Today you’ll learn how to create homemade potting soil using only three simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate recipes for potting soil in case you don’t have those three readily available.
My Homemade Potting Soil Recipe
If you’d like to see me make my homemade potting soil, here’s a video I created illustrating the process:
First, you’ll need a place to work.
I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making potting soil isn’t rocket science and you can really do it anywhere.
Second, gather your materials. My potting soil recipe has three main ingredients:
1. Rotten Wood
Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and provides a loose and airy texture to the mix.
As you know if you’ve read my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I don’t throw away or burn the logs and sticks that fall in my yard. Instead, I use them to feed the soil.
Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood.
If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.
2. Aged Cow Manure
I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age and dry for a few months.
Fresh cow manure is too “hot.”
If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.
NOTE: Manure in the United States is often contaminated with long-term herbicides that will destroy your garden and your potted plants. Read Karen’s story and learn more about that danger here.
3. Sifted Soil/Grit
I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:
I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.
You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.
I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants and even regular old sand.
Mix It All Up
Now all you need to do is get mixing.
Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure and one part grit/soil in my potting soil recipe, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.
As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.
If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run a coarser mix through some hardware cloth to sift it.
Alternate Ingredients for Homemade Potting Soil
If you don’t have cow manure, try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do. It’s often full of seeds, so watch out for that unless you want pumpkins growing out of your potted begonias.
Don’t have grit/sand available? Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely, though you have to buy them.
Rotten wood can be replaced with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir. It seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mould. Sift it out in the local forest – it’s wonderful. As a bonus, it contains beneficial bacteria and fungi.
Along with these ingredients, I’ve also added some ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells and even moldy cocoa nibs.
When I ran my nursery business I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company and set aside for years to break down.
Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy with a good mix of ingredients and your plants will do great.
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