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If you’re looking for a new hobby, gardening is definitely one you should consider. The act of tending to plants, whether they are in small pots around your apartment or in a full-scale vegetable plot in the backyard, has a ton of benefits for your mind and body.
Numerous studies (including this study in Preventive Medicine Reports) link gardening with decreased stress levels and increased happiness. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also reports that one hour of gardening can burn up to 330 calories. Beyond that, spending time outdoors or even indoors with greenery around you is good for the soul and provides an increased sense of community.
Starting a gardening hobby can be as easy as filling a planter or container with plants of your choice, from roses to vegetables. Below, we’ll discuss choosing the best potting soil for your planter, picking out your plants, buying some necessary tools and setting up a planter correctly.
Potting Soil vs Potting Mix
In many garden products, the terms “potting soil” and “potting mix” are used interchangeably with no real difference between the two. To the amateur gardener, this can be problematic.
Because of this lack of real labeling, it’s important to know what to look for in your potting mix. First and foremost, note that any potting soil that contains actual soil is not intended to be used in pots or containers. Bags labeled “potting soil” may or may not contain soil. Garden soil and topsoil almost always contain real soil, so avoid those. Soil can be used throughout your lawn or in raised garden beds, but it’s too dense for plants growing in confined areas, like pots or containers.
On the other hand, potting mix, which usually doesn’t contain soil, has been formulated to produce the right growing conditions for containers. That means the mix is fluffy to allow for plenty of oxygen flow to the roots and adequate water drainage. The mix will also be able to absorb water in order to provide your plants with the hydration they need. The ideal potting mix is some sterile combination of vermiculite or perlite, peat or coir and pine bark.
When shopping for potting mix, the best course of action is to look at the ingredient list. Dismiss anything with the term soil in the ingredients. Potting mix will often be full of ingredients you can’t read, but many are actually natural, including vermiculite and perlite which are added to create a fluffier consistency. If you want to be sure all the ingredients in the potting mix are natural, be sure to buy one labeled as organic.
As a final note on potting mix, some products contain “amendments,” such as chemical fertilizers or sponge-like additives designed to retain moisture. These can be helpful in helping your plants grow, but many are not organic.
In addition, some potting mixes are formulated for certain types of plants, from succulents to vegetables. If you’re growing a singular type of plant in a container, it might be worth searching for a specific potting mix to help that plant live its best life.
Choosing the Right Plants for Your Planter
Probably the most stressful part of creating a planter is choosing the right plants. Of course, the first step, and the easiest part, is to decide which types of plants you want to grow. Planters and containers can grow just about anything, including annuals, vegetables, succulents, orchids and roses.
If you choose to grow vegetables, be aware that most vegetables will require their own, individual container of a certain size. For example, cherry tomatoes and romaine need at least a 1.5 gallon box, while carrots or peppers need a three-gallon container.
On the other hand, succulents can be arranged with other plants in a small planter, but orchids and roses need their own pots.
Annuals allow the most creativity in containers. However, there are several factors to take into account when choosing which plants to place in your planter. These include:
- Size: Check the eventual size of the plants you select. Ensure one plant won’t take over the entire container, or that the plants won’t grow too tall for the space you select for your mini garden.
- Growing Conditions: The plants you can grow in a container will very much depend on the growing conditions where you place the planter. Certain plants thrive indoors but not outdoors. More importantly, you’ll need to look at whether the place you choose gets full sun, partial sun or full shade.
- Color: If you’re buying plants from seedlings, check what color they will eventually become. Blend together warm colors or cool colors, and don’t be afraid to be bold.
- Texture: A container with different plant species gives you the opportunity to blend textures. This technique is more pleasing to the eye than having a single plant texture in an arrangement.
Choosing the right plants might take time as well as trial and error. Part of the fun of container and planter gardening is expressing your own artistic vision through living things.
Choosing the Right Tools for Your Planter
Now that you’ve learned about and hopefully picked out the type of potting mix and plants for your planter or container, it’s time to gather the rest of your supplies.
First, you’ll need to decide on the type of planter you are making. This will mostly depend on the amount of space you have for your plants. You could construct a full, raised garden bed, or you could plant in a variety of containers, including but not limited to a pot, a planter box or even a five-gallon bucket.
Although the supply list for each type of planter will be slightly different, in general, you’ll need:
- Your planter or container of choice
- Plants or seeds
- Small stones or gravel
- Potting mix
- Plant labels
- A watering container
- Plant supports (optional)
Read the next section to learn how to use all of these tools to create the most successful planters.
How to Set Up Your Planter
You have your supplies and your plants, so now it’s time to get down to business. Follow these easy steps to set up and maintain your planter:
- Place your pot, planter or container where you want your plants to live. Do this first as once you add the soil, the container will become heavy.
- Add a two-inch layer of small rocks or gravel to the bottom of your container. This will help with drainage. If you don’t have rocks or gravel but the bottom of your container has holes, cover them with coffee filters.
- Fill the container with potting mix, leaving one inch at the top of the container free from dirt.
- Insert your plants or seeds according to the directions for each. For plants, be sure to loosen the roots before placing them into the potting mix. (Helpful tip: If you’re solely using plants, only fill your container 1/3 of the way with potting mix, then insert the plants and fill around them with the remaining potting mix.)
- Label your plants so you can tell them apart.
- Your planter is now complete, but you’ll need to water your plants regularly. When you do, be sure to lightly wet the soil. Don’t fully soak it.
- After eight weeks, fertilize your plants for the first time. Then, add fertilizer about every two weeks or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Add plant supports, such as stakes or tomato cages, if your plants require them as they grow.
Ready to start creating your planter or container garden? We’ve gathered the top five potting soils/potting mixes to give you the right base for your plants. Read on to find the right one for your garden.
1. Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Soil Mix
If you’re planting containers, the best potting soil mix you can use is this Moisture Control Mix from Miracle-Gro. This mix takes the guesswork out of watering. It holds up to 33% more water than normal soil, yet it won’t hold too much water, either. This provides the right balance between too dry and too moist for your plants. In addition, this potting soil mix contains fertilizers to help your plants grow big and strong. Although these additives will feed your plants for up to six months, it’s a good idea to start a feeding routine after the first 30 days.
2. Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix
For indoor plants, there’s no better choice than Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix. This “soil” contains no compost or bark so that it’s less likely to attract gnats, which you probably don’t want buzzing around your house. The mix also contains coconut coir, which is known to hold and release moisture, ensuring your soil isn’t too dry or too wet. And, as an added bonus, the additives in this potting mix feed plants for up to six months in order to keep your indoor beauties growing as quickly as possible.
3. Window Garden Expanding Organic Fiber Soil
The Window Garden Expanding Organic Fiber Soil is a versatile choice for your garden. These fiber soil discs expand when warm water is added to them, meaning they are easy to store before you need to use them. In addition, the coconut husks, with which this soil is made, are more environmentally friendly and prevent root rot by allowing plenty of oxygen to reach all parts of your plant. This soil can be used both indoors and outdoors, and the set comes with a bag that’s the right size for hydrating the discs.
4. Espoma Organic Potting Mix
For anyone who wants to grow organic fruits or vegetables, it’s essential to use an organic potting mix, like this version from Espoma. The all-natural “soil” contains earthworm castings and myco-tone to improve moisture retention, meaning you won’t need to water your plants as often. Furthermore, the mix is rich in organic matter in order to grow big and beautiful plants. Finally, it’s important to note that this potting mix is ideal for both indoor and outdoor containers.
5. Proven Winners Premium All Purpose Potting Soil
Proven Winners is one of the country’s leading online plant shops. They ship annuals, perennials and shrubs from coast to coast with beautiful results. Now, you can use their secret weapon when growing your own plants at home. The Proven Winners Premium All Purpose Potting Soil contains a blend of premium peat moss, softwood bark and perlite. Together, these elements create a medium-weight potting mix with excellent drainage. This Proven Winners Potting Soil can be used in all outdoor containers, including hanging baskets, pots and garden beds.