Not all “dirt” is created equally. When choosing a potting soil mix for indoor plants, there are many things worth considering. How do you decide which is the best potting soil for the type of plants you are growing? Do you prefer conventional or organic soil? Will your plant thrive in potting soil or a potting mix? What kind of aeration does your plant require? Does the plant do best with a high level of water retention or a low one?
Here are our top picks for every type of indoor soil with expert recommendations to help you choose the best mix for your houseplants.
Top Picks Roundup
Best All-Purpose - ORGANIC MECHANICS® Premium Blend Potting Soil
Best for Succulents & Cacti - ORGANIC MECHANICS® Cactus & Succulent Blend
Best for Orchids - Miracle-Gro Orchid Course Mix
Best Organic - Black Gold Organic Potting Soil
Best Seed Starting - Burpee Concentrated Seed Starting Mix
Best Moisture Control - Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix
Best Soilless - Hydrofarm Light Warrior Soilless Mix
How To Choose An Indoor Soil
Most indoor plants can fall within three main categories of potting mix:
Tropical or aroid soil mix
Cactus and succulent mix
Moisture retentive indoor potting mix for flowering plant
Most leafy, green plants are considered tropical plants and prefer a soil that retains water but also has plenty of free draining elements. However, Vanessa Jovel Byrnes, Co-Owner and Founder of Living with Green, cautions that, “Most bagged soils are too moisture retentive and can cause root issues for plants living indoors.”
“Here at Living with Green, we actually make our own custom Aroid Soil Mix since most bagged soils do not provide the composition we found worked best for our plants. This mix is 3 parts organic potting mix with earthworm castings (fertilizer), 1 part orchid bark, and 1 part perlite. When squeezing a handful of the soil, you should be able to feel some of the rocky and bark pieces, but still visible see mostly soil in the mix,” she says.
Cacti and succulents should mimic the soil composition of the sandy deserts and rocky environments these plants are native to. Vanessa says, “The more sand, grit and rocky elements, the better.”
Lastly, plants that frequently bloom and live in soil (African Violets, Oxalis, Bromeliads) prefer a more moisture retentive mix since blooming takes a lot of energy and resources to maintain. According to Vanessa, “Most indoor potting mixes or blends are ok for these types of plants.”
Brand: Organic Mechanics
Product: ORGANIC MECHANICS® Premium Blend Potting Soil
Starting at: $8.99
ORGANIC MECHANICS® Premium Blend Potting Soil contains loads of organic matter, like compost and worm castings to naturally feed plants. It retains water while facilitating drainage, which can cut your water time in half.
“We use this as a base for our Aroid soil mixes and it is peat-free, which is best for the environment,” says Vanessa. Remember, Aroids include popular houseplants such as Monsteras, Philodendrons, Pothos and ZZ plants, which require rich, well-draining soil that mimics their natural tropical climates.
Best for Succulents & Cacti
Brand: Organic Mechanics
Product: ORGANIC MECHANICS® Cactus & Succulent Blend
Starting at: $6.49
Succulents grow best in sandy, porous potting soil. ORGANIC MECHANICS® Cactus & Succulent Blend for succulents, palms, and cacti contains no peat moss and is “Super gritty and mimics the natural habitat of succulents and cacti best,” according to Vanessa.
This fast-draining soil facilitates contains biochar, which creates a good environment for the plant roots to help prevent excess water from causing root rot.
Best for Orchids
Product: Miracle-Gro Orchid Course Mix
Starting at: $6.97
When looking for an orchid potting mix, you can’t go wrong with Miracle-Gro Orchid Course Mix. It is a course blend of pine bark specially formulated for epiphyte orchids, including Phalaenopsis, Cattleya, Epidendrum, and Dendrobium, and will feed up to six months.
Product: Black Gold Organic All Purpose Potting Mix
Starting at: $14.99
There are many items used to make organic potting mix. Some of the natural items added to provide the nutrients your plants need include worm castings, seaweed, and kelp.
Black Gold Organic Potting Soil is a top choice. It is ideal for your container-grown plants and the soil is enriched in earthworm castings with perlite and pumice added.
Best Seed Starting
Product: Concentrated Seed Starting Mix
Starting at: $4.97
Burpee Concentrated Seed Starting Mix makes a natural seed starter mix made from renewable coconut coir. Simply add water and the concentrated brick of organic material expands to make eight quarts of high-quality, light, well-draining soil that’s perfect for starting delicate seeds in. You can also add any extra material to your potting soil for indoor plants to improve airflow and drainage.
Interested in a DIY seed starting mix? You only need three ingredients: perlite, vermiculite, and sphagnum peat moss (or coco coir).
Best Moisture Control
Brand: Home Depot
Product: Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Soil Mix
Starting at: $13.97
Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix takes the guesswork out of watering because this potting soil protects your plants against over- and under-watering. With AquaCoir for moisture retention capabilities, this product absorbs up to 33% more water than basic potting soil.
Brand: Noot Organic
Product: Indoor Plant Soilless Potting Mix
Starting at: $19.99
If you are new to indoor gardening you might be surprised to hear that some container plants thrive in a pot filled with soilless mix. Soilless potting mixes contain a blend of pine bark, coco coir, peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, or wood chips. They do not contain “dirt” or any organic material, such as compost or worm castings. Pay attention when shopping as some soilless mixes contain fertilizer and some don’t. So you may need to supplement with plant food if your plant requires it.
Soilless mixtures, like Noot Organic Indoor Plant Soilless Potting Mix, are fast-draining and protect plants’ root systems from overwatering and root rot. They also eliminate soil borne diseases, fungal infections, and are better at preventing pests.
Many potting mixes have a variety of natural ingredients in them. Wondering what each specific item adds to the mix?
Peat Moss: Peat moss grows on top of peat bogs. It is a natural potting medium because it has a loose and spongy texture that facilitates exceptional moisture retention.
Perlite: A white-colored, lightweight, granular material, perlite speeds up germination and rooting. In addition, it will improve aeration, drainage, and insulation in the potting mix.
Vermiculite: A glossy, flaky mineral, vermiculite is used in potting mixes to aerate the soil and help with moisture retention.
Coco Coir: Made from the fibrous husks of the inner shell of the coconut, coco coir can be used to increase water absorption and to help maintain a loose structure to the potting mix.
Orchid Bark: Orchid bark is a multipurpose soil amendment that will help aroids, orchids, and epiphytes thrive. They do this by creating quick-draining but moisture-retentive soil.
Sand: Sand adds air to potting mix and can facilitate better drainage.
Compost: Compost is broken down organic matter that is added to soil to add nutrients.
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