The Differences Between Potting Soil & Garden Soil


If you're a beginner gardener, the vast array of products on the shelves of an average garden center can be overwhelming, and you may question whether you need all these products. The answer depends on your current gardening practices, and concerns about the environmental impact of your gardening. Selecting the right soil is essential, so knowing the key differences between potting and garden soil before a trip to the garden center helps.


  • The chief way that garden soil differs from potting soil is that commercially available potting soil contains special ingredients to enhance the health of plants. While garden soil, also sold as loam, is, generally, just high-quality soil, potting soil is combined with peat moss and vermiculite for drainage, as well as fertilizers. Many high-end potting soil mixes also contain compost, moisture-retention additives, and some sand, also for drainage.

Environmental Concerns

  • Although many of the ingredients in potting soil are beneficial to the health of the individual plant that is planted in this special soil, they are thought, overall, to be harmful to the environment. Peat is not a renewable resource, and its harvesting can damage wetlands. Vermiculite, a mineral, is also not a renewable resource.

    Garden soil does not contain peat moss or vermiculite, and thus does not create the same environmental concerns.

Choosing Your Soil

  • Organic and sustainable alternatives to traditional potting soils are available in some markets. If such resources are not available in an area, gardeners can reduce the environmental impact of using non-renewable potting soils by using them in limited ways, while using garden soil for most applications.

Uses for Both

  • Potting soil's benefits are especially important for vulnerable plants, such as newly planted-out annuals. If potting soil is used, these are the best applications for it. Other uses where potting soil is best are starting seeds, and in container gardening. Garden soil is best for most general garden applications, such as fill when digging in bulbs, shrubs and hardy perennials, as well as for large-scale applications, such as starting new beds or top-dressing.

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