In this blog post, I will walk you through the process of making your own potting soil at home = the way I do it – using readily available materials, and share tips on how to create the perfect mix for your container plants.
If you’re a serious home gardener like me, you know how important it is to have the right potting soil for your plants to grow well. However, buying readymade potting soil can get quite expensive. Making your own potting soil at home is not only cost-effective, but it also allows you to customize the mix to suit your plants’ needs.
Do watch the video below where I mixed it with one new ingredient for disease tolerance. Also, I did NOT use cocopeat this time.
Main (common) ingredients in potting soil
A good potting mix should provide a balance of nutrients, moisture retention, and good drainage for healthy plant growth. The most common recipe you will see all across is:
- 1/3 cococpeat
- 1/3 red soil
- 1/3 compost
But my mixture is slightly different. In this video I have used 1/3 red soil but I prefer to use not more than 20% red soil in any potting mix. The reason is red soil brings with it diseases that are prone to pests. Think of red soil like an environment for a living organism. Base don where you procure it from they contain pathogens.
So here is the ideal mix / ratio for potting mix based on the plants being grown:
- cocopeat – 1 part (for retaining moisture)
- compost – 1 part (for nutrition)
- vermiculite – 1 part (for drainage and aeration)
- red soil – 1 part (for root and plant support / stability)
- sand – 1/2 part (for drainage)
- Neem manure -1 part (for protection from diseases)
Organic mix for potting soil
An organic mix for potting soil includes natural, plant-based materials that are free from synthetic chemicals and pesticides such as:
- Cocopeat / coconut coir – for moisture retention and aeration
- Compost – for nutrients and soil structure
- Perlite or vermiculite – for drainage and aeration
- Organic fertilizer like bone meal – for added nutrients
Other possible organic ingredients that can be added to a potting mix include earthworm, dried sheep or cow dung. These ingredients can provide additional nutrients and microbial activity to support healthy plant growth.
When creating an organic mix for potting soil, it’s important to choose high-quality, organic ingredients and to avoid any materials that may contain synthetic chemicals or pesticides. You can adjust the specific ratios and ingredients to suit the needs of the plants being grown.
Cheapest way to make potting soil at home
This is the cheapest way to make a basic potting mix at home:
- Garden soil – This can be obtained for free from your backyard or a nearby park, as long as the soil is healthy and free from contaminants. I got it from a nursery
- Composted manure – This can be obtained from local stables / goshala, or you can compost your own using food scraps and dried leaf waste.
- Coco Peat or coconut coir – you can purchase these cocopeat blocks in bulk from a wholesaler or garden materials supplier. Pro tip: look for such suppliers on indiamart.com
- Sand or perlite – These can also be purchased inexpensively in bulk from nursery but you wouldn’t need much.
A simple recipe for a cheap potting mix could be:
- 3 parts garden soil
- 1 part composted manure
- 1 part peat moss or coconut coir
- 1 part sand or perlite
Cost of my potting mix to fill six 12″ grow bags
Red soil – 1 bag – Rs. 120
Vermicompost – 50 Kg bag – Rs. 450
Neem manure – 40 kg bag – Rs. 800
I’m left with more than half of the neem manure and vermicompost after filling the grow bags. Fell short of red soil.
How to sterilize soil for potting mix?
Sterilizing potting mix is important to eliminate any pathogens, pests, or weed seeds that may be present in the soil, and to create a clean and healthy environment for your plants. Because if the soil is not healthy it can affect your healthy plants nearby too.
Solarization is the only method I follow: I place the potting mix in a plastic bag or container and leave it in the sun for several weeks. The heat from the sun will kill off any pathogens or pests in the mix. This method can be effective, but it requires a lot of time and sunshine.
You can do it once in the summer.
1. How long does potting soil last?
Potting soil can last for several years if stored properly in a dry, cool place. However, I have seen it losing nutrients over time especially with my lemon tree. My word of advice: it’s a good idea to refresh it with new soil or compost after every two years. Proper storage and occasional maintenance can help prolong the lifespan of potting soil.
2. Should you buy or make your own potting mix?
This is a good question with no straight answers. If you are an avid gardener who has some help and time, you can absolutely do it yourself. I enjoy the process of getting my hands dirty, so I make my own potting mix. It saves money. Buy potting mix if you don’t have the space to mix, don’t want your place to get dirty and are short of time. Buying si definitely more expensive than making your own.
3. Can you mix it in a balcony?
With proper planning, you absolutely can. You’ll need a container or large bucket to mix the ingredients in, as well as a good source of soil, compost, perlite or vermiculite, and other materials like coconut coir or cocopeat. Be sure to measure the ingredients in the right ratio and then mix them thoroughly with a rake.
4. Where can you buy the ingredients needed to make the mix?
Online is often expensive unless you order in bulk. I find small neighbourhood nurseries to the best place for red soil. Or places like Lalbagh if you live in Bangalore. For other materials, like compost, manure and fertilizers, I prefer scouting for a wholesaler in the city.
5. How much does a bag of potting mix cost?
The cost of a bag of potting mix in can vary based brand, and location. On average, a small bag can cost around INR 300 to INR 700, while a larger bag can cost around INR 1,000 to INR 2,000. Premium or organic potting mixes are usually expensive. The nursery ones sell on the lower side for a 25 Kg bag.
6. How do you know if your potting mix is too dense?
Poor drainage, lack of aeration, slow growth, and difficulty in water absorption are some ways to know that the potting mix is too dense. If water stands above the soil after you have watered, then you can be rest assured the mix is dense. This can lead to uneven watering, suffocation of roots or root rot.
7. What are some organic substitutes for peat moss in potting mix?
Coconut coir, cocopeat, vermiculite, perlite, leaf mold are some of the things you can add as organic substitutes to the potting mix. These have excellent water retention, and provide good aeration and drainage.
8. Can you reuse potting mix?
Yes, you can reuse potting mix, but it may need some amending to provide sufficient nutrients for the next batch of plants. I simply remove any dead roots and debris, and add fresh compost, liquid fertilizer & neem manure to the mix. By reusing the mix, I save money and it also helps me in reducing waster. I discard the mix only if it has been continuously susceptible to pests.
9. What can you add to potting mix to improve drainage?
To improve drainage in potting mix, you can add materials that create air pockets and allow excess water to drain out of the container. Some materials you can add to potting mix to prevent water logging are:
- Perlite: Perlite is a lightweight, porous material that is commonly used in potting mix. It helps improve drainage by creating air pockets in the soil, allowing excess water to drain out of the pot.
- Vermiculite: Vermiculite is a lightweight, porous material that helps improve drainage and water retention in potting mix.
- Coarse Sand: Coarse sand helps create air pockets in the soil and allows excess water to move out of the pot.
- Pine Bark: Pine bark is a natural material that is high in organic matter that provides good aeration and drainage.
- Pea Gravel: Pea gravel is a small, rounded stone that can be added to the bottom of the pot; it creates a space for excess water to collect and drain away from the plant roots.
When adding materials to potting mix to improve drainage, it is important to ensure that the mix still retains enough water for plant growth. Otherwise if all the water drains out of the pot, plants will not get the required amount of moisture needed for growth.
10. Can you use garden soil as potting mix?
From my experience over the years, I would NOT recommend using garden soil as a potting mix. The reason for this is they have poor drainage, make the pots extremely heavy to move around.
Another issue I have with garden soil is they are prone to diseases, weeds, and pests. I have found soil from some nurseries also lacking in nutrients. resulting in poor growth of plants.