So if you’ve decided you’d like to grow in pots or containers your plants are going to need high quality soil. In my research I’ve found it’s good to have 3 components to your soil, a good base, fertilizer, and something to help with drainage.
Potting mix that you can get at your local garden soil is usually a good place to start. It’s true that it does contain peat moss, which is acidic which is why we don’t want to use peat moss. Acidic soil usually isn’t good for your plants because it will hinder them from absorbing all the nutrients in the soil. A good alternative for using peat moss is to use coco peat. There isn’t too much peat moss in the potting mix, and if you add in the coco peat you should be fine.
Next you want to add some fertilizer to the mix. There are two ways to go here, organic or inorganic fertilizer. Inorganic fertilizer usually consists of chemicals like nitrogen, followed by the same for phosphorus and potassium, or N-P-K, and are called thus because they have been synthesized or manufactured in a laboratory or refinery. While we could go on about micro-nutrients, multi-nutrient, single nutrient fertilizers, I’ll just keep it simple here. Advantages to using this type of fertilizer is that they are usually cheaper (if you are buying them both from the store) because they are mass produced, they are more precise because you can get the exact amount of nutrients your plants need, and maybe the biggest advantage is that they are fast acting, you can see results within a few hours.
The problem with inorganic fertilizer is that basically, they will kill your soil. You want your soil to be alive with beneficial microbes, fungi, and bacteria. But with repeated applications of inorganic fertilizer you can kill these beneficial life forms. Also you can get salt build up in your soil, which will make it difficult for your plants to get water and other nutrients from the soil. Another problem is that you don’t want to disturb the roots of your plants, so we might just drop the fertilizer on the top. This then creates a build up of these chemicals on the top layer of your pot, not supplying any nutrition to the roots of your plants. And of course if you use too much you can burn or damage your plants.
Organic fertilizer is basically adding organic matter to your soil. This can be manure, compost, mulch, and ash. Goat and rabbit manure can be applied directly without needing to be composted, while other types of dung need to be composted first or they can burn and kill your plants.
Now, if you are buying organic fertilizer, its more expensive, but you can get some for free! You can make your own compost of course, you can get mulch for free from tree cutting services, if you or someone you know keeps livestock you can get their manure, and you can create your own pot ash by burning leaves and sticks.
Another method that has been tested effective is using your own urine. This might sound gross, but your urine actually contains N-P-K and there is a fertilizer you can buy called Urea that is basically processed or synthetic urine. If you plan on trying this, just make sure you mix it with water, one part urine to ten parts water will give you a good mix. The one downfall of using organic fertilizer is that it can take time to see the effects, but if you keep adding organic matter to your soil, you will have a very healthy and living medium for your plants to thrive in.
The final piece you might want to add to your potting mix is vermiculite. It is a natural occurring mineral that is mined all over the world. You’ll want to add this to your soil to create aeration and help with drainage, it slightly raises your pH, and makes other nutrients available such as calcium and magnesium.
So this is my recommendation, 1 part potting mix, 1 part coco peat, and fertilizer and vermiculite dashed in. I also would not use inorganic fertilizer unless you really need to, if your plants were neglected or befell some kind of disease and need a kick start. Other wise I would just do things as naturally as possible. If you keep building your soil this way, you can reuse if for years and years.