Making your own potting soil

Hello!  How are you all this week?  Did you know that Memorial Day weekend is one of the biggest gardening weekends of the year?  Garden centers are going to be stocked with the freshest and biggest selection of plants in preparation for the gardening madness that they are expecting.  So here is a little tip - if you plan on buying plants for this weekend, visit your local independent garden center on Thursday or Friday morning to get the best selection.  I've been haunting my local garden center all week - this year we are inundated with last minute requests for potted containers to decorate homes for Memorial Day.  So I've been spending lots of time playing with different color and plant combinations and making some fun containers.

Last week I was asked how I grow such abundant herb containers and I wanted to share one of the Ladybug secrets - we make our own potting soil.   We are not fans of peat moss as a gardening agent, and almost all commercial potting soils  use it as a primary ingredient.  Peat moss is troublesome for several reasons - it is a rapidly depleting natural resource that is slow to renew and we are not fans of this environmental cost.  It is also very finicky and once it dries out it is very difficult to re-wet.  If you have ever added lots of peat moss to your soil and then felt like you could never water your plants enough then chances are the peat dried out in the soil and created an impenetrable barrier to moisture.  In our experience with clients, peat moss based potting soils are one of the leading causes of container plants failing.  With any type of gardening, always pay attention to the soil you are inviting your plants to live in.

Here is our recipe for potting soil for container annuals and herbs.

We use our homemade compost and buy the rest of the ingredients.  Perlite and vermiculite are added to improve drainage and coconut coir is an excellent substitute for peat.  You can find the bricks of coconut coir in many garden centers, or check your local hydroponic shop - they will most certainly have it.  The most time consuming part of this is waiting for the coconut coir brick to reconstitute.  If I know I am making a bunch of potting soil I'll start soaking the coconut coir the night before to be ready to go in the morning.  Each brick reconstitutes to about 2 gallons of dry material.

Then you simply add the rest of the ingredients. The ratio depends on what you are planting in the soil.  I tend to use equal parts coconut coir and compost mixed with a third of the amount of vermiculite, perlite and worm castings.   If I am potting succulents I use very little compost.  Otherwise this is a good starting point.  The point is to just try it out and see how your plants respond.  This was a messy I could not take photos of the mixing.  Just get in there and get your hands dirty and mix all the ingredients together!  Make sure to crumble up any bits of coconut coir and you are good to go!

I planted  up my Thai basil with the potting soil I made today.  I have to take full blame for the spindly little seedlings in the photos.  I know they will fill up and create huge basil plants, but don't they look so gawky!

I also potted up some more salad greens around my the season heats up and the lettuces bolt, the dill will fill the entire container.  I'll then remove the lettuce and enjoy the dill!

I wanted to end this week's post with a quick camera phone shot of a bouquet I created from my flower garden. As I was heading over to give this to a dear friend who is not feeling well I was struck with gratitude for the bounty of life and garden.  I remembered planting the peony bulbs years ago and being so excited to one day be able to harvest armfuls of peonies to give away and enjoy.  That day has finally arrived and it reminded me, again, why I love to garden.

Gardening is hope and looking to the future while tending to the present. It is care taking and nurturing and knowing that what you put in comes back.  It is also fleeting and cyclical and filled with the knowledge that as you enjoy this moment, it is coming to an end.  But it is also knowing that after the peonies come the hydrangeas.  Happy gardening dear ones...may your blooms be bountiful and your bounty be nourishing!

Caroline Finnegan owns Ladybug Landscaping, a full service organic landscaping company. based in CT. She is a NOFA accredited landcare professional and when not designing gardens can be found rearranging her furniture or out at a flea market finding new goodies. She almost always has dirt under her nails.

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  • I SO enjoyed this post. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe and encouraging us to get our hands dirty to make something beautiful.

  • Thank you for your kind words, Tricia. I just visited your blog and I am still shaking my head…I bought fake snakes to scare away wildlife from a client’s garden, and I jumped when I saw them on the kitchen table…I would have passed out were I in your shoes! Eeeep!

  • I love this post! Thank so much for sharing. Just found your blog and I’m already head over heels!!! Those scallop edged pots are diving! Where on earth can I find them?
    Thanks again sweetie!

  • wow, what a great post!! i think i am going to try that! i’m going to do up my own indoor composting soon, i’m pretty excited about it : )

  • I hope you all let me know how your own potting soil turns out! Alva – those scalloped pots are actually wooden salad bowls I thrifted at a flea market…I have several sets of them!

  • Bonnie,

    I can remember your grandparents mixing up their own potting soil. Your grandma Ramey always had such a green thumb. I used to live right below them on Windy Gap when I was growing up. I have to say you have inherited your mama’s creativity and your grandma’s (both of them) green thumb. Love your blog.

    • hi jeanna! aw, thank you so much for leaving this sweet comment! i feel so blessed to have all of them in my life. it’s even more special that we bought our house from them, so i’m even working in the same dirt as she was! so nice to hear from you!
      xo, bonnie


    I looked up sources of the materials (was interesting, as vermiculite and perlite are from the east coast and learned about asbestos in vericulite mines in the past) but was thinking of coconut coir sources being shipped in from tropical sources, vs. Canadian peat being closer, and not nearing depletion for some time. I was asking myself…can I start seeds, well, safely, with only ‘local’ stuff? But during research i found this nice comparison, that the coir had deficiencies in comparison to peat as well, in well researched setting. their plants were, well, stunted too.
    Anyway, I havent found my ‘replacement’ for peat yet, I will still use my compost and the other items, but I’m still looking. Interesting post, it led me on to new learning.
    Allie at Alpaca Outback in PA

  • Thanks for the Great Post & Sharing your Recipe for Potting Soil. I was so not surprised to hear that Peat Moss dries out quickly!
    Pre-Packaged Potting Soil is maddening!
    Great Soil really does make all the difference. Your Garden Flowers are so lovely.
    Thanks again,