It's been a long few months of winter in North Dakota, and by now, our green thumbs are really itching to get out in the garden again! Since spring is still a little ways away in Bismarck and the ground is still very frozen, we suggest turning to your indoor greenery for some much-needed plant therapy.
When repotting or bringing home a new houseplant, it's crucial to provide it with a healthy, appropriate medium to grow in. Since each houseplant has a different set of growth requirements, the wrong planting mix can alter their ability to thrive-and a faded, discolored, wilting houseplant isn't going to cheer you up in the dead of winter! Here's our guide to choosing the best potting soil for your indoor plants.
Choosing a Planting Soil
Many of you know that it's a huge no-no to use garden soils for your indoor plants. While your hardy, outdoor plants can adapt, your precious houseplants require potting mixes that are specific to their nutrition and drainage needs. Indoor potting mixes are also clean and sterile, so you can be sure you're not inviting pests and diseases into your home.
Standard Indoor Potting Soils: While no potting mixes are really "all-purpose," standard indoor potting soils are about as close as you can get. Rather than pure soil, standard potting mixes are generally a combination of peat, perlite, vermiculite, sand, shredded bark, and compost. These components work together to great a light, fluffy medium that retains moisture but also provides adequate drainage and contains elements to nourish your plants. Standard potting soils are good starting points for many houseplants (even tropicals!) and can be further tailored to fit your plants' needs by adding soil amendments.
Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix: Succulents and cacti are famous for their low-maintenance houseplant status; however, this depends on what type of soil mix you supply to them. These thick, fleshy plants store moisture in their leaves, pads, and trunks, which is what keeps them alive during dry periods in their natural, desert habitats. They thrive in sunny, high-heat locations, and don't respond well to excessive moisture. Planting these guys in standard potting soil will almost definitely drown their roots, lead to fungal disease and root rot. Cactus soil mixes are composed primarily of sand and rock, allowing for increased drainage and less moisture retention. While this type of soil will dehydrate many of your houseplants, your cacti and succulents thrive in it.
Orchid Soil Mix: Similarly, regular potting soils are too heavy and hold too much moisture for the aerial roots of orchids. While specific drainage and moisture needs vary depending on what type of orchid you're growing, these gorgeous bloomers require specialty mixes for optimal health. Most often, orchids require light, fluffy soil mixes that provide good air circulation and excessive drainage, but still retain some moisture. Orchid mixes usually contain a mixture of pine, fir, or redwood bark, which are often available in many grades and allow for quick drainage. They also often contain charcoal, which absorbs contaminants and salt from fertilizers, perlite to retain moisture and offset pH balance, and coconut chips for more aeration and drainage.
Useful Soil Amendments
While these three common potting mixes are great starting points, they're not going to be a perfect fit for every single houseplant. After choosing the appropriate soil mixture, you may still need to optimize it to accommodate your plant and the unique environment of your home. Use these soil amendments to nail down the best potting mix for your plant:
Peat Moss: Peat is a fibrous material, formed from decomposing living material. Since it doesn't easily become compacted or break down, peat is a popular, long-lasting ingredient in many soil mixtures. It has a naturally acidic pH, making it a useful amendment for houseplants who prefer slightly acidic conditions.
Pumice: This light, porous material is actually formed from molten lava. As a soil amendment, it can be purchased in small chunks that create space in your container, improving aeration and drainage.
Perlite: Also called sponge rock, perlite is another porous, molten lava derivative for improving soil drainage. Unlike pumice, perlite is mined, crushed, and then heated to create a lightweight rock material. In fact, it's even lighter than pumice and doesn't compress or break down over time, making a permanent contribution to your soil mix's structure.
Vermiculite: Vermiculite is another common component of standard potting mixes. This mineral substance is processed into odorless pellets that won't break down or rot over time. Unlike perlite and pumice, vermiculite actually absorbs water. This improves drainage AND moisture retention at the same time, allowing the plant to access water only when it needs to! Since vermiculite is made from minerals, it also helps to nourish the soil.
Fertilizers and Organic Materials: Some plants, especially annuals and flowering houseplants, require large doses of nutrients to supply their abundant blooms and bright colors! During the growing season, amend your potting soils with organic matter or fertilizers to keep your plants happy and healthy.
If your house isn't already filled with houseplants (or even if it is), bringing home a new plant can really help you through the rest of this cold season. Choosing an appropriate indoor potting soil will set your new plants up for success, and may even revitalize those houseplants that seemed to be goners! Looking for some indoor potting mix in the Bismarck area? Stop into Plant Perfect to find the right blends for your family of houseplants.