For gardeners watching costs, it might be tempting to cut back on the quality of potting mix. Premium potting mixes run as much as $14 for a one cubic foot bag whereas generic store brands can be found for less than $3 a bag. Can you save money with cheap potting mix? Here’s what I recently discovered after using some cheap potting mix for a couple of my vegetable plants.
As a rule, I always start my seeds in a high quality potting mix and then use the same mix to transplant them into pots once they’ve outgrown their starter containers. I happened to have some cheap potting mix in the greenhouse from an earlier project and used it up by potting some extra squash seedlings for the neighbors.
There is definitely a visible difference between the two types of mix. While the premium mix was dark, fluffy, and interspersed with vermiculite and time release fertilizer beads, the generic mix looked more like partially composted bark chips mixed with dirt. The chips were rough enough that they pierced through my gloves and left splinters behind.
Water Retention Difference
I also noticed an immediate difference in watering needs. The plants potted with premium mix only needed to be watered once every two days whereas the plants with the cheap mix needed to be watered one to two times each day. The high concentration of wood chunks meant that the potting mix didn’t have the ability to retain water as much as premium potting mix.
After four weeks, the plants in the quality potting mix were healthier looking, taller, and more fully leafed then those planted in the cheap mix. Even more interesting – although both mixes included time release fertilizers, the plants in the cheaper mix turned yellowish after three weeks.
Another big difference came when it was time to transplant the veggies in the garden. The ones in the good mix had an excellent root structure that held together as I tipped the plants out of their pots. Not so with the cheap mix! Not only did the potting medium fall apart as I tipped the pots, the root network was surprisingly underdeveloped which put the plants into shock. It’ll be at least a week (if not longer) before these plants recover which delays harvest and make them vulnerable on the interim to pest and sun damage.
Bargain priced potting mix may be easy on the budget but results in lower quality plants, poor root structure and delayed harvest. For this reason, buying premium potting mix is really the better value in the long run.
More by this contributor:
Why I save my plant name stakes
How to keep container vegetables hydrated during a long hot summer
How to make a miniature gnome container garden