DIY Potting Soil and Its Environmental Benefits

By Ashley Ess in Thinking Sustainably

As beautiful weather welcomes you outside, your green thumb is likely pulling you toward your garden. Whether you're planting seeds or starter plants, it's important to make sure your soil is full of nutrients and vitamins. Balanced soil is crucial for the health of your plants—and for the environment, too!

The environmental impact of potting soil is likely not on your gardening radar. However, prepackaged soil often contains harsh chemicals that can adversely affect your plants.

To create an eco-friendly garden that flourishes, treat your soil like treasure, and create sustainable, DIY potting soil.

The Downside of Store-Bought Potting Soil

While it's convenient to grab at the store, prepackaged soil causes more harm than good—even on a global level. On a smaller scale, prepackaged soil can create "soil pollution" in your garden, impacting the health of your plants in various ways.

When garden soil is polluted with chemicals and pesticides, it can become nutrient deficient over time. This will cause beneficial bacteria and other organisms within the overall soil ecosystem to decline.

Once the soil has been compromised, it's no longer conducive to sustainable, healthy plant life.

The Wide-Reaching Impact of Peat

A common ingredient in most packaged potting soil is peat, a layer of decaying organic matter made mostly from plants. Although it may sound similar to compost, peat is actually quite complex:

  • It contains zero nutrients.
  • It provides good moisture retention due to its absorbability.
  • It has an acidic pH.

Because of how common it is, peat may seem like a standard addition to any garden soil. However, before you lay down some peat of your own, you should know how this additive affects the environment beyond your backyard.

Compostable garden container with seedlings in potting soil

The peat used for potting soil is native to areas called "peat wetlands" or bogs. The extraction process spews greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere—namely carbon dioxide, a major culprit in climate change. Peat bogs store one-third of the Earth's soil carbon, so maintaining the integrity of these bogs is vital.

An article in The Washington Post cites that the living surfaces of the peat wetlands that are extracted for gardening purposes grow at only a sixteenth of an inch per year, and it takes centuries to develop. And, according to World Atlas, these bogs only cover 3 percent of the Earth's surface. So, we don't have a lot of them.

To protect this delicate and finite ecosystem, the best course is to find environmentally friendly potting soil alternatives. There's no question that despite the widespread use of peat, comparable alternatives exist for a thriving garden.

Wooden wall with plant containers attached

DIY Potting Soil

In order to get the benefits of peat without the negative environmental impact, consider alternatives. Start with organic gardening soil from your local nursery as a base. (Soil taken from your yard or garden bed is too dense for pots. Potting soil is more lightweight and has more water retention capabilities.)

Once you have your organic soil, you can try the following additives:

  1. Farmers Almanac says compost can retain moisture, add nutrients, and maintain soil pH levels. It can also help to sustain your garden for at least a year or two without fertilizer. Plus, compost helps to retain moisture similar to how peat works. Use kitchen scraps in a small indoor compost bin or for larger gardens start a compost pile in your yard.
  2. Coconut fiber, called coir, has become a favored alternative to peat, as it has the ability to retain much more water.
  3. Sand, wood pulp, and wood chips allow aeration and drainage.
  4. Perlite is a porous, volcanic glass that helps to aerate roots, reducing soil density.
  5. Vermiculite is a good option for plants that need more moisture.

Creating your own potting soil will ensure you're getting the right ingredients for your growing garden from sustainable sources—and it's easier to make than you might think!

For more DIY tips and tricks, check out the DIY Naturally Pinterest board from @tomsofmaine!

Image sources: Pexels| Unsplash | Unsplash

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Creating your own peat-free potting soil for your garden is a simple and sustainable practice that keeps the health of the environment in mind.