adding soil to potted plants

How to Add Soil to a Flowerpot

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It may not seem important, but the soil can make or break your container garden. Plants growing in pots need soil with proper drainage and aeration to stay healthy. Regular garden soil compacts in containers, making it difficult for the roots to get the water, air and nutrients necessary for growth. Garden soil might also contain insects or disease pathogens that can harm a potted plant. A commercial potting soil mix designed for containers works best. When filled properly with the correct type of soil, a flowerpot becomes a fertile gardening option.

Turn the pot upside-down. Check for drainage holes. Drill three or four extra holes if the pot has only one. This allows the water to drain efficiently.

Flip the pot right-side up and place a piece of fine-mesh screen in the bottom of the container to cover the drainage holes. The screen material prevents soil from washing out of the container’s drainage holes when you water the plant.

Position the container where you want it to stay. Place the pot on a plant rack or wooden blocks. This allows for better circulation and drainage for the plant. You can fill smaller pots elsewhere, but large pots are heavy when filled, which makes it difficult to move them after the soil is inside.

Pour the potting soil mix into a clean bucket or wheelbarrow. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of soil polymers per 1 gallon of potting mix. The polymers retain moisture so your potted plant doesn’t dry out quickly between watering. Too much of the soil polymer material can cause the plants to heave out of the container because the crystals expand as they absorb water.

Mix a slow-release, complete balanced fertilizer, such as 14-14-14, into the potting soil. Add 1/2 tablespoon of the fertilizer for every 1 gallon of soil. Stir the soil to mix the fertilizer throughout.

Scoop or pour the prepared potting mix into the container to within 1 inch of the top of the pot. The gap keeps the pot from overflowing when you water the plant.

Things Needed
  • Drill
  • Fine-mesh screen
  • Plant stand
  • Wooden blocks
  • Bucket or wheelbarrow
  • Commercial potting mix
  • Soil polymers
  • Fertilizer
  • Packing peanuts
  • Plastic jugs
  • Landscape fabric
  • If you’re filling an oversized decorative pot, place packing peanuts or smashed plastic jugs in the bottom to fill some of the space that the roots won’t reach. The filler saves money on the potting soil mix. Cover the filler material with a piece of landscape fabric before adding the potting soil.
  • University of Illinois Extension: Using Soil and Soil Mixes
  • University of California Cooperative Extension: Gardening in Raised Beds and Containers
  • Sunset: How to Grow Vegetables in Pots
  • Ohio State University Extension: Container Vegetable Gardening
  • JRM Chemical, Inc: Soil Moist Polymers
Photo Credits
  • Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images
About the Author

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.

How to Add Soil to a Flowerpot. It may not seem important, but the soil can make or break your container garden. Plants growing in pots need soil with proper drainage and aeration to stay healthy. Regular garden soil compacts in containers, making it difficult for the roots to get the water, air and nutrients …

10 Common Container Gardening Mistakes

What is more cheerful in your outdoor space than pots of planted flowers? Not many types of decor are easier to make happen, either. And even if you’re not new to container gardening, everyone can enjoy learning a new trick or two. Avoid the 10 most common container gardening mistakes.

Filling a Container in the Wrong Place

Ever tried to lift a large garden container filled with dirt and plants? It can be overwhelmingly heavy. When using a large or unwieldy container, place your pot where it will live and then fill it–you’ll save your back!

Also, if you know you are planting shallow-rooted plants in a very large container, fill the bottom third with empty plastic bottles, and then place plastic screening over them. You can also use a product called ​”Better Than Rocks” to take up space. Fillers make your container lighter (and less expensive) because you don’t need as much potting soil.

Pot stands with wheels can also come in incredibly handy if you end up having to move a heavy pot into partial shade during the hottest part of summer.

Selecting Plants With Different Requirements

All the plants in one container should share the same sun, soil, and water requirements. Find out this information from your seed packets or plant labels and plan the containers accordingly.

Starving the Plants

Most potting mix has very few of the nutrients that plants require to be healthy, and they’re either used up quickly by the plants or are washed out with repeated watering. So you will need to add food to the soil. There are many fertilizer products on the market; just remember to choose what you need based on the plant type. Flowering plants have different nutrient needs than vegetables and herbs.

Fertilizing container gardens regularly is key. You can start with a slow-release fertilizer mixed in with your potting soil when you put the plants into the pots, and then add a diluted, liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, every couple of weeks. Organic or all-natural fertilizers will improve the soil as they break down and don’t run the risk of building up chemicals or salts.

Overwatering Your Plants

To avoid overwatering your container gardens, use containers that have drainage holes–lots of them.   Also, be aware of the moisture requirements for your plants and then follow them. Before you water, check if your soil is moist. To do this, put your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If the soil at your fingertip feels dry, water the plant.

If you do overwater, the leaves may turn yellow and fall off, or your plants may get limp. If your soil is too wet, move the container to a dry, breezy spot until it dries out. If you have the room, you can also move your container garden into a garage or sheltered spot to dry it out, particularly if the weather continues to be wet.

Underwatering Your Plants

Most container gardens need watering at least once a day in the heat of the summer. Many, especially hanging planters or small containers, need watering even more often because there is less soil to hold moisture. When you water, really soak your plants–if you give them just a sip, only the top layer of soil will get wet. Water until you see it coming out of the bottom of the pot.

Many people use water crystals in the soil that absorb water and then slowly release it when the soil dries out, but they are expensive. More than one study has shown that they aren’t effective, so skip buying those.

If your plants do dry out completely, don’t despair; even the most pathetic, limp plant might revive with a good drink. If the container is small enough, submerge the whole thing in a bucket of water until the air bubbles subside. For a large container, take a skewer or stick and gently poke holes deep into the soil to allow water to reach the plant roots. Then, water generously.

Having an Awkward Plant-to-Pot Ratio

Consider the proportions of your plants to their container. A large container stuffed with short plants can look stunted. If you need a rule of (green) thumb, try to have at least one plant that is as tall as the container. Also, plants that spill over the sides soften the edges and add texture and interest.

Don’t put too much in one pot; remember, the plants will grow bigger as the season goes on. Plants crowded in smaller pots grow more slowly than those that have room to stretch out.

Buying Sick and Weakly Plants

Buying plants at a reputable local nursery is a good place to start in your quest for healthy plants. You have a greater chance of getting plants that are disease and pest free and well cared for at a nursery that starts its own plants than at a big box store that buys from distributors. At a nursery, you can also get a wealth of information and advice from knowledgeable staff. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you pick out a good plant.

If you can’t resist the prices at a big box store, buy the plants on or close to the day they’re delivered. Ask an employee on which day the new plant stock arrives. Delivery is usually the same day every week.​

Make notes as to which plants came from where; if you end up buying a tomato plant with blight from a big box store, you can pull it and the others that came from that store, hopefully before the disease seriously affects others in the garden.

Fearing Pruning

When your container gardens start looking leggy or ragged, don’t be afraid to cut them back. You may want to put them in an out-of-the-way spot until they rebound, but chances are they’ll come back healthier and happier with a good haircut.

Living With Ick

After you’ve tried everything a plant still looks dreadful, cut your losses and toss it on the compost pile or in the trash. If only one plant in a container garden doesn’t make it, just pull out that plant and replace it for an instant visual improvement in the container garden.

Having Unrealistic Expectations

Before you plant your containers, evaluate your time available for their care. Do you travel a lot during the summer? If so, either use self-watering containers or an automatic drip irrigation system, enlist some help to keep your plants healthy and alive while you’re gone, or purchase plants that don’t need a lot of water.

Garden how you live. Are you casual or formal? Some people like neat, well-planned, formal containers. Others enjoy plants that spill and sprawl over the edges as they like, planted in a multitude of colors rather than in a particular design scheme.

However your container garden ends up, it’s really a low-risk outdoor decor technique—there’s a lot of room for error. Pick plants that grab your eye, and experiment with combinations and placement. Whatever your lifestyle or personality, you can plant containers that will give you joy and bring beauty to your surroundings.

Even if you're not new to container gardening, you can still learn new tricks. Avoid the ten most common container gardening mistakes.