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How To Create Great Potting Soil For Hanging Baskets & Containers

The secret to growing healthy plants in hanging baskets and containers begins with using great potting soil – and there is no better way to ensure amazingly healthy potting soil than to create your own at home. Best of all – it’s easier than you could ever imagine!

With great soil, a plant’s root system thrives below the surface. And when roots thrive, so will the plant. So what makes a potting soil great? For starters, potting soil needs to be light in structure.

Loose, well-draining potting soil allows roots to grow with ease in hanging baskets and containers. It also allows water and nutrients to absorb quickly and easily into the roots of plants. Unfortunately, heavy soil prohibits both. Heavy soil can also hold in excess moisture, causing plants to become waterlogged and fail.

mixing potting soil
The lighter your potting soil can be, the easier time roots will have growing and expanding. As you will see below, perlite (the white popcorn-like substance pictured above) is one of the best all-natural ingredients you can add to your potting soil mix to lighten it up.

Beyond having loose, well-draining soil, great potting soil needs to be teeming with nutrients. After all, without energy and life in the soil, plants can’t power growth and produce flowers or fruit. It’s simple, The more energy in the soil, the better your plants will perform!

How To Create Your Own Great Potting Soil

Although there are many good commercial bagged mixes available, we have always made our own here at the farm. Not only is it economical, it also gives us the peace of mind of knowing exactly what’s in it.

That is important to us since we grow a fair number of vegetables in containers around the farm. Because we consume what we grow, we want to know exactly what is in the soil those vegetables are growing in. But beyond that, we’ve just had so much success using the simple 5 ingredient mix below, why mess with a great thing!

How To Create Great Potting Soil With 5 Simple, All-Natural Ingredients

We have tested and trialed all kinds of mixes at our farm over the last dozen years, and to date, not one has ever come close to working with the power of our go-to 5 ingredient mix.

For us, it really is the perfect potting soil because it always seems to keep our hanging baskets and potted plants thriving all summer long. We were actually quite honored to recently even have our mix featured in the Washington Post for being a peatless potting soil mix! See: Washington Post Article OWG

roots growing
The above cut-away of a pot shows how big a root system can grow when placed in loose, fertile potting soil. The loose makeup also makes it easy for water and nutrients to absorb into the roots.

To create the soil, we use a mix of pulverized top soil (this can usually be found in bags or bulk), compost, worm castings, perlite and spent coffee grounds. We list the ratios of each ingredient in the next section, along with an exact description of each and how it helps to power the potting soil mix.

You can create the mix in any quantity you need. All you need to do is keep the ratio of each ingredient for the recipe the same. Because we make a lot, we find it easiest to use a 2 quart mixing bowl and then add each ingredient one at a time into a wheelbarrow at the proper ratios.

For us, it’s a simple way to make a sizable amount of potting soil without breaking your back. The wheelbarrow’s height also makes it nice for mixing the soil with your hands or a small trowel or shovel. It is also wonderful for planting up your pots directly in the wheelbarrow with the soil already there!

Potting Soil Mix Ratios & Descriptions – How To Create Great Potting Soil

It’s important to note this is not like baking. If you are slightly off with a ratio of one or two ingredients, it is more than fine. The important part is to stay as close as you can to the recipe to get a great mix.

We use the following ratios to make our potting soil – again, you can make it any quantity, just keep the ratios similar:

  • 4 Parts – Pulverized Soil/Top Soil
  • 4 Parts – Compost
  • 1 Part – Worm Castings
  • 1 Part – Perlite
  • 1/2 Part – Spent Coffee Grounds

Pulverized Soil (4 Parts) – How To Create Great Potting Soil

A great mix starts with pulverized top-soil. Pulverized top soil can be found in bulk or in bags and is usually very inexpensive. The key is that it is pulverized! Pulverized topsoil should be super-fine and crumble easily when held.

Starting with a fine soil mix is a big must. Avoid using garden soil, fill dirt, or any soil that is hard and will not break apart. If soil is too heavy, it will make it hard for a plant’s root system to expand. It also makes it hard for roots to absorb moisture or nutrients.

Compost (4 Quarts) – How To Create Great Potting Soil

Compost is a must for creating great potting soil because it is teaming with life! It is filled with life-giving nutrients that plants can easily absorb through their root system to grow strong. It also adds structure and holding power to the soil mix.

making compost from leaves
Compost is a critical ingredient to add to potting soil. It not only lightens the soil but add instant energy to your soil.

Compost holds as much as 10 times its own weight in water, so it helps keep plants protected on hot days. Be sure to use compost that is completely aged and not too coarse. Bagged compost will work perfectly well if you don’t happen to make your own. Affiliate Product Link : Charlies Bagged Compost

Worm Castings (1 Quart) – How To Create Great Potting Soil

To us, worm castings are the absolute best thing that ever happened to potting soil for hanging baskets and containers. We use them in our mix, and during the season to fertilize our container plants. Like perlite and compost, worm castings are lightweight and absorb water.

But what really makes them perfect for potting mixes is that they work wonders as an all-natural, slow release fertilizer. Even if you purchase a commercial bagged potting soil mix, adding worm castings in will make a marked difference in the performance of your plants! Affiliate Product Link : Wiggle Worm 100% Pure Worm Castings

Perlite – 1 Quart

Perlite is a 100% natural and organic substance. And can it ever make and keep potting soil light and airy! It is another must for adding to potting soil as it can really help keep the soil from compacting around roots.

Listen To Our Podcast Below On Making Potting Soil!

Perlite is pure volcanic glass that is then heated and popped, much like popcorn. The result is a substance that is super lightweight. The open pores of perlite help potting soil with both water retention and drainage.

Just like compost, perlite can hold water many times their own weight. It keeps the finished mix tremendously lighter than if just soil and compost were used. Best of all, perlite has a PH of 7, which is perfectly neutral, so it will not affect your growing mix at all. Affiliate Product Link : Harris Horticultural Grade Perlite

Coffee Grounds (1/2 Quart) – How To Create Great Potting Soil

Spent coffee grounds are excellent for making potting soil. They add nitrogen and other trace minerals to the mix. Even better, they also help to hold moisture in, helping stop plants from drying out to quickly. Perhaps best of all, they are completely free!

perlite - great potting soil mix
Perlite helps to keep potting soil light for hanging baskets and containers. It also helps increase drainage and keeps the soil from compacting as well.

It is important to note, only use spent coffee grounds. Fresh grounds are acidic. Not only are they costly to use in a potting soil mix, they will actually create a more acidic soil. Coffee grounds are actually great all over your garden and flowerbeds – for more on that, check out our article : The Best Way To Use Coffee Grounds In Gardens & Flowerbeds

Here is to creating your own great potting soil mix for your hanging baskets and containers – and having your best growing year ever! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary. 

Jim and Mary Competti have been writing gardening, DIY and recipe articles and books for over 15 years from their 46 acre Ohio farm. The two are frequent speakers on all things gardening and love to travel in their spare time.

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