Series 1, pg 1 – soil basics

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english ivy
This series will help you have happy, healthy plants to enjoy all year round in your home.  We’ll talk about water and we’ll talk about light.  One of the most important aspects of any successful gardening experience is first having the proper growing medium which is where we’ll begin.


by Mary Sue

        Here’s The Dirt…

                    Time to get your hands dirty

First some basics

Plants need light, water and nutrients to grow.  First we’ll discuss what you can do to give your plant the nutritional habitat it needs to be happy and healthy.  Houseplants will do their best if provided with the proper media.  Providing a good mix full of the ingredients your plant needs when you pot it up will give any plant great healthy beginning.  This may even occasionally mean changing the medium when you first bring a plant into your home.  I once purchased an orchid, drooping and sad, that was suffocating in a very heavy, dense medium that it could not possibly have been able to breathe in at all.  After letting it acclimate in my home for 2 weeks I then immediately took it from its pot, gently removed all the soil from its roots, and re-potted it into the proper mix.

The proper medium for your plant will go a long way in helping you with proper watering.  Ingredients you supply give the roots moisture holding properties that plants need to have water when they need it and when they don’t.  There will be the right amount of space between the materials so the roots receive the breathing and wiggle room they need to grow optimally.

The proper medium will also require less fertilizer.  House plants in containers will receive some nutrient value while certain ingredients are breaking down over time, but each time you water some nutrient value washes through.  Plants outdoors in the ground get much of their nutrient value replenished naturally from insects and worms doing good works, creating environments attractive to beneficial microbes, but container plants often do not have these benefits (unless you’re using the worm bin you keep in your laundry room).  Houseplants, most often, will do best with some supplemental feeding, top dressing or re-potting into fresh media.

The proper medium will keep your houseplant healthier.  A healthy plant will give good protection from pests so they will attract fewer.  This is no different than you eating properly to keep your immune system strong and fighting off disease.  This will reduce the amount of pesticide you need and will be healthier for you and the environment.

There are basically 2 main types of media that gardeners begin with to provide food, moisture, air and anchorage for their plants.  Soil based and soilless.

loam, perlite, sand, sphagnum peat

loam, perlite, sand, sphagnum peat


This medium is a combination of ingredients like sterilized loam, compost, humus, sphagnum peat moss or coir, sharp sand or small granite chips, and composted animal manure, leaf mold, or bark fines.  These mixes will not dry out too quickly, provide aeration,and will have the nutrients and nutrient holding capacity your plant needs to thrive.




Sphagnum peat, perlite, vermiculite and sand.

Sphagnum peat, perlite, vermiculite and sand.


This medium is often a mix of ingredients like peat moss (or coir), perlite or vermiculite (or coarse sand, especially if you need more weight), tree fibers, bark, limestone and perhaps a time released fertilizer.  It can be very lightweight, will provide moisture holding capabilities and give the plants roots sufficient air circulation.





These are modified for cacti, succulents, orchids and other plants with special requirements.  I have separated the orchid ingredients from the rest because I think they have very special needs depending upon the type of orchid you have.

Basics recap

When you know the needs of your plant you can combine any number of ingredients to create a perfect habitat or there are many commercial potting mediums based on the following components.  The media you supply to your plant will dictate your plants growth.  Garden soil alone is unsuitable for containers because it may contain weed seeds, pests and diseases.  The drainage often becomes poor quickly without the activity of worms and other animals once you put it into a pot and place it indoors.  Finding materials to mix together to create the best environment for your houseplants has never been easier.  We will continue by exploring the many ingredients you can use in many combinations to create many different habitats.      Soil recipes


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