Best Soil for Container

kosherbaker(LA CA-10)March 18, 2011


I'm an apartment dweller, who's only choice is to grow my veggies, herbs and someday fruits in the containers. I only grow edible things. I'm curious as to which type of potting mix would be best to use in the containers for me.

Option 1. Purchasing an Organic Potting mix from the store, (which is what I've been doing so far)

Option 2. Use soil from other people's gardens. Either top soil or stuff from backyard remodeling). Or soil from lower levels from digs that precede construction.

So far I've been using Organic Potting mixes from local companies here in Los Angeles, that have no bat guano or blood meals in them. If you recommend Option 1 is there an actual brand that you feel would work best? And if you recommend Option 2 then would the Top or Bottom soil work best? Also, would option 2 need some other materal(s) mixed into it?

If this has already been covered a link would work for me.



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You don't want soil in a container because that tends to not drain well. Potting mixes are soil less, even if called potting soil, and are made of Peat Moss, Coir, or finely ground bark, or maybe a combination of these.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 6:37AM
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Growing plants in containers is very different from growing plants in the ground and the type of potting soil required reflects that difference. Garden soil is too dense and uniform with regards to particle size and that affects drainage and aeration - the two most important considerations (aside from watering) when growing in containers. You need a mix that is durable and offers the right size and texture of ingredients to hold up to the frequent watering containers require yet still provide fast drainage and aeration (oxygen for the plant roots).

Pretty much any potting mix - usually referred to as a "soil-less" mix as there is no real "soil" included - will provide a reasonably suitable growing medium for at least a single season but some are much better than others. In the LA area you should be able to locate Gardner&Bloome soil products or other bagged soils provided by Kellogg Garden Products, a local manufacturer/supplier. These are available through better nurseries and garden centers - not box stores. The G&B Blue Ribbon Potting mix is an excellent, fully organic product that comes close to what is described in the attached link.

The link I've attached to goes a very long way in explaining the differences required in a container soil and is worth the read. Ideally, making your own potting mix is the best way to go as you can guarantee exactly what you are getting but that is not always practical for a smaller container gardening project. The G&B potting soil is a very good alternative......much better than a lot of other, less desirable mixes (i.e. MiracleGro Organic).

I'd also encourage you to visit the Contaier Gardening forum - it will answer a lot of other questions you may have and give some guidance as well as to the most efficient means of fertilization of your container garden.

And can I ask why you avoid the bat guano? It is an excellent source of organic nutrients.

Here is a link that might be useful: Container soils - everything you need to know

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 10:02AM
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Dan Staley

What GG said and I'd add that perusing the Container Forum should provide all the info you need to know, esp those threads in which Al (Tapla) participates.


    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 11:12AM
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kosherbaker(LA CA-10)

Thank you very much for your replies. You don't want soil in a container because that tends to not drain well.

Yup I caught that from reading some of the posts here. This is why I was wondering if it may be possible to mix something(s) into the soil to properly aerate it and also get the benefits of the microorganisms that are normally found in the soil. But it sounds like you are both saying "Don't Bother". Is that correct?

Gardengal thank you very much for the link and the product recommendation, never would have looked to Kellogg as a possible or potential source. :) I'd also encourage you to visit the Contaier Gardening forum - it will answer a lot of other questions you may have and give some guidance as well as to the most efficient means of fertilization of your container garden.
Thanks. Believe it or not, I already paid them a visit albeit a very short one. Will definitely continue to read it though. Although, I'm finding that folks in other forums are a bit less scrupulous about how they "feed" their plants and how they deal with pests. Which is why I posted the Container question in this forum. I've also started doing searches for "Container" in this forum. Lot's of great info. And can I ask why you avoid the bat guano? It is an excellent source of organic nutrients.
I'm not sure how to properly answer this question, without appearing like a nut job. :) So maybe I'll just spit it out.
Some "ingredients" are just a little bit too much for me to take at this point in time. Maybe because I'm a clueless noob, or maybe there are some other reasons. Some posts I read here talk about using human excrement and urine. :-O Blood is another one that's a bit over the top for me. Bat Guano I suppose is the extension of the latter as bats are vampires and live on blood. I guess it's just way too disgusting for me at the moment. If going without feces is not an option, I suppose chicken poop and maybe bovine poop is probably all I'm good for at the moment. And even then as a mix in the compost. :)


    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 11:52AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

We know that you don't 'really' think that bats are vampires. ;-)

If you are giving your business to a locally owned garden center, you may be able to get them to special order you one of the exceptional potting mixes from Fafard. I am NOT talking about Fafard's retail mixes, which are made according to what they think the general public is used to in bagged potting mixes (crap).

Their commercial, professional mixes are so superior to the typical mix. I used to make up my own medium with all of the ingredients similar to what you'll see so often talked about in the container forum, but got sooooooo sick and tired of running all over town collecting the components that container growing was so longer fun. Please don't fall into that trap. Of it not being fun, I mean.

The Fafard commercial line is composed of several light-wight, medium-weight, and heavy-weight mixes. I've used several of them over the years but have settled on the heavy weight #3 or the Nursery Mix. All of the heavy weights have bark as the first ingredient, which makes for excellent drainage and porosity.

I've never had a garden center hesitate about making special orders for me. Some of them have even switched over to Fafard for their own potting purposes once they got their hands into mine!

Remember, when growing in containers, your highest priority should be obtaining a porous, fast draining medium. Adding a bunch of manure, castings, compost, guano, and other ingredients that may break down rapidly and turn to muck could result in poor performance for your plants as they struggle to find oxygen.

Have fun experimenting! And don't let any bats get into the bedroom at night!

Here is a link that might be useful: click here

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 4:20PM
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I am not at all sure Fafard soils are available on the west coast. I've never seen them and I've been in the nursery business here for a long time, even spending a number of years as a hardgoods (and that would be soils and soil products among other items) buyer. I don't know of any of our usual vendors that carry this product......some things are just very regional and I believe this is one :-)

And Rudy, I'd not think you to be a nut job at all but maybe just not very well informed about bats? Of the over 1000 species of bats, most of them (about 70%) are insectivors, like a lot of our other flying garden friends, the birds :-) Most of the rest are fruit or nectar eaters. Only 3 species out of 1100 are blood feeders or what are commonly known as "vampire" bats. On the whole, bats are extremely ecologically friendly critters, responsible for ridding us of a lot of bothersome flying insects, pollination of certain flowers and the seed dispersal of certain fruits. And their guano is one of the most nutrient rich organic fertilizers, providing an excellent source of phosphorous, calcium and various micronutrients. And with no odor! Bat guano also has natural fungicidal and nematicidal properties.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 8:15PM
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rhizo 1, there are vampires in many groups, just none in human form. Bats, ticks,lice & so on...............

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 9:37PM
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kosherbaker(LA CA-10)

Just wanted to say thanks to each and every one of you who have posted here in this thread. I know how hard it can be answering the same noob question over and over. :)

GardenGal that is one awesome thread there, and the links in it will take hours and hours to read and process. :) That thread is a perfect candidate for a sticky in many gardening related forums here on GW.
Also, I'm totally with you on everything you had said about bats. However, I simply cannot bring myself to use any form of blood in my growing medium. Even if I had real soil I wouldn't use it my compost, let alone in a container where the plant feeds directly. Especially since there appear to be alternatives. Sorry. :)

Thank you all.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 10:18AM
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Longtime lurker first time poster.. I know it's been a while since last post on this thread but here goes..I see some members recommend the G&B Blue Ribbon potting mix (gardengal and others) for container growing and it's similarity to Al's mix..Question is, do those that use this mix find it needs amending i.e additional peat or, EWC, perlite etc..
What are your thoughts?


    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 11:00AM
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Yea. I did not notice this topic was so old. However, I never used that mix you are talking about, but I would NOT add peat. You could add perlite, but not peat. Once you get to much fine material it makes it so the whole mix wont drain well. I read never to go under 4;1 bark/fine material(potting soil/peat/ect). So like 7;1 is fine, but never a 2;1 for example, I used a course bark mixed at something like 6;1 bark/potting mix and because I used large bark it did wash a bit to the bottom of the large containers I used. So The mix I used all course bark sure had to be watered and fertilzed a lot, but did not have the problem with anything washing to the bottom, yielded a lot, and the mix lasts a long time.

This post was edited by TheMasterGardener1 on Wed, Mar 20, 13 at 14:51

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 2:32PM
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Thanks for the info/tips TMG..
After using the Patio Plus soil(Kellogs) last year for toms and peppers, I thought maybe give the Blue Ribbon a try..I see folks like gardengal recommend it for containers..The PPS was draining too well (IMO) and was drying out too quickly, and I never did ammend..Of course I did have to water often and feed weekly or sometimes more often..
I'm hoping to hear from those that actually use(d) the product to chime in as well..Anyhow thanks again!!..

This post was edited by tonsus on Wed, Mar 20, 13 at 17:36

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 5:35PM
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Peat moss and perlite have vastly different purposes in the potting mix. You could make a potting mix without peat moss but the perlite is there to aid in drainage and propably is not something that could be left out of the formula.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 6:30AM
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"Peat moss and perlite have vastly different purposes in the potting mix"

I am aware of the different purpose(s) of peat and perlite in a potting mix..My question was/is, do those that have used the G&B Blue Ribbon soil mix which already contain PM and for aeration(pumice) AFAIK, as well as other goodies, find that it needs additional amending in their 'opinion'..But thanks for the response kimmsr, much appreciated : )

This post was edited by tonsus on Thu, Mar 21, 13 at 11:17

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 10:55AM
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Yes. You can not add perlite and be fine. For outdoor plants in high heat and light leveles, a mix of 90% peat and 10% composted horse manure grew me a huge harvest last year.

I grew plants in 100% bark even. The roots where bright and healthy in color and thick. The roots grown in the peat moss had thin roots and darker. The harvest was about the same. This is why I dont bother. I use a basic potting mix in my containers. Only a few large containers I use bark in.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 1:09PM
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