Quality potting soil is incredibly important for your container plants. There are many different pre-mixed options available, but you can often get the best mix by customizing your potting soil with perlite. Here’s how to use perlite in potting mix for the best results in your garden.
As there are many different applications for potting soil, there also are many different recipes for how much perlite to use! Read on to learn all about it.
Perlite As An Ingredient In Potting Mix
Perlite is a mined mineral which is added to soil mixes to help the soil hold air. The mineral is “popped” using heat like popcorn to create a light, air-filled medium. Bits of perlite look like little bits of styrofoam. So the little white bits in potting mix….yup! That’s perlite.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Perlite for Gardeners
Perlite is safe for organic gardens, as it is chemically inert. It will help to hold air in the soil, keeping the plants from suffocating. Perlite lowers the density of potting mix, keeping it light and fluffy. It can be purchased at a local garden centre or ordered online.
Safety Considerations for Handling Perlite
Always wear a dust mask when mixing perlite into potting soil. There is no reason to put your lungs in danger by inhaling the dust from these products, even if it is not contaminated with asbestos. Dust masks are inexpensive, and also make you look like you know what you’re doing! Always follow the instructions on the packaging.
DIY Potting Soil Mix Recipes with Perlite
Onto the best part!…recipes for how to use perlite in potting mix. Potting soil should be light, but also be firm enough so that the plant can develop a strong root foundation. It should be porous and airy, with lots of room for water to drain through.
A potting soil mix that includes non-sterile ingredients should be rich in beneficial components, such as fungus that can develop a beneficial relationship with the plants in the garden. It should also be free of weeds, weed seeds, harmful fungi, and pathogens.
DIY Potting Soil Mix #1: Sterile Seed Starting Mix
Seedling potting soil mixes should be light, firm, and able to retain moisture to help the baby seedlings thrive. Sterile seed-starting mixes also shouldn’t contain outdoor soil or compost, as it may include fungi, pathogens, or weeds that could harm the seedlings.
The perlite potting mix below is sterile and weed-free. Each material can be purchased from your local independent garden centre. The drawback to seed-starting mix is that these materials have to be purchased, rather than sourced at home. Therefore, make sure you do need sterile weed-free seedling mix before shelling out the extra money for these ingredients.
Ingredients: Sterile Seed-Starting Mix
- 3 Parts Coconut Coir (prepared, not in raw block form)
- 3 Parts Peat Moss (pH-balanced with limestone if possible*)
- 3 Parts Perlite
- 1 Part Worm Castings
- Filtered Water
These ingredients are to be mixed by volume rather than by weight.
*If you can’t find pH-balanced peat moss, substitute the peat moss and the perlite in the mix above with plain Pro-Mix HP. It comes in large bales like peat moss. It is pretty much just peat moss and perlite, plus some limestone for pH balancing. The real benefit, however, is that the whole mix is inoculated with Mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizal fungi acts as a buddy to seedlings, helping them absorb water and nutrients as well as strengthening their root systems.
Steps: Sterile Seed-Starting Mix
- Estimate how much soil you’ll need to fill up your seed-starting containers.
- Find a mixing bowl or bucket that will accommodate the amount of soil you’d like to mix up.
- Find a small measuring container to use when measuring out the parts. The mix above is a 10-part mix. This means that you’ll need to find something small enough so that 10 of the smaller measuring units will fit comfortably in the mixing container you’ve selected. I usually use a cup measure if I’m just mixing up a bowl of soil for a single seedling tray, or I use an empty yogurt container if I’m mixing up a whole bucket of soil.
- Find a trowel to mix up the soil with.
- Ensure the bowl/bucket, measuring container, and trowel are clean and sterilized.
- Mix all ingredients except for the water together with the trowel.
- Slowly add filtered water, mixing with the trowel. Stop when the soil becomes moist. Don’t add enough water that the soil becomes wet and muddy.
- Use the trowel to place the seedling mix into your seed-starting containers or trays.
- Compress the soil gently before planting your seeds.
- Plant your seeds in the seedling mix before it dries out.
DIY Potting Soil Mix #2: Outdoor Soil-Based Container Potting Mix
This mix is a low-cost, homemade option for filling up large containers. If you have easy access to clean topsoil and some homemade compost, you’ll only have to buy the perlite. I like to mix up the soil, wait for any weed seeds that have snuck in to germinate, and then pull any weeds that come up before planting out the mix.
Before you create this mix for your plants, consider what types of plants you’ll be growing in it. Do some research about what kind of growing environment the plant enjoys out in nature. For a plant that grows well in the desert or dry areas, consider using a sandy topsoil. For plants that prefer acidic growing conditions, try to source an acidic topsoil. Paying a little bit of attention to a plant’s natural environment will help you make a wonderful custom mix for your plants.
Ingredients: Soil-Based Container Potting Mix
- 1 Part Topsoil
- 1 Part Compost (Homemade is best!)
- 1 Part Perlite
- Water (Rainwater is best, but not required)
These ingredients are to be mixed by volume rather than by weight.
Steps: Soil-Based Container Potting Mix
- Estimate how much soil you’ll need to fill up your growing containers.
- Find a mixing bucket or wheelbarrow that will accommodate the amount of soil you’d like to mix up.
- If you want to be super-specific with the amounts, find a measuring container that is small enough so that 3 full measuring containers will fit comfortably in your mixing vessel.
- Find a trowel or shovel to mix up the soil with.
- Mix all ingredients except for the water together.
- Slowly add water, mixing as added. Stop when the soil becomes moist. Don’t add enough water that the soil becomes wet and muddy.
- Shovel the mix into your growing containers.
- Gently compress the soil into the containers.
- Moisten soil before and after planting.
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