10 Nov 2011

Why use Potting Mix?

Posted by bcsands

Why buy a bag of soil if you have a garden full of it? Because potting mix is no ordinary soil – and potted plants need something special if they are to grow properly.

What’s wrong with my soil?

There’s probably nothing wrong with your soil – for the plants in your garden that is. With plenty of water and air available, plus worms, insects and bacteria, not to mention the occasional application of fertiliser or mulch – they have everything they need! However, life for potted plants in is a little more challenging and you need to make sure that their restricted area contains everything they need.

In particular, container plants need a good balance between a healthy moisture level and good drainage. Their roots need to be able to access water – but too much will cause the soil to become waterlogged and your plants will die. The variable texture of garden soil – from sand to clay and everything in between – cannot guarantee this. In a commercially produced potting mix the balance will be just right for container plants. Potting mix particles tend to be larger than soil particles and you may see some larger pieces matter in the mix – don’t take these out!

Plants absorb nutrients from their growing medium and because there is so little growing medium available in a pot, any missing nutrients will quickly lead to poor health. Potting mix contains a good mix of nutrients, designed to nourish a pot plant for as long as possible – in some cases, for its entire life.

Specialised potting mixes

Because potting mixes are created to offer the ideal conditions for plants, they can be tweaked into more specialised blends for particular plants. For example, you can buy a potting mix that is acidic and thus perfect for azaleas and other acid-loving plants. Some more ambitious gardeners like to mix up their own potting mixes, but for most of us a commercial blend is fine.

How do I find a good potting mix?

Potting mix is one of those products where you really do get what you pay for. Cheap mixes from the supermarket are unlikely to contain the right nutrients for your plants. For the average gardener, a mid-priced mix from a nursery or landscape product supplier should give you good results.

But don’t forget to add a sprinkle of slow release fertiliser every six months and watering with a soluble fertiliser every few weeks is great for annuals, but avoid using granular fertilisers for pots as they are just too strong.

Test out your potting mix

If you’re still unconvinced, then try a simple test. Pot two identical plants in identical pots, one in potting mix and one in soil from your garden. Treat them in the same way as they grow – keep them side by side in the same place and always water them at the same time with the same amount of water – and watch them as they grow. You will soon notice the difference. The plant in soil will probably survive – but the plant in potting mix will thrive!

Handling potting mix

You need to take the same precautions with potting mix that you would take when handling any bacteria-containing product such as soil or organic matter. Avoid breathing in the dust (keep the potting mix moist and wear a mask), wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly when you are finished.

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