Garden Soil & Soilless Mixes for Indoor & Outdoor Growers
When we start getting into the area of soil vs. soilless mixes a lot of gardeners begin to shake their heads with confusion. They’re probably thinking that we’re talking comparing hydroponics with conventional soil-based outside gardening.
That is not the case at all.
What we’re really referring to when talking about soilless mixes is any other growing medium than soil. In other words, potting soil mixes that are either not compromised of soil at all or just a minimum amount.
Garden soil is suitable for growing your plants and a soilless potting mix helps get the seedlings off on the right start.
There are many different types of soilless potting mixes for all types of specific plant requirements. A cactus mix, for example, is much different from the potting soil that is required for growing orchids. Likewise, there are specific mixes formulated for the germination and cultivation of garden or landscape seedlings.
Thanks to this diversity of soilless mixes we are able to grow house and garden plants that are exotic to our region and native soil types or condition. We’re also able to cultivate strong, healthy vegetable or flowering seedlings that can be planted in the garden or yard.
What ingredients make a soilless mix
Although as I had aforementioned, soilless mixes can be tailored to meet a plant species specific nutrient needs, there are some common ingredients for the standard soilless mix.
Almost all soilless potting soil has a base of sphagnum peat moss because it is lightweight, drains water well and is easy to use and for mixing additional additives. The exception to this rule would succulent or cactus mixes which are sand based.
There are certain standardized additives that are frequently included in the mix but not all soilless mixes utilize all of them at once.
- Bark- this ingredient surprises some people, but ground bark is sometimes included because of its water draining properties.
- Perlite- this is the tiny white balls that resemble Styrofoam pellets. Perlite does it all-retains water and air, helps with drainage and does not affect the pH at all. Sometimes perlite is added to sandy soil conditions, so it doesn’t leach nutrients as much.
- Vermiculite- a mica based additive, vermiculite is the silvery flakes that is often seen in potting soil. These expand in water and help vermiculite with its water retention habits.
- Coir- coir isn’t all that well-known but it is a coconut based fibrous material that is sometimes used instead of peat.
The advantages of soilless mixes
Soilless mixes are disease free, lighter, cleaner and can be mixed to meet a specific use or for a specific class of plants.
- Seedling- Soilless mixes are much better than regular soil for germinating and growing seedlings because they are light and airy which helps young, growing roots penetrate and grow. They also are richer in nutrients, weed free and with a slightly acidic pH of 5.8 which seedlings prefer.
- Flexibility- soilless potting mixes allow the gardener to grow any species of plant from any region of the world by custom mixing a formula specifically to meet their requirements.
- Controlled drainage- a gardener can better manage the drainage through additives like perlite or vermiculite which tailors the mix to a specific purpose.
- Sterilized- a soilless potting mix is sterilized and weed or disease free which gives provides trouble-free ease cultivation.
When a grower gets to know the available soilless potting soils that are available they can expand their cultivation of even the most exotic of plant species.