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All plants need a species-appropriate supply of light, water, heat and soil. The selection of the substrate for growing, planting and keeping the plants is important so that they can grow healthily without suffering from deficiency symptoms. The question often arises as to which components belong to the potting soil and how this differs from the potting soil that is often offered. The individual subspecies such as vegetable soil or potting soil must also be considered.

potting soil

What is potting soil?

The components of the individual soils are specified by the intended use. These are not always easy to distinguish, since the terms potting soil and potting soil are intertwined and each supplier of potting soil can decide for himself what he calls it. The composition of the soil does not define the intended use and so it is possible that the same product is offered by different manufacturers as potting or potting soil. For this reason, many people assume that using potting soil will give them beautiful flowers, but this is not guaranteed. Despite this problem, the terms can be defined more precisely.

potting soil

  • suitable for plants in gardens, greenhouses, vegetable beds, raised beds and containers

potting soil

  • suitable for indoor, pot, balcony and patio plants, often annual or permanently kept in pots
potting soil


Despite the confusing and not really informative name, potting soil is most often used for these areas and is therefore completely different in composition compared to potting soil. Nevertheless, it is unavoidable that you will come across products in hardware stores or on the Internet that have exactly the same composition but different names. Of course you can also use these, but you should pay attention to the components before buying. Potting soil is mainly used for the following purposes.

  • soil improvement
  • Plant out adult plants
  • Plant out young plants after some time in the pot
  • Keeping in tubs outdoors and for overwintering

Basically, potting soil is not used exclusively as a substrate, except when keeping it in tubs, and helps to optimize locations in their procurement. They act as a general soil and are not directly designed for a plant species or family. Special soils are used here, such as vegetable soil.

Typical plants in the garden that benefit from the potting soil:

  • shrubs of all kinds
  • roses
  • garden flowers
  • hedges
  • perennials
potting soil

Tip: Potting soil is often also referred to as garden soil, which means it can be easily distinguished from potting soil. However, due to its properties, garden soil is often not always recommended for keeping in tubs, but this varies from substrate to substrate.


Components of potting soil

The potting soil needs a special composition that provides the garden plants with sufficient nutrients, especially if the actual soil does not allow for the optimal properties. It has a large number of positive properties that have an effective effect on very nutrient-poor soils and make the growing medium an important helper in the garden. The potting soil offers a real energy boost for the garden plants and they benefit from the following components.

  • Humus parts, mostly bark humus
  • compost from plant parts
  • other organic substances such as coconut and wood fibers, algae or guano
  • peat
  • Fertilizer that lasts four to eight weeks, depending on the manufacturer

When choosing a suitable soil, you should make sure that it does not contain peat. Although peat has been an integral part of numerous substrates for decades, degradation is damaging Europe's natural moorland landscape and at the same time garden soils are becoming acidic due to the too frequent use of peat. It can also be seen that potting soil usually does not have any inorganic or mineral substances, as these have to be added by the gardener himself. Depending on the susceptibility to moisture of the plants or soil, you must therefore add sand and other additives to the substrate so that the roots do not suffocate or drown.

Tip: Do not use typical potting soil for ericaceous plants, as they require a completely different substrate. This note is important as there is often no information about this on the sack in which the soil is delivered.


Differences to the potting soil

If potting soil and potting soil are compared directly, at first glance there are little or no differences. But this is deceptive, because potting soil specializes in potted plants that have to be kept completely differently from their outdoor relatives. A precise comparison shows exactly how different the two substrates are, even if around 90 percent of the substrates are identical.


  • both substrates require a different nutrient composition administered via the substrate
  • Potting soil: less nitrogen, less phosphate, more potassium, less sulfur
  • Potting soil: more nitrogen, more phosphate, less potassium, more sulfur
  • both substrates receive the same amount of magnesium


  • Potting soil is ideally enriched with clay, usually in the form of granules
  • this allows more moisture and nutrients to be stored in the soil

PH value

  • the pH of potting soil (usually 6.1) is slightly lower than that of potting soil (usually in the range of 6.4 - 6.5)


  • Potting soil is mainly used for plants that only have a limited root space
  • without the added clay and optimized nutrients, these would have trouble growing
  • unlike garden plants, these cannot obtain any further nourishment from the natural soil


  • Potting soil is often stored longer so that more microorganisms can develop, which have a positive effect on the growth of the potted plants
  • Garden plants do not need this because there are enough microorganisms in the garden

soil condition

  • Potting soil loosens up the garden soil, while potting soil ensures sufficient water and oxygen storage in the pot
fresh plant substrate


  • Potting soil must be more structurally stable, as only a few additives can be added to improve the soil in this limited space
  • Planting soil uses the structural stability of the natural soil

special earths

In addition to the actual potting and potting soil, there are numerous special soils that are put together either for a specific purpose or for individual plant species. These substrates are important because potting soil is a science in itself. Soil is not the same as soil and so conventional potting or potting soil could, for example, severely hamper the growth of seedlings because they cannot use the substrate optimally. The following special soils can often be found in German gardens.

potting soil

  • potting soil is a particularly nutrient-poor substrate that is used exclusively for growing seedlings
  • the lack of nutrients in the substrate ensures that the roots sprout stronger in the first few weeks
Planting and potting soil

herbal soil

  • Herb soil is used specifically for herbs
  • With a few exceptions, such as Allium ursinum (ramsons), herbs require nutrient-poor, permeable soil with mineral components
  • Quartz sand is usually mixed in by a third to make the herbal soil even more structured for the herbs

vegetable soil

  • the differences between potting soil and vegetable soil are the even higher proportion of nutrients and the use of animal fertilizers
  • Vegetables such as tomatoes (bot. Solanum lycopersicum) require a lot of nutrition in order to develop the large and juicy vegetable fruits and this high nutrient content is achieved by using horn shavings or horn meal

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