Potting a new plant is as simple as going to Home Depot for a plant, a pot, and a bag of all-purpose potting mix, right?

Well, not quite.

Plants have different needs including different requirements for water, light, and temperature, and they have different soil preferences as well. They won’t thrive in just any old soil you put them in.

Soil mix is crucial because when your plant lives in a pot, that pot is their ecosystem. There’s not a lot of space for excess water to go, which is why drainage is important. Also, that tiny space doesn’t allow for the natural cycles of nature that keep the soil rich in nutrients.

Let’s take a closer look at what potting soil actually is, why it’s important, and what features to watch for when selecting the right potting mix for your indoor plants.


What is potting soil made of?

Potting mix isn’t just dirt! It’s not the same stuff you’d find if you just went out in your yard with a shovel.

Soil mixes usually contain different mixtures of peat, different-sized bark pieces, compost, mulch, and manure. Soil mix can also contain coconut coir, vermiculite, charcoal, and all kinds of stuff.

The contents and ratios if mixes can vary wildly! Your plant will have different needs for nutrients and drainage, so choosing your soil carefully is important.


Not all potting soil is created equal.

Because they’re made of different materials, some soil mixes might retain more moisture or drain better than others.

Some might contain or hold onto more nutrients, and some might provide a more stable foundation for a strong root structure for your plants.

You’ll also find several plant-specific potting mixes for cactuses, succulents, orchids, for starting seeds, and lots more!

These soils have unique combinations of features and ingredients to help certain plants thrive.


Now that you’re an expert, try these tips for picking the best soil for your plant babies:

Once you decide which plant you want, read up on its soil preferences.

The label on the plant and the soil package will give you some good information too, but a quick Google search never hurt anyone. Know if your plant prefers dry or damp conditions, what nutrients it needs, and how much drainage it likes.

Avoid moldy potting mixes!

Potting mixes can retain a lot of moisture that can harbor harmful fungi, so check for mold before potting your plants. If you accidentally buy some moldy potting mix or if a bag goes bad on you, either replace it or spread the soil out in the sun where it can dry.   

When in doubt, choose mixes that are light and fluffy.

In general, you don’t want heavy, thick mixes that won’t let water drain or roots grow. Most plants prefer to be just a little too dry than too wet, and it’s always easier to add water than treat root rot! If you aren’t sure, err on the light, dry side.

Don’t use garden soil in pots.

A lot of brand-new plant parents make this mistake! Regular soil from the yard is fine for outdoor plants, but it’s far too heavy for indoor plants. Garden soil can contain clay, sand, and other additives that will weigh your houseplants down, and you never know how well it will drain. Stick to proper store-bought potting mixes.

Be cautious with fortified soil.

Some potting mixes include fertilizer supplements, water-retaining granules, and other additives. These are usually great for starting seedlings and building new, healthy root systems, but they tend to hang onto water more than other mixes.

If you use these soils, make sure to adjust your watering schedule to avoid overwatering, and be very careful about adding additional fertilizer. Before you pot your plants, research both the soil and your plant to double check that they’re a good match!


I hope these tips clear up the confusion around soil mixes! As with any aspect of plant care, do a little research and understand the basics so you can feel confident about choosing the right soil for your plants.

Now that the soil issue is taken care of, are you still confused about how to fertilize your indoor plants? I get it! That’s why I created Indoor Plant Food, which is gentle enough to add to your watering can each week. It takes all the guesswork out of fertilizing your plants. One less thing to worry about!

Get Indoor Plant Food here!