The Best Soil for Plants: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Perfect Soil

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Have you ever gone to a plant store, seen a beautiful plant, and then brought it home only to watch it slowly die?

If you can't figure out why your plants keep dying, it might be time to take a closer look at the soil you're using.

Believe it or not, not all soil is created equal. Just like people, plants have different needs and preferences.

In this article, we'll break down everything you need to know about choosing the best soil for plants.

What is soil?

Let's start from the beginning. What exactly is soil? Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and countless organisms that interact in complex ways. It forms a thin layer around our planet that is essential for life as we know it.

There are five main types of soil are: sand, silt, clay, peat, and loam, but more soilless types are being used in gardening, such as sphagnum moss, perlite, vermiculite, coco coir etc.

What does soil do for houseplants?

Soil is essential for houseplants, providing them with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. It also helps to regulate moisture levels and prevent weed growth.

In addition, soil can help to insulate roots from extremes of temperature, protect them from pests and diseases, and provide a physical support structure.

Without healthy soil, houseplants would quickly die. That's why it's so important to choose the right type of soil for your plants and to regularly check the condition of the soil in your pots and planters.

By taking good care of your plant's soil, you'll ensure that they stay healthy and vigorous for many years to come.

Sand soil

Sandy soil is made up of large particles of sand. Sandy soil drains quickly and doesn't hold onto nutrients very well. As a result, plants growing in sand soil often need more frequent watering and fertilising than plants growing in other types of soil. 

The benefits of sand soil for houseplants

Sand soil is well-draining, so it helps to prevent problems like water logging and root rot.

In addition, sand soil warms up quickly in the spring, making it ideal for plants that need a head start on the growing season.

And because sand particles are small, they can be easily turned and aerated, which helps to promote healthy root growth. For these reasons, sand soil can be a great choice for houseplants or added as an amendment.

Clay soil

Clay soil is a type of soil that is composed of very small particles.

Clay soil is beneficial for houseplants because it helps to hold moisture and nutrients. Additionally, clay soil is dense, which helps to support the roots of plants.

However, clay soil can also be difficult to work with, and it can compact over time. For these reasons, it is important to add organic matter to clay soil on a regular basis. This will help to improve drainage and aeration, and it will also add vital nutrients that plants need to grow.

In addition, be sure to water clay soil thoroughly and allow it to dry out completely between watering sessions. 

Peat soil

Peat soil is a type of soil that is commonly used for houseplants. Peat is partially decomposed organic matter, such as leaves or moss, that has been compacted over time in peat bogs.

Peat soils are relatively easy to find and typically contain a high degree of organic matter. This makes them ideal for plants that require nutrient-rich soil, such as vegetables or flowers.

However, peat is also a valuable natural resource, and its extraction can have negative environmental impacts.

Loam soil

Loam-based potting soils are usually the best choice for indoor plants. They are usually balanced with nutrients and light, and they don’t break down quickly.

The benefits of loam soil for houseplants

Loamy soil is often considered to be the ideal type of soil for growing plants. This is because loam soil has some very desirable properties that make it well-suited for plant growth.

First of all, loam soil is very aerated, which means that there is a lot of space between the individual particles of sand, silt, and clay. This aeration allows the plant roots to easily penetrate the soil and access the nutrients they need to grow 

In addition to being well-aerated, loam soil also holds onto moisture very well. This is because the clay particles in loam soil act like little sponges, absorbing water and then releasing it slowly over time. This property is especially beneficial for plants that need to be watered less frequently (such as succulents) 

Lastly, loam soil is very nutrient-rich due to the high level of organic matter it contains. This makes it ideal for feeding plants that are heavy feeders (such as tomatoes).

Soilless potting ingredients

For those who love to have houseplants, several soilless potting ingredients can be used to provide plants with the necessary nutrients and support.

Some of the most popular soilless potting ingredients include perlite, vermiculite, coco coir, and sphagnum moss.

Each of these materials has its own set of benefits that can help to promote healthy plant growth.

Coco Coir

Coco coir or coconut coir is another type of soil that is becoming more common. It is made from coconut husks, and it is often used as soil for houseplants.

Coco coir is very porous and light, so it is a great choice for indoor plants. It is also usually very affordable compared to other types of soil for houseplants.

Coco coir is also very easy to find. You can buy at your local garden centre or online at For Peat's Sake. It is also very easy to use and will last a long time, and you can buy them in blocks which is good for space saving.

The only drawback is that it doesn’t have many nutrients and you will have to fertilise your plants regularly, or they may become sickly.

Sphagnum moss

Sphagnum moss is a plant that is commonly found in bogs and other wetland areas. It is characterised by its soft, spongy nature, and its ability to hold large amounts of water.

This type of moss is incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of ways to help your plants thrive. I use it to make my moss poles for my Monstera and Pothos as the aerial roots have something to grab onto.

It can also be used as a mulch, helping to suppress weed growth and keeping the soil moist. In addition, sphagnum moss makes an excellent top dressing for potted plants, providing a clean, natural-looking finish.

Sphagnum moss shouldn't be confused with Sphagnum Peat Moss. Sphagnum peat moss is actually a decomposed form of sphagnum moss, and it's often used as a soil amendment or mulch.

However, sphagnum moss itself can also be used as a potting medium, and it has some distinct advantages over its decomposed form. For one thing, it's much lighter and easier to work with.

It also retains moisture better than sphagnum peat moss, making it ideal for plants that like wet conditions. And because it's derived from a live plant, it contains beneficial microbes that can help to promote plant growth.

So if you're looking for an alternative to potting soil, consider using sphagnum moss instead. Just be sure to get the right type!


Perlite is a type of volcanic rock that is often used as a soil amendment or potting medium. When it is heated, it expands and becomes porous, which makes it light and well-aerated.

This makes it an ideal growing medium for houseplants, as it helps to improve drainage and prevent root rot. Perlite is also sterile, so it doesn't harbour harmful bacteria or fungi.

In addition, it is inert, which means it won't affect the pH levels of the soil. Perlite can be found in most garden centres or online retailers that sell gardening supplies.

It is usually sold in bags or buckets and is relatively inexpensive. Houseplants that thrive in perlite include African violets, begonias, cacti, and succulents.

When potting or repotting plants in perlite, be sure to wear gloves and a dust mask to avoid inhaling the fine particles.


Pumice is very similar to perlite in that it is a lightweight, porous volcanic rock that can be used to improve the drainage and aeration of potting mix.

It is also excellent at absorbing excess water, which helps to prevent root rot. When adding pumice to potting mix, be sure to wear gloves and a dust mask, as the particles can be sharp and irritate the skin.

Pumice is available in a variety of particle sizes, from fine to coarse. For most houseplants, coarse-grade pumice is ideal.

If you cannot find pumice locally, a good choice is to buy from Soil Ninja or Grow Tropicals, which are both companies that I have used and recommend!.

Just be sure to wash it thoroughly before using it in your potting mix.


Vermiculite is a lightweight material made from expanded mica. It is often used as a soil amendment or potting mix component because it improves drainage and aeration while still retaining moisture and nutrients.

Vermiculite also has excellent insulation properties, making it ideal for use in seedling propagation. Houseplants generally benefit from the addition of vermiculite to their potting mix.

The extra drainage it provides can help to prevent root rot, and the improved aeration can encourage strong root growth. Vermiculite can also help to hold onto moisture, which is especially helpful during hot, dry periods.

Pine Bark

Pine bark soil is a type of potting mix that is made from—you guessed it—pine bark. It's a popular choice for houseplants because it retains moisture well and doesn't compact over time like some other types of potting mixes.

Another great thing about pine bark soil is that it's super lightweight. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you've ever had to lug a heavy pot of dirt around your house then you know how much of a pain it can be. Lightweight potting mix is also great for plants that are top-heavy or have a tendency to tip over, like snake plants or spider plants.

Why Use Pine Bark Soil for Houseplants?

There are a few reasons why pine bark soil is such a great choice for houseplants. First of all, as I mentioned before, it retains moisture really well. This is important because it means your plants will have a constant supply of water, even if you forget to water them for a few days (we've all been there!).

Pine bark soil also has a neutral pH level, which is ideal for most houseplants. And because it's so lightweight, it's easy to re-pot plants with pine bark soil without having to worry about them being too heavy or top heavy.

Compost Based Mixes

What exactly is compost? Simply put, it is organic material that has been broken down into a rich, crumbly soil amendment.

Compost can be made from a variety of materials, including leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps. The key to making good compost is to create a balance of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials.

Carbon-rich materials, such as dead leaves and twigs, provide the energy that bacteria need to break down organic matter.

Nitrogen-rich materials, such as green leaves and kitchen scraps, provide the proteins that bacteria need to grow and reproduce.

If you don't have the time or space to create your own compost mix, you can easily buy it from garden centres and is usually very cheap for a bag of it. It is also usually very easy to work with and lasts a long time.

Soil Amendments:

Worm Castings

Worm castings are a type of compost created by worms.

As they consume organic matter, their digestive process breaks down the material and enriches it with nutrients.

Worm castings are an excellent source of both nitrogen and phosphorus, two essential nutrients for plant growth. They also contain high levels of potassium, which helps to promote flowering and fruiting.

In addition, worm castings help to improve soil structure and drainage. As a result, they can be a valuable addition to any houseplant's diet.

When applied to the soil, worm castings help to ensure that your plants always have access to the nutrients they need to thrive.

Activated Charcoal

If you’ve ever wondered what activated charcoal is and how it can help your houseplants wonder no more!

Activated charcoal is simply regular charcoal that has been treated with oxygen to make it more porous.

This extra porosity gives it a large surface area, which makes it ideal for absorbing impurities from the air, water, and soil.

When used in houseplants, activated charcoal can help to remove toxins, bacteria, and fungi from the growing environment. It can also help to reduce odours and keep the soil moist.

In addition, activated charcoal can be used to create a micro-environment for delicate seedlings by absorbing excess moisture and keeping the air around them warm and humid.

Overall, activated charcoal is a versatile tool that can be used to improve the health of your houseplants.

Choosing the best soil for plants

The type of soil you should use for your plants depends on two things: the type of plant you have and the pot you're using.

Different pots will have different drainage needs, so it's important to also take that into account when choosing your soil.

For example, terracotta pots (I love these pots from The Soil Pot on Etsy) have large drainage holes that allow water to drain quickly, so they are good for fast-draining soils like cactus mix or perlite-based mixes.

The Soil Pot

On the other hand, plastic pots have smaller drainage holes that allow water to drain more slowly, so they are good for soils that retain moisture like coco coir or sphagnum moss.

It's also important to consider what kind of plant you have because different plants have different nutrient requirements.

For example, succulents need very little nutrients because they store water in their leaves (that's why they're able to survive in dry conditions), so they do best in sandy soils like cactus mix or succulent mix.

On the other hand, plants like ferns need lots of humidity and nutrients because they're constantly losing water through their leaves (that's why they love hot showers), so they do best in rich soils like potting mix or terrarium mix.

No matter what type of plant or pot you have, there are four things all plants need to thrive: air, light, water, and nutrients.

While different plants have different nutrient requirements, all plants need air in order to breathe and water in order to drink. So no matter what type of plant you have or what type of pot you're using, make sure your potting mix has good drainage so your plant doesn't get too much or too little water.

Too much water will suffocate your plant by depriving it of oxygen; too little water will dehydrate your plant causing its leaves to droop (a telltale sign that your plant is thirsty).

Q: Can you reuse potting soil?

Yes, you can definitely reuse potting soil! In fact, reusing potting soil is a great way to save money and reduce waste.

However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind if you're going to reuse potting soil. First of all, it's important to make sure that the potting soil is clean before you reuse it.

This means that all of the old plant material, such as roots and stems, should be removed. The easiest way to do this is to sift the potting soil through a screen or colander.

Once the potting soil is clean, you'll also need to add some fresh amendments. This will help to replenish any nutrients that may have been used up by the previous plants.

A good rule of thumb is to add one cup of compost or manure for every five gallons of potting soil. You can also add a slow-release fertiliser at this time if desired.

Q: What is the difference between potting soil and potting mix?

What many people don't realise is that there is a big difference between potting soil and potting mix.

Potting soil is made up of finely ground particles of organic matter, such as peat moss or compost. This type of soil provides nutrients and support for plant roots, but it can quickly become compacted, making it difficult for new seedlings to take root.

Potting mix, on the other hand, is a lightweight mix of different materials, such as sphagnum peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. This type of mix drains well and doesn't compact easily, making it ideal for container gardening. So when you're choosing a potting material for your plants, be sure to choose the right one for the job.

Q: Can you use garden soil for houseplants?

For many of us, the pandemic has meant spending a lot more time at home. And as we look for ways to make our homes more comfortable and inviting, more and more of us are turning to houseplants.

But if you're new to the world of indoor gardening, you may be wondering: can you use garden soil for houseplants?

The answer is yes…and no.

Garden soil can be used for houseplants, but it's important to take a few precautions first. Garden soil is often heavier and more dense than potting mix, which can make it difficult for roots to breathe and that it can retain too much moisture, so if you have a plant that doesn't like sitting in water for too long, this will be a death sentence

In addition, garden soil may contain harmful bacteria or fungi that can damage your plants.

To use garden soil for houseplants, mix it with a light potting mix in equal parts to improve drainage and aeration. It's also best to avoid using garden soil for plants that require very specific nutrient requirements, such as African violets or cacti.

When in doubt, stick with a good quality potting mix for best results.

Related Posts:

And Finally…

When it comes to gardening, the soil you use is just as important as the plants you choose. Not all soils are created equal, and some are better suited for certain plants than others.

So how do you know which soil is right for your plants?

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about choosing the perfect soil for your garden!

Please see all the houseplant supplies I love and use.

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