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soilless mixes

4 Easy Recipes for Soilless Mixes

4 Easy Recipes for Soilless Mixes: How to Make Your Own Potting Mix

If you love plants as much as I do, you know how much of a hassle it can be to find the right soil for your beloved plant babies. Pre-made commercial mixes often include added fertilizers and unknown ingredients, all of which can harm, and even kill, your plant. When you create your own soilless mix, you know exactly what’s in your soil mix – plus, it’s often cheaper to DIY! Different plants have different needs, so I’ve included 4 soilless mixes for you to choose from. However, you can also play around with the different ratios and create your own mixes!

Ingredients

Most soil mixes for a container plant contain little to no soil at all, which is why they are called soilless mixtures. They are usually comprised of a combination of organic matter and inorganic material. The 6 main ingredients of soilless mixes include peat moss, coconut coir, perlite, vermiculite, compost, and fertilizer. Peat moss and coconut coir are often used to increase the aeration and water absorption of the mix. Perlite and vermiculite change the water and nutrient retention levels in your soilless mix in different ways. Compost and fertilizer feed your soil and plant, respectively.

soilless mix
ingredients for a soilless mix

Soilless Mixes

For the following recipes, I provide ratios, rather than specific amounts, so you can choose the size of the container, which will determine the size of the part. For example, when I repotted Monte, my Montezuma Cypress, I filled a wheelbarrow with a mixture of 1-part peat moss, 0.6-parts coconut coir, 0.38-parts perlite, and 0.02-parts slow-release fertilizer. Since I needed approximately 20 gallons of my soilless mix, I mixed 10 gallons of peat moss, 6 gallons of (expanded) coconut coir, 3.8 gallons of perlite, and 0.2 gallons of fertilizer together.

You will need the ingredients listed for the recipe you want to create, the correctly sized container, and gloves. I recommend mixing outside or in a well-ventilated area to prevent inhalation of any dust particles from the ingredients.

1. Basic Mix

This simple mix is great for most outdoor container plants.

  • 1-part peat moss or coconut coir
  • 1-part compost
  • 1-part perlite

For example: Say you have a 13in (33cm) planter, which you need to fill with a mixture of approximately 8 gallons. You would need about 2.6 gallons of peat moss, compost, and perlite.

2. Succulent Mix

This well-draining mix ensures a dryer environment for your cacti and other succulents, preventing root rot.

  • 1-part perlite
  • 0.5-parts peat moss or coconut coir
  • 0.1-parts compost

For example: You need a mixture of approximately 8 gallons to fill your 13in (33cm) planter. You would need about 5 gallons of perlite, 2.5 gallons of peat moss, and 0.5 gallons of compost.

3. Houseplant Mix

This nutrient rich mix is perfect for tropical species, such as Dracaenas or Ferns.

  • 1-part peat moss or coconut coir
  • 1-part compost
  • 1-part perlite
  • 0.1-parts slow-release fertilizer (such as bone meal)

For example: You need a mixture of approximately 8 gallons to fill your 13in (33cm) planter. You would need about 2.5 gallons of peat moss, 2.5 gallons of compost, 2.5 gallons of perlite, and 0.5 gallons of a slow-release fertilizer.

4. Vegetable & Herb Mix

This veggie-and-herb mix ensures that your crops will receive the nutrients they need to thrive.

  • 3-parts compost
  • 2-parts peat moss or coconut coir
  • 0.5-parts perlite
  • 0.3-parts slow-release fertilizer

For example: Say you have a planter that can hold approximately 61 gallons of the soilless mixture. You would need about 31.5 gallons of compost, 21 gallons of peat moss, 5.25 gallons of perlite, and 3.15 gallons of a slow-release fertilizer.

Images of Ingredients for Soilless Mixes

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compost fertilizer soilless mixes

(Part 3) Compost vs. Fertilizer: 6 Ingredients for Easy Soilless Mixes

The 6 Ingredients of a Soilless Mix, Part 3: Compost vs. Fertilizer

Most soil mixes for a container plant contain little to no soil at all, which is why they are called soilless mixtures. They are usually comprised of a combination of organic matter, like peat moss, and inorganic material, like perlite or vermiculite. Indoor plants can thrive in actual soil from your backyard – just make sure you know what your plant needs and what type of soil you have!

Many of the ingredients for these soil mixes can be confusing for a first time DIY-er, so I’ve compiled a short list of the main components and how they differ. For this third (and final) installment, I compare the advantages and disadvantages of compost and fertilizer so you can decide which is best for you and your plants.

soilless mix
ingredients for a soilless mix

Compost vs. Fertilizer

While some may say that compost and fertilizer are interchangeable additives for your soilless mix, they are not. Even though both help create a healthy growing environment for your plants, each provides nutrients in different ways. Compost – also called ‘black gold’ – is organic, and you can either make or buy your own. Though fertilizers can be quick fixes to feed your plants, some contain synthetic chemicals.

Compost

Compost is a dark, crumbly form of decomposed organic matter. Most plant material – such as fallen leaves, pine needles, and the remains of your annual herbs – can be used for compost, as long as it has not been treated with herbicides or pesticides. You can also add all of your food waste to your compost– including, but not limited to, fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, nut shells, shredded newspaper, dryer and vacuum lint.

However, do not compost dairy products and eggs; fats, grease, lards, or oils; meat or fish bones or scraps; or pet wastes. These materials can create odor problems and attract pests like rodents or flies. In more serious cases, they might contain parasites, bacteria, and germs that are harmful to you and the soilless mix you are creating.

  • Advantages
    • Enhances the nutrients and microbes within the soil
    • Retains water and nutrients
    • Helps aerate the soil while also keeping it moist
    • Loosens dense, compact soils – like clay – when added
    • If you create your own, you’re recycling your food waste and lowering your carbon footprint!
  • Disadvantages
    • Potential for soil-borne pathogens to infest, damage, and kill healthy plants
      • Lix’s Pro Tip: When creating your own compost, destroy any plant remnants that could be infested with disease instead of adding them 
Fertilizer

There are two types – organic and inorganic (aka, chemical) – that provide your plants with key nutrients that the soil may lack. These nutrients are separated into three categories: primary, secondary, and micronutrients. Primary nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K); they are needed in large quantities compared to the other two categories of nutrients. Calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S) are considered secondary nutrients, but are still incredibly essential for your plant’s health. Micronutrients include zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), iron Fe), boron (B), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), and chlorine (Cl), and your plant requires these in very small amounts.

Some organic solutions feed the soil and the plant. They tend to be slow-release and feed your plants over time; however, sometimes they may not release enough of the nutrients at a time to give your plant what it needs to grow.

Inorganic/chemical fertilizers tend to be more cost effective and composed of the primary nutrients in forms that are easily utilized by your plant. However, because the nitrogen is in such a soluble form, it tends to leach (aka the loss of water-soluble plant nutrients from the soil, due to rain or irrigation) from the point of application. Moreover, water-soluble chemical fertilizers tend to injure plants if not properly applied or rinsed off from the leaves.

  • Advantages
    • Targets specific plant nutrient deficiencies
    • Can be a quick fix
      • There are slow-release formulas that will feed your plants over time
    • Disadvantages
In conclusion…
  • Use compost if you want to feed your soil
  • Use fertilizer if you want to feed your plants

Images of Compost & Fertilizer Usage

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soilless mixes

(Part 2) Perlite vs. Vermiculite: 6 Ingredients for Easy Soilless Mixes

The 6 Ingredients of a Soilless Mix, Part 2: Perlite vs. Vermiculite

Most soil mixes for a container plant contain little to no soil at all, which is why they are called soilless mixtures. They are usually comprised of a combination of organic matter, like peat moss, and inorganic material, like perlite or vermiculite. Indoor plants can thrive in actual soil from your backyard – just make sure you know what your plant needs and what type of soil you have!

Many of the ingredients for these soil mixes can be confusing for a first time DIY-er, so I’ve compiled a short list of the main components and how they differ. For this second installment, I compare the advantages and disadvantages of perlite and vermiculite so you can decide which is best for you and your plants.

soilless mix
ingredients for a soilless mix

Perlite vs. Vermiculite

Both soil additives change water retention and nutrient retention levels in your garden soil and in soilless mixes in different ways. Perlite – an amorphous volcanic glass – is usually formed by hydrating obsidian, a type of volcanic rock. This hydrated obsidian is then heated until the water molecules trapped inside the obsidian expand, exploding into tiny white pieces. In essence, this process is like popping popcorn!

Vermiculite – which is a hydrated magnesium aluminum silicate material similar to mica – is mined from the ground and then processed. The main factors in the formation are ascribed to natural weathering and percolating ground waters.

 

perlite & vermiculite
Perlite vs Vermiculite by Urban Turnip is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Despite seeming very similar on paper, these two soil additives have significant differences, so make sure you know what your plant needs before you choose perlite or vermiculite to add to your soilless mix! 

Associated Risks

There are some slight risks associated with both. Perlite is considered a “nuisance dust,” so be sure to take proper precautions. To avoid excessive inhalation, I always handle perlite outside. If you are working with a large amount, you may want to wear protective eyewear – like glasses or goggles – and gloves.

From 1919 to 1990, nearly 80% of the world’s vermiculite was supplied from one mine in Montana; however, it was discovered to have been contaminated with naturally occurring asbestos fibers. Once this was discovered, the mine was shut down. Vermiculite – now mined from all over the world – is regularly tested to ensure the product’s safety.

Perlite
  • White, fluffy, lightweight, and odorless
    • Looks like Styrofoam; however, Styrofoam is NOT a suitable substitute
  • Has a relatively neutral pH level ranging from 6.6 to 7.5
  • Advantages
    • Because perlite is porous, it allows excess water to drain quickly
      • Lix’s Pro Tip: I add perlite to heavier pre-made cactus and succulent mixes to ensure proper drainage!
    • Improves soil aeration, providing better oxygen access for the root system
    • Reduce garden soil temperature fluctuations
    • Loosens heavy, compacted garden soils, like clay soils
    • Does not decompose
  • Disadvantages
    • Contains no nutrients
Vermiculite
  • Golden-brown to dark brown, compressed, dry, odorless flakes that are absorptive and spongy
    • When vermiculite absorbs water, the flakes expand into a worm-like shape
  • Has a neutral pH level of 7
  • Advantages
    • Can absorb 3 to 4 times its volume in water
    • Vermiculite is a great additive to seed starters, as it keeps seeds from drying out during germination – aka the crucial time during the beginning of a seed’s growth
    • Protects plants from fungal diseases
    • Does not decompose
  • Disadvantages
    • Less porous than perlite, so vermiculite does not aerate the soil as well, leading to less oxygen for the root system
      • Be careful of overwatering, as your plant may end up suffering from root rot
      • Damp, wet soils are ideal environments for certain pests, like springtails and fungus gnat larvae – beware!
    • Contains no nutrients
In conclusion…
  • Use perlite if you want better drainage and aeration

  • Use vermiculite if you want better water retention

Categories
soilless mixes

(Part 1) Peat Moss vs Coconut Coir: 6 Ingredients for Easy Soilless Mixes

The 6 Ingredients of a Soilless Mix, Part 1: Peat Moss vs. Coconut Coir

Most soil mixes for a container plant contain little to no soil at all, which is why they are called soilless mixtures. They are usually comprised of a combination of organic matter, like peat moss, and inorganic material, like perlite or vermiculite. Indoor plants can thrive in actual soil from your backyard – just make sure you know what your plant needs and what type of soil you have!

Many of the ingredients for these soil mixes can be confusing for a first time DIY-er, so I’ve compiled a short list of the main components and how they differ. For this first installment, I compare the advantages and disadvantages of peat moss and coconut coir so you can decide which is best for you and your plants.

soilless mix
ingredients for a soilless mix

Peat Moss vs. Coconut Coir

Sphagnum peat moss – commonly known as peat moss – and coconut coir – the fiber from the coconut husk – can both be used as soil amendments for your yard. They are usually the base of the soilless mix, depending on your plant’s needs. Peat moss is harvested from swamps or marshes, whereas coconut fiber is a byproduct of coconut processing.

Although peat moss is extremely popular, peat bogs take at least 25 years to renew and some wetland ecologists claim that peatlands are being harvested at non-sustainable rates. However, industry officials in Canada – North America’s main source – have implemented measures to ensure that the harvesting process is more responsible and sustainable. Nevertheless, wetland ecologists, industry officials, and horticulturists agree that coconut coir is a suitable alternative, especially since the leftover fibers would be thrown out as waste into landfills.

Though incredibly similar, these “soils” have subtle differences that will determine what plants will thrive in which soilless mix.

(Sphagnum) Peat Moss
  • After being processed, peat moss is light brown, fluffy, and soil-like
  • Has a pH level ranging from 3.3 to 4.0 (very acidic)
    • Plants such as blueberries and camellias love – and thrive in! – the acidity
    • However, it has the potential to harm plants that are less tolerant to low pH levels
      • Lix’s Pro Tip: add limestone to raise the pH level!
  • Holds an average of 10 to 20 times its dry weight in water
  • Advantages
    • Optimal for starting seeds because of its water retaining capabilities
    • Great aeration, which allows roots to breathe, grow, and better absorb nutrients
    • Easy to find
  • Disadvantages
    • Peat moss can contain bacterial and fungal spores that can contaminate plants
    • Has no nutrients – make sure you feed your plants accordingly!
    • When dried out, becomes hydrophobic (literally means “fear of water” – so the “soil” will not absorb any water)
      • Once this happens, it is nearly impossible to rehydrate
Coconut Coir
  • After being processed, coconut coir looks similar to peat moss, though it can vary in color
    • Often comes in dense, compressed blocks that are expanded by soaking in water
      • Depending on the quality and manufacturer, processed coir can have varying levels of stringy fibers
  • Has a pH level ranging from 5.2 to 6.8
  • Holds an average of 8 to 9 times its dry weight in water
    • However, needs less water than peat moss, since it requires less time to become saturated
  • Advantages
    • Coconut coir is reusable for approximately 5 years with proper conditioning – just make sure you break up, rewash in distilled water, and dry out the coir between uses!
    • Great aeration, which allows roots to breathe, grow, and better absorb nutrients
  • Disadvantages
    • Has little nutrients – make sure you feed your plants accordingly!
    • Depending on the quality, it may have high levels of salt content; however, this may be fixed by thoroughly washing and soaking the fibers in distilled water
    • Difficult to find in bulk

Images of Peat Moss and Coconut Coir