Potting Soil vs Garden Mix – What’s The Difference?

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when it comes to planting is using the wrong type of soil. If you get it wrong then this could affect how easily your plants grow and you may end up having to start all over again. 

There are lots of different soils you might use when landscaping an area but two of the most common are potting soil and garden mix, but what’s the difference between potting soil and garden mix?

Potting soil is, as the name suggests, mainly used for container planting. On the other hand, garden mix, sometimes called garden soil, is used for larger applications such as large garden beds and mixing with native soil. 

It’s important to keep in mind that garden mix is an amended soil with extra nutrients and is often used for very specific purposes. 

In this guide, we’ll be introducing you to both types of soil and helping you choose the right one for your project. 

What Is Potting Mix?

The thing with potting mix, sometimes called potting soil, is that it might not actually contain any soil at all. This depends on the product you have purchased. If you buy potting soil then yes, there will be soil involved. However, potting mix is made of things like compost, perlite, peat moss and other ingredients such as pine bark, vermiculite and fertilisers. 

There are different potting mixes for different uses so when you buy it, it’s important to check that the product is suitable for your intended purpose. 

What Is Garden Mix?

Garden mix, or garden soil is a natural material based around topsoil. Within this topsoil, there may be other organic materials, which again, will vary depending on the product you have. However, some of the most common additions are manure, compost, bark and other things. The idea is to add more coarse materials to improve the soil’s ability to retain water. 

What Are The Differences Between Potting Mix And Garden Mix?

One of the most obvious differences between garden mix and potting mix is how they are used. Generally speaking, you would use garden mix when planting directly into the ground. However, potting mix is better for container gardening. 

The reason for this is that garden mix is made up of natural materials that are very high in nutrients which just makes sense to use in the ground. But since potting mix is a commercially manufactured product, it’s not natural but it does contain plenty of ingredients that will benefit your potted plants. Let’s explore the differences a little more closely. 

Ingredients of Potting Mix vs Garden Mix

As we have mentioned, garden mix is made up of natural materials taken from the ground. It is based around topsoil which comes from the first 12 inches of soil on the surface of the earth. Garden mix will also have a whole host of other ingredients including tiny rocks, decaying matter from plants and animals as well as lots of other things. What’s in the garden mix will vastly depend on where it was harvested.

Potting mix contains a lot of different materials which might include composted sawdust, perlite, peat moss, manure and lots of other things. The ingredients are taken to a factory where they are processed and made into a mix that is consistent and then packaged. 

Airflow And Drainage

When planting anything you need to consider the airflow within the soil. It isn’t only the type of soil that you use but also the tiny spaces in between the particles. These dictate how easily air can flow through as well as how well the soil drains. Not paying attention to these things can result in unhealthy roots which may lead to the death of the plant. 

Garden soil can be well draining and have good airflow provided that it is loosened. A lot of the time, it’s far more compacted than potting mix which means that the plant roots don’t get as much water and air.

However, potting mix is much better at this because it has been created to ensure it holds water and air well especially in the enclosed space of a container. 


Another key difference between potting soil and garden mix is the weight with garden mix being a lot heavier and vastly more dense. The problem with this is that the soil will become compacted far more easily which, as we have learned, doesn’t promote good drainage or airflow.

Now potting soil is much lighter and allows water to drain incredibly easily. In the ground, this wouldn’t be a good thing but in containers, it’s imperative to prevent the soil from clogging up with water and drowning the roots. 

That said, since potting soil is very light, it will dry out quite quickly so when using it, you’ll need to be prepared to water more frequently.

Nutrient Content

If you need a soil that’s incredibly nutrient rich then you won’t find much that’s better than garden mix. This is because of all the organic matter within the soil which is continually breaking down to form more nutrients.

In potting soil, nutrients won’t be reproduced like in garden mix and what’s in there to start with is what your plants will have to work with. This means that, when using potting soil, you will need to fertilise to ensure the plants continue to get all of the nutrients they need.

Garden Mix Is Alive!

OK, not literally but garden soil does contain living organisms. These are not present in potting soil or potting mix. These tiny microbes are another way that garden mix benefits from a higher nutrient content as they will increase the nutrients and help the plants to take water from within the soil. 

When To Use Potting Mix vs Garden Mix

Now that we better understand the differences between garden mix and potting soil, it’s time to figure out which we need. The truth is that, for any landscaping project, you’ll probably make use of both types of soil as well as a number of others such as topsoil. But it’s super important to know what to use and when. 

Improving The Texture Of Native Soil

If you’re working on a new garden then the chances are that the native soil isn’t going to be ideal for growing anything in. If the soil contains too much clay then it will hold onto water for too long which could drown plant roots. Conversely, when it dries out, it can be very difficult to reinject moisture. If the soil is too sandy then it’ll drain too quickly, not giving the plants a chance to take the water they need. 

However, by adding garden mix, you can alter the texture of native soil and make it more suitable for planting. You’ll get a much more balanced soil where your plants can thrive.

Good Drainage

Where you need to be certain that the soil will have good drainage, there’s no better choice than potting soil. Its light and fluffy texture will ensure that water runs through at a steady rate which is super important when you’re planting in containers. 

If you don’t use well draining soil in pots then water will accumulate and this is unhealthy for the roots. Yes, your plants need moisture but not too much. When there is too much water, this means that not enough oxygen will get to the plant roots nor will they be able to easily absorb those all-important nutrients. 

Improving Airflow

In just the same way that potting soil will promote better drainage, it’ll also improve airflow for container plants. Regardless of what type of soil you use in a container, it will compact over time and that’s not something you can change. 

But potting soil is formulated to improve airflow using things like vermiculite and perlite so problems with compaction won’t occur quite so quickly.

Planting In The Ground

When it comes to planting in the ground, your best option is a good quality garden mix. You might want to look for something loamy as this is widely accepted as being the best option for plants in the ground. 

Loam is a well balanced product that contains silt, clay and sand but it’s also high in humus which is a type of organic matter ideal for helping plants to thrive in the ground. 

A good garden mix will contain topsoil blended with organic materials that results in a loamy soil. Make sure that you till in at least three inches of garden mix to the native soil before planting. 


It’s really important to choose the right type of soil for your landscaping project. There are lots of different types but you may find yourself weighing up the differences between potting soil and garden mix. 

Potting soil is a manufactured product that is ideal for use in container gardening. It is lightweight and well draining as well as providing excellent airflow. However, there are limited nutrients unlike garden mix which is high in nutrients. Since garden mix is made from organic materials derived from the ground, it is great for mixing with native soil although it is heavy and less well draining than potting soil.

Driveway Expert