5 Reasons Why Potting Soil Is So Expensive

Container gardens are transportable and comparatively easy to maintain, making them ideal for those living in apartments or small spaces. But potting soil can be costly, making container gardening a potentially pricier alternative to standard in-ground gardens. But why is potting soil expensive?

These are the top 5 reasons why potting soil is so expensive:

  1. It is often nutrient-rich.
  2. Most products contain fertilizer.
  3. It drains more quickly than all-purpose soil.
  4. You can purchase plant-specific potting soil.
  5. It is a quality alternative to all-purpose soil.

This article will explore these reasons, helping you understand why potting soil is often costlier than topsoil or all-purpose gardening soil.

1. Potting Soil Is Often Nutrient-Rich

Just like animals, plants need nutrients to develop and remain healthy. One of the primary reasons potting soil is more expensive than store-bought all-purpose topsoil is that manufacturers load it with life-sustaining nutrients. 

These nutrients can save gardeners time and money over the long term, as it reduces the need for immediate fertilization. But the immediate cost of purchasing nutrient-rich potting soil is almost always higher than buying all-purpose soil.

Producing nutrient-rich potting soil requires more time, energy, and ingredients than creating all-purpose topsoil. After all, manufacturers must amend their initial soil supply with fertilizer, mix the components, then test the final product to ensure it meets quality standards.

These extra steps contribute to the cost of potting soil, often making it pricier than bags of in-ground soil.

Nutrient Levels Are Specially Formulated

Nutrient levels in potting soil vary depending on the specific potting soil mix. 

For example, succulents thrive when planted in potting soil rich in nitrogen, but flowering plants may need a higher percentage of phosphorus to produce bright blooms.

When purchasing all-purpose soil, you’d likely need to amend the dirt to make it appropriate for your plants. You could do this by using organic or synthetic fertilizers. But creating the ideal soil for flowering plants, container-grown vegetables, or succulents can be time-consuming and costly.

Choosing potting soil pre-loaded with nutrients is a far more convenient option. But this addition of nutrients results in a higher product price, making potting soil pricier than all-purpose in-ground gardening soil.

2. Most Products Contain Fertilizer

Another reason behind the comparatively high cost of potting soil is fertilizer. 

Most types of potting soil are pre-mixed with organic or synthetic fertilizer to help plants thrive. Alternatively, the average bag of topsoil may not contain any fertilizer.

The type of fertilizer added to a bag of potting soil affects its final price. Generally, soil amended with organic fertilizers (manure, compost) is pricier than those amended with synthetic options.

Organic fertilizers aren’t quite as harsh or long-lasting as their synthetic counterparts. As a result, using a little too much organic fertilizer may not cause as much harm to plants as using an excessive amount of synthetic fertilizer. Organic fertilizers also contain a wide range of micronutrients that plants may need.

In short, potting soil that contains organic sources of nutrients may be costlier because they’re the safer option.

3. It Drains More Quickly Than All-Purpose Soil

Growing a vibrant container garden can be challenging when using all-purpose topsoil or gardening soil. This type of growing medium doesn’t drain as quickly as most types of potting soil, potentially leading to root rot and plant death.

Potting soil typically starts as standard topsoil. But manufacturers amend this all-purpose dirt to create specific mixes, each designed to provide superior drainage to keep container plants healthy

The cost of amending topsoil to create potting soil increases the price of the final product. But spending a few extra dollars on high-quality potting soil is often well worth it, as it reduces plants’ risk of root rot and moisture-related fungal infections. 

4. You Can Purchase Plant-Specific Potting Soil

Most store-bought topsoil or outdoor gardening soil is all-purpose. So while it’s a worthwhile growing medium for most outdoor plants, it’s a poor choice for container plants with specific nutritional or soil requirements.

Potting soil aims to remedy this issue by coming in several plant-specific types. This variety allows container gardens to flourish more quickly and easily, as manufacturers design the dirt to meet the needs of the specific plants found in the garden.

Specialized potting soil mixes require more analyses and varied ingredients, which is why you pay more for the product than standard gardening soil.

Plant-Specific Products on the Market

No matter what types of plants you’d like to grow, potting soil is designed to help your plants flourish.

Most garden nurseries and home improvement stores offer a wide selection, including the following:

  • Succulent potting soil
  • Orchid potting soil
  • Flower potting soil
  • Fruit and vegetable potting soil

Though these soils are typically pricier than all-purpose gardening soil, they could be the most beneficial growing media for container plants. Manufacturers design each potting soil mix to meet the precise needs of specific plant types.

For example, succulents thrive in arid, dry environments. They don’t tend to grow well in all-purpose, loamy garden soil. Instead, they require soil that contains rocks and sand, as these elements allow water to drain away quickly.

Succulent potting soil has a higher percentage of sand and clay pebbles to suit succulents’ specific soil and drainage needs. In addition, some succulent potting soils are pre-mixed with plant food, so gardeners can withhold from fertilizing sensitive succulents for several months.

Orchids are also some of the most challenging plants for gardeners to maintain, as they’re susceptible to disease. They also require high-moisture soils but can suffer from root rot if the soil remains wet for extended periods.

Orchid potting soil may make it easier for gardeners to grow healthy orchids. Though it’s more expensive than all-purpose gardening soil, this growing medium may be worth the expense, especially for gardeners hoping to grow costly orchids. 

5. It Is a Quality Alternative to All-Purpose Soil

High-quality potting soil can be expensive, but it’s also a convenient alternative to gardening soil or topsoil. When growing plants in containers, it’s crucial to ensure that the dirt is well-draining and rich in nutrients. 

But topsoil and gardening soil tend to be denser than potting soil, making it easier for the soil to retain moisture. These soils may not contain the nutrients that potted plants need to stay healthy.

It can also make it easier for gardeners to grow healthy container plants by offering superior soil drainage and a higher proportion of nutrients.

Benefits: Nutrient Supplement, Better Drainage, and Longevity

Those thinking of using topsoil or gardening soil in containers (instead of potting soil) may want to reconsider. After all, there are several benefits of using high-quality potting soil to grow plants in containers.

For example, potting soil can:

  • Reduce the need to fertilize plants
  • Improve soil drainage
  • Increase plant longevity

So, though potting soil might be more expensive than topsoil or low-cost gardening soil, the increased expense could be worth it.

Reduced Need to Fertilize Plants

Potting soil is rich in nutrients, and manufacturers specifically design it for specific types of plants. These soils contain pre-determined nutrient levels catered to the needs of those plants. Some also feature distinct soil blends (loamy, peat, sandy) to encourage healthy root growth.

Topsoil and gardening soil may lack these plant-specific nutrients. So if you use these soils for your container garden, you may need to fertilize your plants more often.

In addition, most bags of topsoil and gardening soil are loam. While loamy soil is considered one of the best all-purpose soils for plants, it may not be appropriate for all plants, including succulents.

Topsoil and gardening soil can also retain moisture better than potting soil. This quality is ideal for outdoor in-ground gardens but can be problematic for container gardens.

Improved Soil Drainage

While most gardening pots and containers have holes to allow water to drain out, some are entirely enclosed. Overwatering plants in these containers can lead to muddy, soupy dirt that takes hours or days to dry out. 

Unfortunately, overly wet soil is a haven for mold. It can also lead to root rot, significantly impacting a plant’s health and leading to premature plant death. 

Potting soil has numerous pores that allow water to pass through. Some types of potting soil also contain small rocks or an increased percentage of sand, which can increase drainage. These qualities help reduce the risk of root rot and keep container plants healthy.

Increased Plant Longevity

The lifespan of any given plant varies depending on its species. But if you’re planning on growing plants in containers, potting soil can help your plants enjoy the longest possible lifespan.

Though this growing media is often costlier than topsoil or all-purpose gardening soil, its plant-specific nutrients and improved drainage may help your plants live longer and grow more quickly, which may be worth the expense.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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