Testing Widespread Potting Mixes: Our Shocking Outcomes


Buying the appropriate potting combine might be annoying, time-consuming, and costly. How are you aware which model will really carry out? We determined to take issues into our personal arms on the Epic Homestead. Epic Gardening founder Kevin and Backyard Hermit Jacques experimented with 14 fashionable manufacturers of potting soil to search out which of them work finest for rising high-quality natural greens. 

This text explains the experiment and outcomes, plus easy suggestions that can assist you select the very best potting combine on your backyard.

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A soil mix isn’t simply grime in a bag. Each model on the backyard or ironmongery shop has its personal nuances. To make issues harder, there are various complicated advertising phrases and labels listed on potting combine baggage. If you happen to don’t have hours to learn the elements of each possibility (we positively don’t!), this experiment affords real-world insights into the very best picks.

Why We Examined Potting Soils

A male gardener in a straw hat examines various types of soil filled in fabric pots in a sunny garden, with colorful bags of different soil types in the background.
Select potting soil for efficiency and worth in gardening success.

Bagged potting mixes can value wherever from $10 to $100, relying on model, measurement, and inputs. From compost to peat moss to perlite, you will discover an enormous range of elements in bagged blends. A few of them even have “biosolids” (handled sewage sludge) combined in! If this sounds gross or unhealthy on your backyard, you’ll positively wish to hold studying to make sure you select a combination that’s natural and high-performing. 

Potting combine choice finally comes all the way down to two essential questions

Will the potting combine develop wonderful, wholesome, high-yielding greens?

Is the potting combine definitely worth the worth?

This experiment uncovers which potting soils are an entire waste of cash and which of them are the very best for dwelling gardeners.

How We Created the Experiment

We determined to create an experiment to determine which fashionable potting blends really improve plant efficiency. This yard experiment is just not a sound scientific end result. Nonetheless, it’s a actual subject trial with precise backyard crops and real-life variables. In contrast to lab experiments, this take a look at consists of all of the nuances of real-world gardening, like various daylight, temperature, and water ranges.

In normal science experiments, there are managed variables, unbiased variables, and dependent variables. We adopted this framework as precisely as potential. 

Management (What We Saved the Similar)

Gardener Jacques transplants young pepper seedlings from green starting trays into fabric pots filled with various types of soil.
Managed variables guarantee correct and unbiased experimental outcomes.

Controls (managed variables) are essential for validating the outcomes. The controls are the issues that keep the identical. 

We managed these elements in our experiment:

  • Similar pepper selection
  • All crops seeded and transplanted on the identical time with the identical technique
  • Kind of container (an identical 5-gallon Epic Develop baggage)
  • Filling technique (all pots have been crammed and settled with the identical quantity of soil)

We additionally made these changes to make sure the accuracy of the experiment:

  • Randomized numbering (the pots have been labeled with numbers as an alternative of product names with a view to scale back biases)
  • Value per cubic foot (we calculated the worth per cubic foot to correctly evaluate the greenback worth)

Variables like sunshine, temperature, and actual measurements of irrigation are troublesome to totally management in an outside setting. The soils additionally come out of the bag with differing textures and moistures, which we can’t management. 

Nonetheless, we saved the atmosphere as streamlined as potential by rising all of the peppers in the identical location. The containers have been organized in a detailed grid to equalize solar publicity as a lot as potential. We watered them with drip irrigation to equalize moisture supply.

Unbiased Variable (What We Modified)

Many fabric pots filled with different types of soil stand against a backdrop of colorful packages of soils in a sunny garden.
Testing 14 potting mixes reveals prime decisions for pepper crops.

Potting soil was the important thing distinction between each potted pepper plant. Scientifically, the completely different blends are thought-about unbiased variables or experimental remedies. Since we’re testing the very best soil, every product is its personal unbiased variable. 

To streamline our unbiased variables, we solely chosen bagged mixes particularly labeled as “potting combine.” Something labeled as “backyard soil” is designed for use in-ground solely. Potting combine is formulated for containers, develop baggage, pots, and raised beds.

We needed to cowl all of the hottest manufacturers, so we included merchandise from:

  • 2 main large field backyard shops
  • 1 native (San Diego) plant nursery
  • A number of reasonably priced, house-name manufacturers
  • A number of premium and costly blends

This amounted to 14 completely different potting mixes to check! These merchandise cowl essentially the most extensively obtainable manufacturers and merchandise present in america. In fact, we couldn’t take a look at each sort in the marketplace, however this experiment nonetheless affords insights about which blends provide essentially the most “bang on your buck.”

Dependent Variable (What We Examined)

Pepper plants with ripening green fruits in fabric pots filled with different types of soil.
The evaluation targeted on pepper plant progress, yield, and well being.

So how do we all know which kind yielded the very best end result? The dependent variable is the precise end result being examined. We selected pepper crops as a result of they produce fruits (peppers) and we needed to see which potting mixes really enhance fruit manufacturing. Peppers even have much less illness or upkeep points than different backyard crops like tomatoes.

We determined to measure:

  • Plant peak (stunted versus tall, vigorous progress)
  • Stem branching (extra branching=extra obtainable vitamins)
  • Leaf look and colour (yellow, pale inexperienced, or “unhappy” versus darkish inexperienced and robust)
  • Flower improvement (timing and quantity of flowers)
  • Fruit yields (timing, quantity of fruit, high quality of fruit)

As you’ll be able to think about, these are a whole lot of measurements. We didn’t get overly technical like a lab scientist would. As an alternative, we opted to visually assess the crops identical to you’d in your backyard! General, Jacques principally relied on his experience to share which crops appear to be performing finest.

14 Potting Soil Merchandise Examined + Ranked

Earlier than we left the peppers to develop, we introduced in Kevin to make some predictions about which combine he thought would carry out finest. Proper off the bat, he predicted:

  • Blends with a whole lot of woody, sawdust-texture materials most likely received’t do properly
  • Lighter coloured blends had a whole lot of peat moss or coco coir
  • Darker colours have been wetter or had extra compost and possibly would carry out finest
  • Mixes with further perlite would most likely have mid-grade efficiency

Spoiler Alert!

Kevin was shocked by how inaccurate his predictions have been! Some low-cost potting mixes yielded atrocious crops, as predicted. However a number of the most costly blends in the marketplace additionally grew unhappy, measly peppers!

Test-Ins

Close-up of two rows of fabric pots filled with different types of soil, each containing young pepper seedlings with drip irrigation installed, in a sunny garden.
Early observations revealed important progress disparities amongst plant varieties.

We checked in on the crops at three weeks, six weeks, and 9 weeks. Main variations have been noticeable even on the earliest check-in. Some crops barely grew in any respect, whereas others doubled in measurement. Some crops even regarded like they have been dying.

The variations in plant progress turned extra noticeable as time went on, and fertilizers turned extra “obtainable” for the crops. This timing is completely different in each potting mix as a result of various kinds of vitamins are launched in numerous time durations. For instance, artificial fertilizers are sometimes quick-release and change into plant-available all on the identical time. They may hurt the soil, water, or native ecology. In distinction, natural fertilizers are slow-release and supply a gradual, long-lasting nutrient provide.

Clearly, the potting combine makes a significant distinction in plant progress. You don’t wish to select the improper mix, or you could possibly waste some huge cash and time.

With out additional adieu, listed below are the general outcomes of the 14 merchandise examined, ranked from finest to worst:

Miracle-Gro Potting Combine (1st Place)

A yellow packet of Miracle-Gro Potting Mix
Surprisingly, essentially the most reasonably priced potting combine delivered the healthiest and most considerable harvest.

Essentially the most surprising results of this experiment was: essentially the most primary, reasonably priced, run-of-the-mill potting combine really yielded the very best outcomes! Miracle-Gro Potting Combine is offered in any respect backyard shops and averages $11.88 per cubic foot. 

We have been tremendous stunned to search out that this plant grew the biggest, bushiest, greenest, and healthiest foliage. It additionally yielded essentially the most peppers within the shortest time. It set 10-12 peppers at completely different progress levels by week 9. Nonetheless, this combine has artificial elements. It isn’t an natural mix. This implies it consists of quick-release artificial fertilizers. 

Kevin and Jacques hypothesized that these fast-acting artificial vitamins contributed to the faster progress of this plant. An extended-timed experiment could reveal that natural blends produce greater yielding crops as a result of their fertilizer elements are longer-lasting. 

Furthermore, the fertilizer on this potting combine will taper off with time. Artificial vitamins work for a fast increase, however they don’t present lasting fertility. Supplemental fertilization could be mandatory for future successions or seasons in case you needed to reuse this potting combine.

Vigoro Potting Combine (2nd Place)

Vigoro Potting Mix in packaging lies on the ground.
This combine supplied substantial worth and produced spectacular pepper yields.

At $8.38 per cubic foot, this combine positively supplied essentially the most worth general. The plant virtually matched the Miracle-Gro plant’s efficiency. Though it didn’t look as wholesome from a leafy progress perspective, it had about 8 pepper fruits of varied sizes hanging on the plant on the nine-week mark. The plant was additionally among the many tallest and most well-branched. Nonetheless, like the first place plant, Vigoro potting combine additionally consists of artificial elements.

Miracle-Gro Natural Container Combine (third Place)

Black packaging of Miracle-Gro Organic Container Mix on the ground in a sunny garden.
The natural combine produced the healthiest, most fruitful, and promising plant.

Based mostly on this experiment, the very best high quality and most reasonably priced mix for natural growers is Miracle-Gro Natural Container Combine. The third place plant carried out excellently. It regarded deep inexperienced, bushy, branched, and loaded with fruits at varied levels of improvement. Kevin and Jacques predicted that this plant would proceed rising and yielding properly all through the season. It had essentially the most flowers and general healthiest improvement.

Natural fertilizers like manure, compost, guano, and feather meal take longer to change into obtainable to crops. This implies they slowly launch over time, offering long-lasting vitamins. Observe this distinction to the first and 2nd place mixes grown with quick-release artificial vitamins. Our experiment solely lasted 9 weeks, so we didn’t totally see the outcomes of how every potting combine would carry out over a complete season.

Miracle-Gro Moisture Management Potting Combine (4th Place)

A blue package of Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix sits on the ground in the garden.
This combine produced wholesome, bushy crops with quite a few creating peppers.

The 4th place plant carried out equally to the Natural Container Combine however with barely fewer fruits. The foliage regarded darkish inexperienced and bushy. It had a lot of branching, flowers, and several other creating peppers. 

True to its identify, this combine stayed constantly moist and drained properly. At $16.64 per cubic foot, it’s pretty costly however may nonetheless be useful for container gardeners who’ve much less time to commit to irrigation. 

Recipe 420 Potting Combine (fifth Place)

A black and red package of Recipe 420 Potting Mix lies on the dark brown ground.
This combine delivered wonderful worth, producing a lush and fruitful plant.

For $11.33 per cubic foot, this combine delivered wonderful worth. This plant was giant, inexperienced, bushy, and branched. It yielded a number of pepper fruits by the top of our experiment. The Recipe 420 natural potting mix consists of mycorrhizal fungi and slow-release natural fertilizer, which account for the apparent nutrient absorption within the plant. 

Kevin and Jacques predicted that this plant may outpace its opponents if the experiment lasted longer. It confirmed promise of extra flowers and fruits, but it surely wasn’t as fast to yield because the synthetically-fertilized blends. 

Fox Farms Ocean Forest (sixth Place)

White Fox Farms Ocean Forest packaging with colorful designs
This natural combine produced lush, nutrient-rich, and fruitful crops.

Fox Farms is a well-liked model on the Epic Homestead as a result of it’s middle-of-the-pack when it comes to efficiency and worth. At $17.33 per cubic foot, that is on the upper finish, but it surely does ship a whole lot of worth. The pepper crops have been giant, branched, and bushy. The leaves have been totally inexperienced and verdant, indicating that they obtained loads of vitamins from the slow-release fertilizer. There have been a number of fruits forming by the top of our experiment and this soil would most likely provide sufficient vitamins for a full season of progress.

Fox Farms is an natural mix with OMRI-approved elements for natural farming. It has many hint minerals from ocean sources, akin to granulated kelp and fish.

Fox Farms Pleased Frog (seventh Place)

Brown Fox Farms Happy Frog packaging featuring colorful designs of frogs among plants
This natural mix produced wholesome, inexperienced crops with considerable foliage.

The second Fox Farms mix we examined was barely cheaper at $13.50 per cubic foot. This natural mix delivered a equally sized, wholesome trying plant. The leaves have been inexperienced and considerable. 

There was loads of branching and foliage, plus a number of fruits maturing. The mix has sufficient fertility to get issues going, however crops rising on this potting combine could want supplemental fertility in the midst of summer time to gasoline late-season manufacturing. 

ProMix Premium Natural Combine (eighth Place)

A black and yellow package of ProMix Premium Organic Mix rests on the ground in a sunny garden.
This reasonably priced mix produced a modestly tall, branched plant.

For $5.24 per cubic foot, that is the most affordable mix for modest high quality outcomes. The plant grew taller than the stunted blends under. It had mid-range peak, branching, and colour. It solely produced a couple of pepper fruits, but it surely would possibly yield extra with supplemental fertility and continued progress.

Nearsource Potting Combine (ninth Place)

A blue package of Nearsource Potting Mix placed on the ground in a sunny garden.
This combine was disappointing, yielding just one tiny pepper.

Just one tiny pepper fruit grew on this plant after 9 weeks! This potting combine was pretty disappointing. Whereas Nearsource is fairly reasonably priced ($7.92 per cubic foot), it nonetheless didn’t ship the outcomes we’d count on from a pepper plant at this age. The plant was modestly bigger than the lower-ranking mixes under, but it surely didn’t present any indicators of promise for future manufacturing

We hypothesized that the poor efficiency may also be linked to the feel. This texture of combine didn’t maintain on to very a lot water. Containers dry out extra rapidly than raised beds and in-ground beds, so water retention is essential on this setting.

Sta-Inexperienced Potting Combine (tenth Place)

A blue package of Sta-Green Potting Mix
Sta-Inexperienced combine confirmed average progress however poor general yield.

The plant grown in Sta-Inexperienced was additionally disappointing. Whereas it had average branching and peak, the foliage was nonetheless pale. There was just one fruit, so general manufacturing was missing. This mix averaged $8.39 per cubic foot in our experimental space. It might work for price range growers, however nonetheless requires supplemental fertility to make sure sturdy yields.

Malibu Compost Child Bu’s Biodynamic Mix Potting Soil (eleventh Place) 

A close-up of the white packaging of Malibu Compost Baby Bu's Biodynamic Blend Potting Soil featuring the logo of a surfing cow.
Costly doesn’t assure higher outcomes, as proven with Malibu Compost.

This combine had some of the shocking outcomes! Kevin initially predicted that this product would yield the most effective crops. Shockingly, it really grew one of many worst. This costly mix averages a whopping $21.33 per cubic foot. 

The pepper grown in Malibu Compost’s mix appeared stunted and paled. It had little or no branching and foliage in comparison with the crops above. It grew one small pepper, which might be extremely disappointing after spending the beautiful penny on this bag of potting combine.

These outcomes are proof that costly doesn’t at all times imply higher

Kellogg Raised Mattress Combine (twelfth Place)

Close-up of a pink and yellow striped Kellogg Raised Bed Mix package
The soggy texture of this low-cost combine hindered plant progress.

One unusual factor about this mix was its moisture. It got here out of the bag virtually soggy. This most likely harmed the pepper plant from the beginning. The seedling remained small, stunted, and pale. It by no means produced flowers or fruit.

This raised mattress combine was one among the most affordable soils we examined, averaging $4.99 per cubic foot. However is it definitely worth the budget-friendly price ticket? Based mostly on our pepper outcomes, the reply isn’t any!

Kellogg Patio Plus Combine (thirteenth Place)

Close-up of a blue and yellow-striped Kellogg Patio Plus Mix package on the ground in a garden.
A budget ‘patio plus’ soil yielded a stunted pepper plant.

The second worst performer was from a less expensive bag of soil, averaging $5.32 per cubic foot. This “patio plus” mix yielded a very wimpy pepper plant with pale yellowy-green foliage that appeared to undergo from a nitrogen deficiency. 

The plant by no means produced any flowers or fruits. Kevin hypothesized that the feel was so woody, it “locked out” the vitamins. In different phrases, the fertilizer was by no means obtainable for the plant to uptake. The seedling by no means acquired a lot greater than it was when it was transplanted. 

Typically, lower-quality mixes have woodier supplies like bark and wooden shavings. When wooden decomposes within the soil, it sucks away a whole lot of nitrogen to gasoline the breakdown course of. This could “lock up” nitrogen within the soil, making it unavailable to your crops. Excessive quantities of woody elements is a purple flag to keep away from when purchasing for potting soil for greens.

EB Stone Potting Combine (Worst)

Yellow EB Stone Potting Mix packaging featuring various flowers
The worst performer didn’t yield any fruit regardless of flowering.

The worst performer within the experiment didn’t even develop a pepper plant that yielded fruits. The plant barely grew any bigger than it was on the time of transplanting. It had small yellow leaves and an general wilted, “unhappy” look. There have been flowers.

This model prices about $8.66 per cubic foot, making it a mid-level worth level potting combine. However primarily based on our experiment, it clearly isn’t definitely worth the cash in any respect!

The Outcomes

There are approximately 14 fabric pots in a row containing growing pepper plants showcasing their growth results.
The experiment highlighted a prime natural possibility for growers.

General, this experiment confirmed that the very best natural potting combine for efficiency and worth is Miracle-Gro Natural Container Combine. This mix was reasonably reasonably priced and yielded a tall, verdant, bushy, fruitful pepper plant.

The most effective-performing artificial combine was Miracle-Gro Potting Combine, however this mix incorporates artificial elements and shouldn’t be utilized in natural gardens. The spectacular outcomes have been possible as a consequence of an enormous spike in artificial quick-release nitrates that may peter off later within the season.

Based mostly on these outcomes, price range growers may get away with one thing as low-cost because the ProMix Premium Natural soil mix (simply $5.24 per cubic foot) and add their very own supplemental fertilizers

Closing Ideas

In the end, we’d like extra time and extra crops to type by means of the variations proven on this experiment. A lot of the variance within the plant progress may have been as a consequence of nutrient availability fairly than solely the soil. Since we didn’t fertilize any of the crops, they may solely rely on the fertilizer already blended into the potting combine.

The ethical of the story is costly doesn’t at all times imply higher. Nonetheless, low-cost mixes may also be extremely disappointing. Center-of-the-road natural potting blends are finest for many gardeners and should require supplemental fertilization with a slow-release natural fertilizer. However in case you don’t thoughts artificial fertilizer elements, an reasonably priced Miracle-Gro or Vigoro potting combine could possibly be the mix for you.

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