How to Choose the Right Soil for Containers

on March 12, 2018

Other than watering, soil is the single most important decision to make when planting up a GreenStalk Vertical Planter or really any container. For many gardeners good soil is the difference between high yields and dead plants. If you’re like me, walking into a garden center with dozens of different brands and types of soil can be overwhelming. So in this post, we’ll walk you thru exactly what to look for and how to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Look for the word “potting”

Not all bags will say this, but usually soil mixes that have been formulated for containers will say potting mix or potting soil. Never buy anything labeled garden soil or topsoil – those mixes will be too dense for use in containers and can lead to root rot in your plants. Use garden soil and topsoil for in-ground gardening instead. The difference is that potting mix and potting soil will have peat moss or coco coir added to the mix to lighten the soil and increase aeration and moisture retention.

Check the ingredients

Look for peat moss, coco coir or even Pittmoss (we are testing this out now!) it’s also nice if it contains vermiculite, perlite, compost, etc. While you’re looking around you may notice bags that say “organics” – that doesn’t mean that the potting mix is organic. Oftentimes those bags will be much cheaper than other “organic” options. It’s because they are not really organic – the brand is trying to be sneaky. If it is organic, it will be clearly labeled as organic potting mix not “brand name organics”.

Check the texture

A good mix will be smooth and lightweight. You’ll be able to easily break apart the mix and it will absorb water quickly. If there’s big chunks of wood, it’s hard to break apart, or the bag is super heavy, pass. There are so many good potting mixes out there – don’t waste your money on cheap imitations.

Compare sizes

The GreenStalk Vertical Planter uses 1 cubic foot of soil per tier – that’s a lot of soil! All bags are not created equal. Small bags are easier to handle and may be worth the cost difference depending on your preference. If you’re looking for the biggest impact for money spent, go for the big bags! Some bags will be labeled in gallons or even quarts, you can easily pull up a conversion chart online if you’re at the store and unsure how much you need.

Reuse your soil

You CAN reuse your soil. The roots from previous crops will break down in the soil and it will return to it’s previous fluffy state. It’s always a good idea to condition and loosen your soil with each new season. We do this year after year. However, if you didn’t have success with your plantings or had major disease or insect problems, go out and buy a different type and get rid of the mix that gave you problems. You can read all about how to reuse your potting mix here.

Soil is an investment

To get the biggest bang for your buck, you may have to spend more upfront. However, buying a good potting mix is a sound investment. There’s nothing worse than buying seeds, planters, soil, and planting up your garden, carefully watering it, only to realize that the soil is no good. It’s incredibly frustrating and defeating to put in all that work only to be sabotaged from the beginning. A good potting mix is valuable and certainly worth the minimal extra cost than to lose an entire crop and season.

Ask for help

If you are unsure what type of soil to get, ask your local garden center. Nurseries and Garden Centers in your area are a wealth of information on what works best in your particular climate. If you’re at a big box store, look up reviews online by simply searching the brand. I’ve done this a few times. There may not be a ton of reviews on every potting soil, but you will definitely see reviews if people have had a bad experience. Below are some recommendations by brands that we’ve used or our customers have used with favorable results:

Happy Frog Potting Soil

Pro-Mix Potting Mix

Miracle Gro Potting Mix

Espoma Potting Mix

Consider fertilizer

Finally, after you’ve chosen your potting soil/mix, you will need to consider fertilizer. Some plants are not heavy feeders and may not need any extra nutrients for their growth. However, most vegetables can benefit from some fertilizer. You can add an all-purpose fertilizer or compost in at planting or amend later in the season. We use fish emulsion to help our leafy greens along and Espoma’s Tomato Tone for our summer crops. Fertilizer is specific to crop type, so do a quick online search if you’re unsure what to use.

That wraps up our list! For more info on choosing the right soil, email us at grow@greenstalkgarden.com. Share your favorite potting mix/soil below and in our Facebook Gardener’s group.

GreenStalk GrowerHow to Choose the Right Soil for Containers

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3 comments

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  • Susan - May 4, 2018 reply

    What is the ration of potting soil, worm castings and Azomite for the Green Stalk verticle garden? Thank you. I plan on starting mine today.

    yvOnne - June 24, 2018 reply

    azomite tells you on the bag how many TBSP per gallon, so just convert cubic feet (1) to gallons with Google, this is for each tier. potting mix is great with 2 parts coco coir, 1 part worm castings, 1 part perlite, all organic, plus the azomite, possibly some mycorrhizae, & a little dry (slow-release) organic fertilizer. this will keep your plants bursting for months. otherwise, i live Happy Frog or Ocean Forest by FoxFarm. ((:

    Beverly williams - June 27, 2020 reply

    Getting ready to set up planters today.

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