How to choose the best soil for houseplants
If you’re looking to keep your own house plants, then you should know the importance of soil.
Each plant has its individual soil requirements, and failing to meet them can determine whether a plant thrives or dies. You’d be surprised how much plants depend on soil. It provides them with a habitat, nutrients, hydration, warmth, and more.
What sort of soil should you look for, and how do you choose the best soil for houseplants?
Why Does Soil Type Matter?
First and foremost, different soil types have different levels of soil retention. Some plants require more moisture, while others need soil that will drain quickly. Otherwise, if the roots are allowed to soak in soggy soil, root rot becomes a risk. This is a deadly fungal disease that is a fast plant-killer.
Proper drainage will go a long way to preventing not just root rot, but also crown rot and other health issues. Soil is also your plants’ only source of nutrients, so ensuring that it provides the necessities is key. For this reason, potting and gardening soil will often contain manure or fertilizer. Finally, potting or gardening soil is the safest way to provide plants with water. Without it, they would absorb the water too quickly, and drown (with some exceptions, such as the pothos, and certain succulents, etc.).
A Plant’s Natural Habitat Decides its Preferred Soil
Ultimately, plants require soil that reflects their natural habitat. For example, African Violets grow in humid rainforests, where the soil is perpetually damp. Likewise, they prefer their soil moist (but never soggy).
Cacti, on the other hand, need extra well-draining soil. Some plants are less picky, and for them, your basic, quality potting mix will do. No matter the soil, most plants will benefit if you mix in some sort of plant food, like manure or fertilizer.
This mimics the decomposed leaves, dead bugs and animals, droppings, and other nutritious organic matter that plants have access to in their wild, natural habitat.
Types of Soil
Many houseplants will do fine with plain potting soil. Some plants will require certain, custom types, however. Potting soil often comes pre-mixed with fertilizer. If you are planning to keep indoor plants, you will want potting soil rather than gardening soil. This is not only more lightweight, for the sake of portability, but extra nutrient-rich as well. Why? Because outdoor, garden plants will still have decomposed leaves and other natural nutrients. Indoor houseplants will need it delivered to them directly through the potting soil.
Cactus or Succulent Potting Mix
If you have succulents or cacti, you can go the easy route and pick up store-bought succulent or cactus potting mix. Or, you can create your own cactus and succulent-friendly potting mix at home by adding certain ingredients, like sand, to it.
Gardening soil is specially formulated for outdoor plants and is therefore not ideal for indoor houseplants. It’s made for plants that also receive nutrients from natural sources, and is typically not nutrient-rich enough to be successfully used as potting soil.
It is a good choice for the outdoor gardener.
Perlite is extremely useful if you require particularly well-draining soil. This is a lightweight form of volcanic glass, which is porous enough to naturally hold onto bubbles of air. As a result, it can oxygenate the roots of plants, and it causes soil to drain extraordinarily well.
Perlite is perfect for plants that love exceptionally well-draining soil, such as cacti. It can also make any soil that might be too dense more lightweight. You can add it to virtually any potting mix.
When added to potting soil, vermiculite basically serves the opposite purpose of perlite. It’s made of silicates that, like sponges, retain water.
If you live in a dry area, and your potted plants tend to dry out too quickly, you can add some vermiculite. It can also be used to make the soil more alkaline (see pH below).
Just use care, as too much vermiculite will cause the soil to hold onto an excess of water. This creates the perfect breeding ground for root rot and other deadly diseases. Remember, with any potting mix, balance is key!
Peat Moss in Potting Mix
Peat moss is ideal for moisture-loving plants. Like vermiculite, it holds onto water. It mimics the natural habitat of rainforest plants, like the Snake Plant or the Staghorn Fern. Peat moss is also nicely lightweight, compared to vermiculite (something else you may wish to consider).
If you have plants that need extra well-draining soil, sand is another popular option. It’s a naturally non-absorbent material, which means it causes the water to simply slide past the granules, draining effectively! It’s often one of the main ingredients in cacti or succulent potting mix. Add some quality sand for a better-draining potting soil.
Manure and Compost
While compost serves little purpose to humans and other animals, plants consider it valuable lifestuff. This being said, you may not wish to use manure for indoor houseplants – especially if you find the idea of cow droppings or chicken waste distasteful. This is one you may wish to leave to outdoor plants.
Compost, on the other hand, is made of deteriorated organic material and will enhance just about any plant’s growth and vigor.
What is Soil pH and Why Does it Matter?
Soil pH is used to measure the acidity and alkalinity of the soil. On average, it ranges from anywhere between 3-10. When choosing the soil for your plants, look into the pH requirements for each. Some plants are picky, and some aren’t.
As you can see, potting house plants isn’t as simple as popping them into the nearest dirt or potting mix that you can find. Instead, you’ll want to pick your soil type with care and according to the requirements of your plants.
Most will be comfortable in some variation of your standard potting mix, with just small additions of sand, perlite, or peat moss, etc. With just a bit of know-how, choosing the best soil for your houseplants really couldn’t be easier.