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Potting soil isn’t same as potting mix

Published: Thu, February 6, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

Q. The seed article mentioned potting mix. Is this the same as potting soil?

Linda from Boardman

A. No, there is a big difference. Potting soil can be all kinds of things: from the ground or a mix of soil with manure and/or compost. Soil may have been sterilized, but most likely not. Thus, it can contain weed seed in some instances. Potting soil is generally a cheaper product and very heavy compared to a potting mix. This is because it is generally made of sand, silt and clay . The added ingredients give it that black color that makes it look like “good stuff.” It’s not bad, just not the best for pots — or your back.

Potting mix contains no soil. It generally contains peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and other ingredients. Potting mixes are almost always sterile. The finer the potting mix, the better it is for starting seeds. Potting mix is very lightweight, thus it is a good medium for your potted plants and hanging baskets.

I must also mention compost, as I hear about gardeners using this in pots. Compost made from your garden/yard waste and most compost you buy is good stuff, but it is not necessarily the best thing to use in pots. It is meant to be used as a soil amendment in garden areas and fields.

When purchasing potting soil or potting mix, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First, never buy a wet bag of either one. The excess moisture can be growing all types of fungi. Next, be sure to read the label to see if fertilizer or herbicides are included in the bag.

If you want, you can make your own potting mix: Shredded sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite, 1 bushel each; 1 º cups ground limestone; phosphate fertilizer, Ω cup of 0-20-0 or º cup of 0-45-0; 1 cup slow-release granular fertilizer such as 5-10-5.

Other recipes are on the Internet. Be sure it’s from a reliable source by using “university extension” in your search.

Eric Barrett is OSU Ext. educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Call the office hotline at 330-533-5538 from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays to submit your questions.

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