Potting Soil vs Garden Soil – Most Common Differences

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Newbie gardeners always ask these question; what’s the difference between garden soil and potting soil? When is it appropriate to use garden soil? Can I use gardening soil indoors?

Hopefully, after you have read and digested this guide the answer to those questions will stare you at the face.

First, let’s understand what we mean by the phase garden soil and potting soil.

What is Garden Soil?

What is Garden Soil

Garden soil unlike regular topsoil is a bagged product sold in garden shops that contains premixed soil products in ratios. Ideally, this premixed soil is added to the soil in the garden or flower bed to enrich the topsoil with the right nutrients.

There are different types of garden soils out there and the one you buy depends on what you intend to use them for.

Do not confuse topsoil with garden soils, they are not the same. Topsoil are harvested from the first two feet of the earth while garden soils come in ratio mixes.

Big time companies screen and refine topsoil to remove large particles and heavy stones before selling them in bulk.

Depending on the area where you get topsoil, it may contain sand, clay or slits that might not be appropriate for planting. Because of this, companies and gardeners who specialize in gardening products create a mix of topsoil with other nutrients and materials for gardening purposes.

It is this mix of materials with topsoil that is called garden soil. The mixture within a garden soil determines its usage, this is why they have them packaged and labeled differently.

It’s a common practice to find labels like “garden soil for trees”, “garden soil for green vegetables” or “garden soil for shrubs”.

What is Potting Soil?

What is Potting Soil

Potting soils like garden soils is a medium into which you can grow plants, vegetables and herbs. The marked feature of potting soils is that they are designed to be used indoors in a durable container.

Potting soils formulated for maximum results are specific to a plant and its environment.  Popular products used for potting soils are peat moss, mushroom compost, vermiculite and a host of others in varying proportions for maximum yield.

Potting soils are commercially available in specialized shops in various composite combinations specific for optimal growth of plants.

Notable examples of plants that require potting soils are African violets that will perform optimally in a potting mix with lots of peat moss.

What are the Differences Between Garden Soil and Potting soil?

There are many differences between potting soil and garden soil too numerous to mention all. For starters, a very wide range of acidity, fertility and salt content is present in garden soils but potting soils are more specific to a particular plant’s need.

Here are some notable differences between the two soil types:


  • The first striking difference is in the name itself. Garden soils consist of naturally occurring soils found in gardens and flower beds while potting soils are formulated for containers.
  • In varying amounts, garden soils contain sand, silt, loam, rocks and other minerals while potting soil contains natural rocks, moss, composite and plant matter.
  • You can categorize garden soils based on which particular component is dominant. Clay garden soils mainly contain clay soil, loam garden soil will have lots of loamy soil in it. Potting soils on the other hand is classified based on the materials used in making it.
  • Garden soils are normally referred to as living medium because it is a conducive environment for different microbes like bacteria, fungi and nematodes. Potting soil is void of microbes.
  • Potting soils are better at retaining water from watering can, and thus can remain moist for longer periods Garden soils on the other hand drain water easily and are better suited for outdoor use. Garden hoses such as metal hose, rubber hose or expandable hoses are used for watering them.
  • Regarding textures, potting soils are different from gardening soils. Soil texture is directly proportional to constituent ingredients and as such garden soils are a lot heavier than potting soils. Potting soils are light and generally less cumbersome to work on.
  • One major advantage of using sterile potting soil is that it reduces the risk of introducing pathogens into the house. The soil biota of garden soils contains pathogenic organisms that are harmful to humans. Using potting soils indoors becomes more important if you have kids running around the house.
  • Potting soils are more expensive to purchase. Since you probably will be buying several bags, expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $25 per potting bag.

When to Use Garden soil?

Garden soils are at their best when mixed with existing soils in flower or garden beds. For best results you can mix them up with organic matter such as peat moss or compost.

The main purpose of garden soil is to support vegetation and provide an enabling environment for microbes to break down organic matter.

When to Use Potting Soil?

Like gardening soil, potting soils are used to support plant life and vegetation but in a more specific manner suited for plants. Garden soils easily get compact if placed in a container and might not be ideal for the roots of plants.

Potting soils retain water for longer periods and do not shrink in containers.

Regular garden soils can quickly get compact within the walls of a container limiting the growth of roots. Insects and diseases can easily find their way indoors if you use garden soils in place of potting soils indoors.

Final Words

Potting soils and gardening soils differ in many aspects. The main rule of thumb is to use garden soils for outdoor garden and flower planting beds while you strive to maintain potted plants with potting soil.

Hopefully, this article has answered most of the questions you have about garden soils vs potting soils.

Now that you know what each of them is and how they are made up, go about using them properly to grow very healthy and problem free plants and vegetation.

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