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When repotting or landscaping, it’s crucial to use the correct soil to ensure your plants receive the proper nutrients. But with so many different types of soil on the market – which should you choose? To answer this question, you first need to understand the differences between topsoil, garden soil, and potting soil, and why and when to use each. Let’s dig a little deeper into each.


Topsoil is the topmost layer of soil on the earth’s surface. It varies in texture and contains a mixture of clay, silt, and sand. It also tends to contain weed seeds. Unless you handpick the soil at a supply yard, you can’t be sure what you’re going to get. Topsoil tends to be sold in bulk and is often used for large-scale landscaping since it’s easy to till and fertilize. It’s important to note that topsoil often retains water after it rains, so too much topsoil can be detrimental to your plants because it can prevent air from reaching the roots.

Garden soil

Garden soil, as it is marketed, is simply topsoil that has been enriched with compost and organic matter. The difference has to do with the amount of organic matter and the ratios of sand, clay, silt, and some minerals. All you really need to know is that gardening soil is better than topsoil for plant growth. Choosing the type of garden soil can be tricky, though, depending on what you’re planting because there are different mixes on the market. The blends target a specific type of planting – flowers, vegetables, or herbs – so you can choose the formulation that suits your needs.

Potting soil

If you’re planting in containers, potting soil is your best bet. Potting soil contains a combination of perlite, peat moss, and compost. Ingredients will vary depending on the manufacturer and the expected use of the mix: starting from seed, planting succulents and cacti, orchids, or flowers and vegetables. Some potting soils will also include fertilizers, so be sure to check the directions on the package before purchasing.

So, which soil is the best?

If you have the choice between traditional soil and some “new and improved” formula, stick with traditional. One of the many options available these days is moisture control. I find that this is a useless upgrade – if you can even call it that. In my experience, the moisture-control soil is hard to predict. It has its own needs, so you’ll have to re-learn how each plant responds to the soil. But the real problem is that moisture-control soil is trying to solve overwatering and under-watering issue, and the bottom line is this: at the end of the day you can’t rely on a product to protect against human error. The best way to guard against overwatering and under-watering is to be a responsible plant parent. Set reminders or make it a habit to check the soil conditions of your plants. Just a little bit of effort and vigilance will help you stay in top of watering and you won’t need to rely on gimmicks and expensive “new and improved” soil. You can do this.