Soil is the beginning and the end for gardening. It is the most critical factor when you tend your garden since it feeds your plants and provides water that is absorbed through the roots. Soil can provide an optimal living environment for your plant that flourishes, or it can kill the plant before it even has a chance to produce any harvestable goods.
Garden soil is best for in-ground beds and retains a lot of water. Potting mix is made of organic matter, perlite and peat, while raised bed soil combines both with added compost. Using raised bed soil is best in a raised garden to provide the best results for your vegetables.
Choosing the right kind of soil depends on what you want to plant, the pH level of your soil, and where you want to plant it. Where you want to plant your garden is very important since garden soil will not work in containers or raised beds. Likewise, raised bed soil is best in raised gardens, and potting mix is ideal for small pots.
What is the Difference Between Garden Soil and Raised-Bed Soil?
Most people don’t realize there is a difference between the soil in your natural, ground-level garden and the soil you add to a raised bed. Both have many benefits and disadvantages, and one isn’t necessarily worse than the other. It all depends on what you want to grow and where you are growing it.
Garden soil (on Amazon) is the topsoil layer that contains some pieces of wood. It’s not suitable for raised garden beds or containers because it is very compact and tends to quickly become oversaturated with moisture, which can leave little room for root growth.
Potting soil (on Amazon) or mix is misunderstood as soil when it’s not. It’s a man-made mixture made from decomposing bark, peat moss, minerals, and perlite. It’s ideal for growing plants in pots or containers.
The difference between potting and garden soil is the addition of topsoil in the latter version, making the garden soil heavier. Garden soil also lacks many of the ingredients potting soil has, like perlite, which adds soil aeration and peat.
With the increased water retention rate of garden soil, it often has a high abundance of salts, which makes it highly corrosive. So, for example, if this soil is left on a driveway for some time, it would damage the pavement. So you could imagine what it would do to delicate plant roots.
To ensure your soil works with your plants, dig a shallow hole about 6 inches deep and then spread the soil in your garden bed. Doing this will allow the salt to seep into the soil properly and not damage your plants.
As suggested by its name, garden soil is best for ground gardening. It has a lot of benefits, like reducing soil compaction and improving soil composition. Garden soil also contains essential nutrients that can help your native soil retain nutrients better and promote a healthy root system for your plants.
Even if your native soil lacks nutrients, adding garden soil can bring life back into it.
Despite the benefits of using garden soil in your in-ground gardens, it’s too compact for containers and will often lead to root rot.
Raised Bed Soil
Raised bed soil (on Amazon) is a mixture of three types of soil: garden soil, potting mix, and compost. It provides aeration for the roots, retains enough moisture to avoid constant watering, but doesn’t get easily oversaturated. It also provides essential nutrients for your plants.
Raised bed soil contains abundant nutrients that promote the growth of foliage, flowers, roots, and fruits. In addition, it contains a higher percentage of organic material than garden soil, making it more suited to a raised bed. That being said, you can always add extra organic fertilizer like compost, algae, or worms to improve the quality and condition of the soil.
These natural alternatives of fertilizer also avoid pollution and harmful chemicals some commercial fertilizers have.
With raised bed soil, you can also change its composition as needed. For example, if you suffer from drainage problems, you can always add more perlite to the mix. People tend to add perlite, vermiculite, sand, and bark to raised bed soils for optimal results.
Perlite and vermiculite increase soil airflow and help with water retention. In contrast, sand reduces water retention, often needed for plants such as succulents and cacti that like a drier environment. Lastly, bark is primarily used in orchid mixes that provide just the right amount of moisture for that specific plant.
What Type of Soil Does Best in a Raised Garden Bed?
The best soil for raised garden beds balances potting soil, fertilizer, and garden soil. You want 60% topsoil, 30% compost, and 10% potting soil made up of perlite and peat. You want a good mixture of all three varieties to provide the best soil in your raised garden beds.
Potting mix is often too light for raised beds, and garden soil is too heavy. Since raised bed soil has amazing draining capabilities, combining the two helps get your plants established and even flourish.
In addition, it provides well-maintained loose soil that gives good airflow and essential nutrients to the roots of the plants.
Raised bed soil also stops you from needing to constantly water it, which is a bonus since raised beds tend to dry out quicker than in-ground gardens.
How Do You Keep Your Soil Healthy in a Raised Bed?
Replenishing the Soil
With raised bed soil, you will need to add soil to the garden yearly since the quantity gets lower over time. This can be because of the beneficial soil microbes that consume the soil and produce nutrients for your plants.
To replenish the soil, you will need to spread a layer of new raised bed soil over the existing soil, leaving about 3 to 4 inches of open space at the top of your raised garden. You can also add in your extra fertilizer at this time too.
Regular fertilizing at the beginning of a growing season can add in nutrients that might have been lost during the last season. Adding either a store-bought fertilizer (on Amazon) or natural fertilizer like compost, manure, algae, or even worms, can boost the productivity of your plants because of the additional nutrients.
Rotating crops is also an excellent habit to get into. Planting the same vegetable each year in the same spot will result in soil depletion since the plant will continuously use the same nutrients until it’s all depleted and the plant starves. This could dr
stically cut back on your harvest and the plant’s health.
Another good way to retain nutrients in your soil is to plant cover crops in the fall, such as ryegrass. These hardy off-season plants prevent erosion, stabilize soil temperatures, reduce weeds and prevent winter nutrient loss. Eventually, they break down and provide a source of new organic matter that can also help feed the soil microbes.
How to Test the pH of Your Soil
Knowing the pH of your soil is essential for plant growth because it determines the available nutrients in the soil. For example, soil with pH 6.5 means lots of nutrients, and fertilizer isn’t needed.
If you’re getting acidic readings, certain nutrients have become unavailable to the plants, while other minerals are now toxic. On the other hand, alkaline soils prevent iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and phosphorus from being absorbed.
Knowing how to correct acidic and alkaline soil is essential to giving the best environment for your plants to grow in. Unfortunately, the only way to test the pH is through a soil test sent to a laboratory to perform the actual test. These tests aren’t expensive and should be performed every four to five years.