Review: Bagged potting soils and mixes

soil_post_cover1In the previous years, I kept buying bagged soil (whichever looked most appealing on a certain day in a certain store) without taking the time to take notes on which ones were better, or which were a complete waste of money. But not this time! This spring, I set out to test a variety of commercially available potting soils and mixes and am now ready to share my experiences. I kept going back and forth on how to organize the product list and decided to start with the worst potting mix and finish with the best.

Before I begin with the actual review, I need to say that it is obviously not exhaustive. Two main reasons for this:

  1. I picked several products that were within a reasonable price range. For example, Espoma makes wonderful soil products, and I do use their specialized mixes (the seed starting one, and the one for succulents), but their general potting mixes are outrageously expensive (I’ve tried them at some point, they were good, but not better than my top picks from the list below, which are much more affordable).
  2. I will not go into why I am not a proponent of concentrated fertilizers and soil mixes enriched with those (not naming names here, but you probably know the ones I mean), though this will likely be a subject to its own post at some point 🙂 For now I’ll just say that I did not test any of the products with names suggesting that they perform miracles…

Now that all of that is out of the way, here are my reviews:

    • Hyponex by Scotts Potting Soil is the absolute worst soil I’ve ever bought! Granted, it also happened to be the cheapest one, but I’m not even sure I’d use it for free. My resentment of this soil was so strong that I even forgot to take a picture. The mix is very heavy, almost clay-like, it is also grey in color. The structure was also terrible: clay-like, with a bit of sand and perlite. Can’t even think of a plant that would favor this type of soil. hyponex1As bad as this soil mix was, the good news is that the rest of the products that I’ve tested are all of good quality!
    • The Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil, the Waupaca Materials Nursery Mix, and the Oldcastle L&G Timberline Potting Soil all had good color, texture, and smell. There were some occasional small twigs and wood chips, so probably not the best option for starting seeds (but then again, these are not marketed as seed starting mixes).

      fafard_nursery_timberline
      Left to right: Fafard potting soil, Waupaca nursery mix, Timberline potting soil.
    • Garden Magic Top Soil works great in my vertical garden soil mix. Make sure you realize, however, that this is not a potting mix! Top soil is generally a mix of sand and compost, so if you intend to use it in containers, you will need to add peat and perlite for a complete potting mix.garden_magic1
  • Harvest Natural and Organic Potting Mix and EcoScraps Natural + Organic Potting Mix are my personal favorites. The main reason I prefer them to the Fafard mix and others is that it feels like they have more organic matter. They have somewhat less perlite, though, so I add extra, especially when using for potting houseplants. These two mixes are so much alike, there is no way for me to pick one favorite. I will, however, stick to EcoScraps, because I agree with the company’s philosophy.

    harvest_ecoscraps
    Left to right: Harvest and EcoScraps potting mixes

Bottom line: I highly recommend any of the products I’ve tried here (except the Hyponex mix), so if you have access to any of them, you shan’t be disappointed! As mentioned before, these products were virtually identical in terms of quality, and I was only able to pick favorites because of small personal preferences (e.g. my “feeling” that the Harvest and EcoScraps mixes have more compost).

Hope you find this information helpful!

Tatiana

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