When it comes to potting soils and planting mixes, there are so many choices out there. Do we know what’s really important to the seasoned hobbyist when they shop for soils? What about the newcomer about to get their hands dirty for the first time? What’s communicated to the consumer ON the bag regarding what’s IN the bag? Let’s examine some of the top-selling potting soil products and the benefits that are pitched by the manufacturers.
First Glance: Improved Packaging
With garden centers and nurseries today, a premium is made to stock and sell independent-only brands… and be profitable in selling them. With Miracle Gro potting soil deeply entrenched in the box stores over the past two decades, validating quality soils to sell with easy-to-read (and well-branded) packaging is a must for any garden center owner.
Schultz was the first company to introduce great packaging with gusseted bottoms to stand up neatly on the shelf and also withstand the weather elements. Today’s manufacturers produce great packaging that’s not only colorful with informative labels, but also includes features like zip-lock tops, a family of related products and quality ingredients. Let’s look beyond the beauty of the package and examine what’s inside (ingredients!), which really personifies each vendor offering.
No More Dirt in the Bag
Today’s potting soils and planting mixes are carefully formulated and blended, with each component bringing something important to the recipe. The most common ingredient is peat moss, which varies in quality, screen or particle size, and percentage of mix formula.
Another observation might also be color, which is a trait of Lambert’s harvesting peat bogs. Lambert produces Sphagnum peat ranging in color from blond to brown to black, depending on where in the bog it’s been harvested. Brown is most common among retail mixes. Blond is preferred for seed germination. Black is popular among mushroom growers.
The percentage of Sphagnum peat can range from 40-75% depending on the mix. An example of Espoma’s Potting Soil Mix sports a 45-55% formula of sphagnum peat moss. Products with a higher percentage of peat are more challenging to wet once they’ve dried out, as peat repels water, too.
Another necessary ingredient in most retail soils is dolomitic limestone, to help adjust the pH right out of the bag. With common additions of humus and perlite, you have the bulk of soil recipes covered in many products.
Now just like crafted beers, the buck certainly stops here. You see, each potting soil/planting mix is also handcrafted with additional active ingredients to optimize plant performance. Different actives provide different results. The trend continues by adding nutrients through selected organics to help naturally feed plants over time. The only remaining factor inside the bag to some varying degree is moisture content.
Upon further inspection of any high-quality potting mix bag, you’ll see a listing of natural and organic additives. These may include earthworm castings, coconut coir (for water retention), alfalfa meal, gypsum, shrimp meal, crab or lobster meal (for added calcium, an important plant growth element), seaweed and various types of aged compost-based products (such as those produced by Coast of Maine). The recent addition of adding active mychorrhizae has been shown to reduce plant stress, enhance root systems and increase nutrient and water uptake.
Sure, the cost goes up for premium products, but also consider the success rate for those consumers who are newbies to the garden. They need help to be successful with their planting endeavors. Healthy soil is paramount to growing healthy plants!
Food for Thought
We’re reminded daily about the importance of healthy living. The messages are everywhere, influencing how we think, how we shop and especially how we eat. If you’re reading labels in the grocery store to see calories, fat content, carbohydrates and ingredients to inform your purchasing decision, how long will it be before this carries over into the lawn and garden market? Or has it already?