After years of less than stellar results from pre-made mixes, I’m now using an easy recipe to make my own DIY organic potting soil mix using a few simple ingredients I’m able to easily find at my gardening supply store.
Nothing frustrates me more than a poor quality potting soil mix. There’s a lot riding on whether you’ve got a good soil from the beginning for your tender seedlings… In fact, the success of your whole garden depends on it. Weak, under-nourished seedlings won’t bear nearly as early or produce as much as a strong plant that was healthy from the beginning.
I hate ripping into a bag and finding it practically dust, it’s so fine and dry. There’s soil that you’ll struggle to keep wet until the day you can get the plant into the ground. Others seem like they’ll do well only to find that they seem to run out of nutrients to give to the seedling before they’re large enough to transplant meaning you’ll have the extra investment of additional fertilizer (I use cold-pressed fish fertilizer). The worst was one year when I couldn’t find anything other than Miracle Gro Potting mix. I ended up with furry soil with the most peculiar orange fungus-y mass growing on top of the soil. Suffice it to say, I never used the mix again. Not surprisingly, I haven’t had that problem recur in all my years of seed starting.
The recipe for this potting soil mix is so simple. It’s a “Parts” recipe so it doesn’t matter how big the bucket you’re measuring out scoops with.
But the measurements of the amendments are based off a 4-gallon bucket so adjust the amendments accordingly. (So if you use a 1-gallon bucket, you’ll only need a ⅛ cup of the agricultural lime. You should easily be able to find all of the ingredients at your garden center or on Amazon. Depending on how much you make, you can mix it in a 5-gallon bucket or trash can. Pop on the lid and roll it across the ground to help mix it!
Other amendments you can consider adding would be rock phosphate, greensand (iron & potassium), and blood meal, bonemeal, or feather meal (nitrogen). But making sure that your potting soil has enough nutrients to feed your seedlings until it’s time to transplant them in the garden is a great way to increase your garden yields (without tilling up more garden space.) And gets you healthier, more nutrient-dense vegetables.
When you’re ready to use your potting soil, transfer the dry potting soil to another container. Add enough water that it’s fairly wet and you can ball it up into a clump. But not so much that you can squeeze water out.
If you’re using pots instead of a soil-blocker (which are my fave), I like to fill the cups all the way, press them down so they’re packed about ¾ of the way full, and then fill them up all the way again without packing the second time. Doing this helps to provide loose soil for the young seedling near the top. And it avoids the problem of settling that happens later on when the soil sinks to half the cup level.
Regardless of whichever seed-starting container I prefer to use, I sprinkle the top of the potting soil in each cell with vermiculite to prevent damping off disease.
I store any dry, unused soil in the bucket or trash can. Mixing extra ahead of time saves time when your seed starting calculator tells you it’s time to start seeds again!
UPDATE: I’ve received many comments questioning the sustainability of using peat moss in this mix. This winter while reading The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman I came across an excellent assessment of the peat controversy.
“I do not share the anti-peat moss sentiment I occasionally hear expressed. The anti-peat moss movement began in Europe where, because of population density, limited peat deposits, and centuries-long use of the resource, they are at the point where finding substitutes for peat makes sense. But the same is no the case in North America. Of the peat lands in North America, only 0.02 percent (2/100 of 1 percent) are being used for peat harvesting. On this continent peat is forming some five to ten times faster than the rate at which we are using it. And even if we don’t include bogs located so far north that their use would never be economic, peat is still a resource that is forming much faster than we are using it. To my mind that is the definition of a renewable resource.
Obviously, it behooves us to make sure that every natural resource is managed sustainable and that unique areas are protected. My investigations into the peat moss industry don’t give me cause to worry…
Someday we may need to find a substitute for peat moss, but I do not believe that day is here. In fact, I do not believe it ever needs to arrive. But if we do need a substitute, some of the present contenders, like coir fiber imported, at great expense and energy, from faraway South Pacific islands, which need that organic matter to maintain their own soil fertility, make very little sense. If I am going to react against using peat to improve agricultural soils, I want to do it with all the facts at had, both as to whether the problem actually exists and as to whether the supposed solution is logical and environmentally appropriate.”
How to Make Your Own DIY Potting Soil Mix
- 3 parts peat moss
- 2 parts perlite or vermiculite
- 2 parts compost
- 1 part garden soil
- 1 cup blood meal or bonemeal
- ½ cup agricultural lime (in a 4-gallon bucket parts recipe)
- Thoroughly mix all ingredients together.
- Add enough water, mixing well until you can squeeze the soil into the clump with your hand. Try to find a balance between too dry and dripping wet.
- Use as you would any other potting soil.
Recipe Credit: The Market Gardener
Have you ever tried your own potting soil mix?
DonandAnita Smith says
please find an alternative to the non-renewable peat moss https://puyallup.wsu.edu/~linda%20chalker-scott/horticultural%20myths_files/Myths/Horticultural%20%20peat.pdf?hc_location=ufi
Paul J Catt says
Canadian Peat Moss is actually harvested sustainably. That being said some people have had great results substituting home made leaf mould compost in place of peat. Gather leaves in fall, bag em up (add some alfalfa and or kelp meal), water em down, punch air holes in bag, and wait a year or two. Do this every fall and get in a perpetual cycle
Do you recommend adding vermiculite and bone/blood meal to standard potting mix to give it a little boost?
The vermiculite is only there to lighten up the soil. The bone/blood meal & ag lime would be great additions!
Jan Pearse says
How does the combination of parts and cups work in the recipe?
Quinn Veon says
I use a 4 gallon bucket for my "part."
Jan Pearse says
Quinn Veon, thank you
Arid Acres Homestead says
I use a very similar potting mix but I substitute coco coir (available in most pet stores that have a reptile department) instead of the peat moss. It’s renewable and it holds moisture!
I’m so glad you mentioned this! I meant to update this post when I re-shared it this spring with a quote from The New Organic Grower about the peat moss controversy. It was very comforting for those of us who need to buy in peat in large quantities and yet want to make sustainable decisions. I updated the post with the quote and am considering making it a post in and of itself… 😀
Emily Heise says
is adding vermiculite soil a god idea?
I consider it crucial. I won’t bother with perlite again. Vermiculite lightens up the soil so it doesn’t compact but more than that it works to prevent damping off disease which kills your seedlings shortly after popping up. For those of us working on a small scale (who don’t have well ventilated and lit greenhouses and are often growing under lights inside our homes) damping off can be a real problem. This year I sprinkled the tops of all my seeds with vermiculite instead of dry potting soil and only had an issue with damping off with beets and melons and nothing else. (And we started a LOT of seeds! Everything from lettuce to cucumbers to squash and corn this year!) By the time that little square gets out to the garden the amount of vermiculite is inconsequential. I also prefer vermiculite for making soil blocks- they don’t fall apart as easily.
New Earth Compost says
Can I use different types of soil and mix it with peat moss or a compost?
Thank you so so so much for this!! I’ve pretty much given up on raising seedlings because there’s always some plague that destroys them all before I can get them in the ground. Last time it was aphids that I KNOW came from the potting soil. Hope springs eternal when it comes to gardening, so I’m going to give your mix a try and hopefully get success at last.
I hope it works out wonderfully for you and your garden grows well this year
Roberta Parisi says
This may be a silly question but for the “garden soil” part of the recipe, can i just use soil straight from my garden? It is very good, well nurtured organic soil?
Also what do you think about comment that said you can use leaf compost in place of peat moss?
Yes! Use soil straight from your garden. It works like an inoculant and your seedlings will transition to the garden better because they’re already used to what you’ve got. I’ve never worked with leaf compost so I can’t say for sure how it would do to replace peat moss. You can always plant a few extra seeds, do both, take notes and compare which you like the best. Let me know!