How to Make Inexpensive Garden Container Soil: Organic Fertilizer, Lime, Peat Moss, Compost & Dirt

Posted by Gary Pilarchik on

by Gary Pilarchik (The Rusted Gardener)

Do not get fooled into thinking you need to buy expensive container/potting mixes for your container vegetable or flower gardens. There is nothing magical about the base ingredients they use that you can't buy separately, mix and make something as good if not better.

Why make your own container mixes? It will save you a ton of money that you can use in your garden in other ways and you can tweak your recipe, based on the needs of your garden. For instance, high summer heat... add more peat moss, coco coir or water retaining organic matter. And perhaps the best reason, you know what is going into your mixes!

First point, compost is king. Compost you make from leaves, grass cuttings and food scraps is probably the best container soil out there. However, most of us can't make enough to meet our needs or don't have the space to make our own. Second point, the bags labelled 'Potting Mix' are typically made up of 5 things; peat moss, fine wood chips, soil perlite and fertilizer. Sometimes they, but rarely, will contain vermiculite. When you read, "special formulation for moisture control" that means peat moss 99/100 times.

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The video shows you products you can buy (with prices) to blend you own container mixes at a fraction of the cost compared to buying straight bagged  potting mixes. You can also use this for your raised beds and again, you don't have to pay a lot for bags that say "formulated for your raised beds." Those products work and are convenient if you don't have time to make your own. 

The basic recipe is 1 part peat moss to 1 part soil from your garden or the cheap 40 pound bag of top soil from stores. The key is 50% organic matter (peat moss) for water retention. You can substitute coco coir for peat moss if you wish or make a blend. The video shows you how to add lime and fertilizer to the mix. The 'Premium Recipe' is the addition of bagged manure, compost or hopefully your own compost. It would be 1 part peat moss, 1 part soil, 1 part compost. This builds a great base for container mixes that work well as mixed or you can tweak it for your needs and desires. Adding more stuff is always fun.

 

 


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7 comments

  • Gary, can you offer any advice on what to do if you forget to add granular fertilizer and/or lime to your soil mix? I planted Detroit Dark beets from seed in large containers. I amended with about 20% Black Cow Manure but I forgot the granular 4-6-4 and lime. I’ve read that as soon as they come up you should hit them with a water soluble. They are currently 1.5” tall, looking healthy and the haven’t thinned them yet. I’m not quite sure how to proceed with fertilization at this point. Should I scratch 4-6-4 and lime into the top 2-3”, and water in with water soluble (low nitrogen as I’m more interested in the root not leaves)? I thought I would thin them when they got to 3-4”.

    Dave on
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  • I would like to respectfully ask that this blog take a serious look at its stance on the use of peat moss. Peat bogs grow very slowly and sequester massive quantities of carbon from our shared atmosphere. Additionally, the harvesting of these dwindling bogs is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. If you do a bit of research, you will discover that this is in not only true but alarmingly dangerous for our planet’s increasingly fragile ecosystem. Please consider that by encouraging gardeners to amend their soil with this precious natural resource, you may be inadvertently contribution to a much larger global, environmental crisis. I am reaching out with this respectful request because I respect your blog and would like to see a greater focus on sustainability on this topic amongst gardening advocates and educators. Kind regards, Melissa

    Melissa on
  • Nice information on organic fertilizer. keep updating such types of posts.
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    naveen kumar on
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