Garden Soil vs Potting Soil | What’s the Difference?

Potting Soil

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: dirt matters. Or more specifically, soil matters. The soil you grow in is the basis of your garden and will play a large part in determining whether your garden is successful or not.

When you’re starting your garden — whether in a container or in the ground — what soil you choose is a very important consideration. So in the case of garden soil vs. potting soil, what’s the difference and which is better? Well, it depends entirely on what you’re using it for.

Inevitably, topsoil must also come up because understanding topsoil is imperative to understanding the other soils. Below, we lay out what each type of soil is (garden soil vs potting soil vs topsoil), their benefits, and when to use it.

What is Topsoil?

Top soil

In the gardening world, we make a clear distinction between dirt and soil. Soil is the material we grow in, while dirt is just…well, dirt.

Strictly speaking, topsoil is just dirt. It’s the top layer of dirt that’s unique to your locale. If you’re filling a hole in your yard, you just need regular topsoil.

Enriched topsoil is a mix of your local topsoil and organic material that improves its ability to grow something. If you want to grow plants successfully, it’s vital to use enriched topsoil.

What is Garden Soil?

A product labeled as ‘garden soil’ is usually a pre-mixed soil product that’s intended to be added to the existing soil in a garden bed. Garden soil contains enriched topsoil, plus other unique materials and nutrients that will help specific plants grow successfully. Each product will vary in content, depending on what is intended to grow in them.

When to Use Gardening Soil

Garden soils work best when growing in a garden bed — raised or not. Basically, if you’re not planting in a container, garden soil is usually your best bet.

Garden soils are very heavy and can make growing in a container quite difficult. Till in the soil with existing garden soil and mix with other materials, like compost, peat moss, or a potting mix to add nutrients to the soil.

Generally, garden soils should make up 50% or less of your mixture, the other 50+% made up of compost or soilless potting medium.

Benefits of Garden Soil

Soil: Garden soil vs potting soil

Potting soils are specifically made to be neutral: average pH needs and basic nutrients. Garden soils vary by location and amendments.

A huge pro of garden soil is that it’s easily renewable! You can simply save kitchen scraps and other yard waste and add it to the soil. If you take care, you may not have to re-purchase your garden soil next season.

Cons of Garden Soil

Garden soil is quite heavy. Because of the topsoil contained in garden soil mixes, they’re dense and retain quite a lot of water. While this is fine in the proper context, it can sometimes not allow for proper aeration and might suffocate the plant.

What is Potting Soil?

Potting soil is technically soil-less. Potting mix is used interchangeably to describe potting soil, although at times, potting soil will contain soil, while potting mix never does. So read the label!

A useful potting soil is a mix of peat or coir, pine bark, and vermiculite or perlite. Because of these ingredients, potting soil is not very dense and good for drainage. It won’t compact too much, allowing roots to take up water and have access to oxygen.

Some mixes might contain amendments, like fertilizers and additives, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to fertilize throughout the grow!

When to Use Potting Soil

Use soil-less potting soil when you’re planting in a container — whether that’s in your MoGrow bag, a terra-cotta pot, or window boxes. The ingredients in a potting mix retains water and nutrients, but simultaneously promote drainage and aeration.

They’re also less compactible than garden soil. These make them very suited to a container and indoor garden’s needs and make them poor for garden beds.

Benefits of Potting Soil

Potting soil is specially blended and easier to customize to specific plants (including, sometimes people). There are cactus soils, acid-lover soils, and water-holding mixes for people who forget to water their plants.

They’re also generally easier to maintain. While garden soils absolutely require buying several amendments to mix in, potting soils are ok to use right out of the bag.

Additionally, there are mixes called “sterile mixes” which can reduce the chance of disease. Lastly, potting soil doesn’t contain any microorganism or seeds that might bloom once you begin watering.

Cons of Potting Soil

Unfortunately, potting soils can be quite pricy, while the garden soil is free. Plus, potting soil usually does not contain many organic materials, so ensuring plants are getting the nutrients they need requires extra attention.

Comparing garden soil vs potting soil shows us that, ultimately, they’re actually quite different! They’re used for entirely different purposes and their composition reflects that. It’s best to assess what you need from your soil and then make an educated choice.

If you’re looking to grow in a container and avoid the hullabaloo of choosing the right soil, let us choose for you! Our garden kits contain highquality soil, specifically curated for your plant’s and your location’s needs.