Get Your Hands Dirty: A Guide to Purchasing Gardening Soils

Get Your Hands Dirty: A Guide to Purchasing Gardening Soils

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, having the right soil conditions is critical to the health and success of your garden. For individuals who have a container garden or need to amend their soil, purchasing gardening soils might be necessary. Choosing the right soil is essential to growing healthy and thriving plants, but with so many different types of soils available for purchase, it can be overwhelming to know which one is best for your garden. In this article, we’ll break down the different types of gardening soils for purchase and what makes each one unique. 

Types of Soil 

Topsoil, potting soil, seed starting mix, garden soil, specialty soils, compost, manure, mulch, and organic soil are terms used to describe different types of soil used for gardening and landscaping purposes. Each type has specific characteristics and applications, and understanding their differences can help you make the right choice for your gardening needs. 

Potting Soil 

Potting soil, also called potting mix, is a specialized soil blend designed for container gardening. It’s formulated to be lightweight and well-draining while still retaining enough moisture to support plant growth. Potting soil typically contains a mix of organic matter like peat moss or coconut coir, perlite or vermiculite for improved drainage, and sometimes slow-release fertilizers. Potting soil is ideal for growing plants in pots, hanging baskets, or other containers, and is not recommended for in-ground use as it can become too compacted. 

Seed Starting Mix 

Seed starting mix is a special type of soil that is designed for starting seeds. It’s typically made from a blend of vermiculite, peat moss, and perlite, which provides a light and airy texture that promotes seed germination. Seed starting mix is sterile, which helps prevent disease and pests from affecting your seedlings. Once your seedlings have grown a bit, they can be transplanted into potting soil or other types of soil. 


Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil, usually about 2-8 inches deep. It typically contains a mix of organic matter, sand, silt, and clay, and is rich in nutrients. Topsoil is primarily used for filling in low spots, leveling lawns, or as a base for new garden beds and lawns. However, it’s not ideal for container gardening because it can become compacted and limit drainage, which is essential for healthy root growth in containers. 

Garden Soil

Garden soil is a blend of topsoil and other materials, such as compost or peat moss, to create a well-balanced and nutrient-rich growing medium. This type of soil is specifically formulated for use in garden beds and provides a balanced mixture of nutrients, moisture retention, and aeration for plant roots. When purchasing garden soil, look for a product that is designed for your specific type of plants (e.g., vegetable garden soil, flower garden soil) to ensure optimal growth.

Organic Soil 

Organic soil is a term used to describe soil that is derived from living organisms and is free from synthetic chemicals, such as fertilizers or pesticides. This can refer to both topsoil and potting soil, as long as they meet the organic criteria. Organic soil promotes a healthy ecosystem, as it contains beneficial microorganisms that help plants grow and fend off diseases. When purchasing organic soil, look for a product that is certified by a reputable organization, such as the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). 

Specialty Soils

In addition to the general types of gardening soils mentioned above, there are also specialty soils formulated for specific plants or growing conditions. Examples include cactus and succulent soil, orchid mix, and acid-loving plant soil. These specialty soils are designed to provide the unique requirements needed for certain types of plants or growing environments. When purchasing specialty soils, be sure to choose a product that is specifically formulated for your plant’s needs.


Compost is a type of soil amendment that is made from decomposed organic matter like leaves, grass clippings, and food scraps. It’s rich in nutrients and helps improve soil structure and water retention. Compost can be used as a top dressing for garden beds or worked into the soil to improve its overall health. Many gardeners make their own compost, but it’s also available for purchase in bags or by the truckload from garden centers and nurseries. 


Manure is another type of soil amendment that is rich in nutrients and helps improve soil structure. It’s typically made from animal waste like cow, horse, or chicken manure, and is available in both fresh and composted forms. Fresh manure should be aged for several months before use to prevent burning plants with its high nitrogen content. Composted manure is a safer option and can be used directly in the garden or mixed with other types of soil. 


Mulch is a type of material that is applied to the surface of the soil to help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. It can be made from a variety of materials, including wood chips, straw, leaves, and grass clippings. Mulch breaks down over time and adds organic matter to the soil, improving its overall health. It’s important to choose a mulch that is appropriate for your plants and climate. 

Additional Considerations 

When purchasing gardening soils, it’s important to consider the needs of your plants and the specific conditions of your garden. Factors like soil type, drainage, and pH can all play a role in the success of your garden. It’s also important to choose high-quality soils from reputable suppliers to ensure that you’re getting a product that is free from contaminants and properly formulated for your needs. 

In addition to purchasing soils, it’s also important to amend your soil regularly with organic matter like compost and manure to improve its structure and nutrient content. Regular soil testing can also help you identify any nutrient deficiencies or pH imbalances in your soil, allowing you to make adjustments as needed. 

Choosing the right gardening soils for purchase is essential to growing healthy and thriving plants. Potting soil, seed starting mix, topsoil, compost, manure, and mulch are all different types of soils that are available for purchase and each one has unique properties that make it well-suited for different types of gardening. When purchasing soils, it’s important to consider the specific needs of your plants and the conditions of your garden. Choosing high-quality soils from reputable suppliers can help ensure that you’re getting a product that is free from contaminants and properly formulated for your needs. 


When choosing soil at the store, consider the specific needs of your gardening project. Here are some tips to help you make the right choice:

  • For in-ground planting, choose topsoil or organic topsoil if you prefer a chemical-free option. Make sure the topsoil is rich in nutrients and free from contaminants like weed seeds or debris. 
  • For container gardening, choose a high-quality potting soil or an organic potting mix if you want an eco-friendly option. Look for a lightweight, well-draining mix that retains moisture and contains a balanced blend of nutrients. 
  • If you have specific plant needs, such as acid-loving plants or succulents, look for specialized soil mixes designed for those plants. 
  • Always read the label and check for any added fertilizers, wetting agents, or other additives that may not be suitable for your specific needs or preferences. 
  • By understanding the differences between different gardening soils you can select the right product for your garden and provide the best environment for your plants to thrive. 

Gardening is a fulfilling and rewarding hobby that offers countless benefits, from improved physical health to increased mental well-being. By choosing the right soils for your garden and amending them regularly with organic matter, you can create a healthy and thriving garden that will provide you with fresh produce, beautiful flowers, and a sense of accomplishment. So get your hands dirty, experiment with different types of soils, and enjoy the many joys of gardening!

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