the roots of the plants.
  • There aren’t any weed seeds germinating in the bag, or tiny bugs flying around it.
  • There’s not a large amount of bark or sand in the mix.
  • It’s moist but not soggy, and the smell is pleasant.

Can I use garden soil in containers?

Many people wondering what kind of soil to use for container vegetable gardening ask this question. Actually, most new gardeners or those who don’t have this knowledge, make the mistake of using garden soil in pots. I know you are probably wondering why you can’t just use soil from your garden for your container planting, yet plants that are grown in the garden do fairly well. Why wouldn’t that same soil work in containers too?

Garden soil problems

You might get lucky and have no problems at all. But you’re taking a big risk if you use garden soil in containers. This is a bad idea for several reasons.

First, garden soil has lots of harmful stuff in it, like bugs and other creatures, disease organisms, and weed seeds. Additionally, garden soil is too heavy for use in containers, and will quickly become compacted in there. When that happens, it’s extremely difficult for the plants to grow.

Even if you have healthy garden soil, it is not a good option for your containers. Placed in a pot, garden soil compacts, leading to poor drainage and air flow within the soil. Even though the top of the soil appears dry, the soil a few inches down gets waterlogged, which can prevent your plants from taking up nutrients. Unless you test the soil’s pH, it may be too acidic or too basic for growing vegetables.

Using garden soil

If you have to use your own garden soil, make some changes in it first. Adding peat moss will improve the soil texture and adds organic matter. Working in perlite or coarse sand improves drainage. A good mix for your pots is one part each of garden soil, peat moss, and either perlite or coarse sand. To kill some of the pathogens and weed seeds in garden soil, you have to sterilize it in the oven. Do this by covering the soil completely with foil, heating it to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and maintaining this temperature for 30 minutes. Make sure not to heat the soil higher than 200 degrees because toxins in the soil could be released.

Note: This can’t be compared or equivalent to using potting mixes. However, you could use it if you are on a tight budget.

Can I reuse soil for containers?

No. You don’t want to reuse soil in your containers for the following two main reasons.

  1. It could be contaminated with disease spores or bugs from the previous year which can infect the new plants.
  2. The soil will be stripped of its nutrients, or completely filled with roots from the plants that grew in there before.

It’s best to dump the used garden pot soil into the compost bin, and start with fresh, sterile soil every year. That way, you’ll ensure your plants will grow at their best and produce heavily.

However, if you have extremely large and deep containers or planter boxes, then you don’t need to replace all of the soil. In this case, you could remove the top 3-5 inches of the already used soil, and replace it with fresh soil before you plant anything new in there.

Do I need to add fertilizer to container Potting Mix?

After walking you through understanding what kind of soil to use for container vegetable gardening, it’s good to also talk about fertilizer being another important part of your container vegetable gardening.

Container potting soil loses its nutrients much faster than soil in the ground. The plants use up the nutrients as they grow, and some of them are flushed to the bottom of the pot each time you water. So, it’s important to make sure you add fertilizer to your potted plants on a regular basis. Furthermore, they are depending on you to give them the nutrients they need to survive.

This is mostly important when you’re growing edible plants because they need lots of nutrients in order to produce the best food for us.

Best fertilizer to add to container gardening soil

I greatly recommend using an organic granular fertilizer when you first plant in your containers. Chemical fertilizers could burn the roots of tender and young plants, which can be a big problem in container gardens.

There are lots of great options for natural fertilizers, and they are really easy to use. You can add either an organic vegetable fertilizer or a general purpose fertilizer in all of your containers when you are planting. You should also use organic liquid fertilizer weekly throughout the summer.

How to fill containers

Now that you have the best knowledge on what kind of soil to use for container vegetable gardening, I want to share with you some tips on how to fill your containers in preparation to planting.

  • Before you begin filling your containers, always be sure to start with clean pots. Dirty containers can harbor disease and pests, and you don’t want to risk it. So, if you’re reusing a container, simply use a flower pot brush to remove all the crusted on dirt. Then wash the pot with soap and water to clean it.
  • The amount of soil you need for each of your pots will depend on the size of the container. It can also vary depending on the number and size of the plants that you’re putting in there. Whether you use a potting mix or make your own mix with garden soil, it takes a large amount of soil to fill the large pots needed to grow vegetables. You can save money and some strain on your back by adding filler into the bottom of the pot before adding the soil. Good fillers include a layer of small foam pieces or yogurt cups turned upside down. Use the filler to fill the bottom third of your pot, place a layer of landscape fabric over the filler and then add your soil mix, leaving an inch of room at the top of the pot. That will allow the water to soak in rather than running over the top, which makes a mess and deprives your plants.
  • Check the label before purchasing your container gardening soil mix. It should tell you exactly how many bags you’ll need based on the size and number of containers you’re planting.
  • Hold the plant in place and fill in around the roots, lightly packing the soil as you work. Be sure the root ball is planted at the same depth as it was in the original pot.


Now that you have all the knowledge and tips you need on what kind of soil to use for container vegetable gardening, it’s time to grow as much vegetables as you can in containers.

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