Garden Soil vs Potting Soil: 4 Major Differences + 3 FAQs


Eager to decode the differences of garden soil vs potting soil?

It may seem natural to use garden soil for outdoor gardening and potting soil for indoor plants. But these two soils have different properties and applications, some of which may come as a surprise to you.

In this article, we’ll explore four main differences between conventional garden soil and potting soil, three relevant FAQs, and how they both differ from a potting mix.

We’ll also highlight the best product for your houseplants

 Further reading

  • Discover how this professionally-blended Hydrangea Soil can help your houseplant thrive.
  • Looking to boost your peperomia with an ideal soil mix? Then this All-Natural Peperomia Soil is exactly what you need!

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Garden Soil vs Potting Soil: 4 Main Differences

Garden Soil

Potting Soil


Contains enriched topsoil and organic matter, like decayed plant matter and manure

Contains soil and additives like peat moss, pH balancing agents, chemical fertilizers


Coarse and heavy with good moisture retention

Dense and heavy with enhanced soil texture 

Soil Organisms

Naturally contains beneficial and harmful soil microbes

May contain added beneficial soil microbes


Landscaping and garden bed soil

Outdoor gardening soil 

Here’s a closer look at the key differences between conventional garden soil and potting soil:

1. Components

These are the traditional ingredients of garden soil and potting soil:

A. Garden Soil

Garden soil generally consists of enriched topsoil or natural soil blended with organic matter, like composted tree bark or cow manure. It contains minerals from weathered rocks and decayed plant matter from the ground.

B. Potting Soil

Potting soil is commercially manufactured to fit plant requirements and can contain:

  • Garden topsoil.
  • Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. 
  • Organic matter like compost or earthworm castings. 
  • Organic or synthetic fertilizers.
  • Additives like pH balancing agents. 
  • Amendments like peat moss, perlite, pine bark, and coconut husks. 

Note: Soil amendments like sphagnum peat moss, perlite, and coconut coir involve environmentally-taxing mining practices and water wastage. For example, harvesting peat moss releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.

2. Properties

Here’s how garden soil and potting soil differ in their properties:

A. Garden Soil

Garden soil is heavy and contains coarse organic material.

Its low porosity and high organic content lead to increased water retention and enhanced soil texture, especially in sandy soil and clay soil.

Moreover, garden soil’s characteristics vary according to the region as natural soil can have diverse pH, nutrient, and microbe levels.

But as it doesn’t contain any structural enhancements, old garden soil can get compacted and restrict the growth of plant roots. When that happens, you’ll have to refresh it with organic matter, fertilizer, or rich topsoil.

B. Potting Soil

Potting soil is dense and heavy, offering reduced aeration and water drainage. 

That is why potting soil contains amendments to:

  • Enhance the existing soil structure and fertility.
  • Improve airflow, allowing the free movement of plant roots.
  • Drain water while retaining enough moisture for plant growth.

However, potting soil becomes compacted and less viable for potted plants once these amendments break down. It then needs to be refreshed with a new soil mix.

3. Soil Organisms

Here’s the difference in soil organisms in garden and potting soils:

A. Garden Soil

Garden soil naturally contains countless soil microbes and organisms, like rhizobacteria and earthworms, that help with plant nutrient and water uptake. 

But it can also contain microbes that obstruct plant growth. Fortunately, you can eliminate most of these harmful microbes through composting

B. Potting Soil

As conventional potting soil may contain topsoil, it usually has soil microbes. 

However, most of these microbes are killed during heat or chemical treatment of the soil. 

But some producers intentionally add beneficial microbes, like mycorrhizal fungi, to their sterile potting soil packs for better plant growth. 

4. Applications

Here’s how garden soil and potting soil differ in their use:

A. Garden Soil

Garden soil is suitable for leveling an outdoor garden bed or for landscaping as a top dressing.

However, you shouldn’t use unsterilized or unamended garden soil for container or indoor gardening


Garden soil’s microbes and properties can be detrimental to the growth of container plants, causing root rot and waterlogging.

Instead, you can use it to start new outdoor gardens and flower beds or fill in yard holes. But you need to refresh it with some fertilizer and test its pH before using it for outdoor plants. 

B. Potting Soil

Potting soil is a more suitable soil type for outdoor plants than garden soil. It’s created with organic matter and additives to be a standalone soil for growing plants.

However, it can get compacted and cause waterlogging and root suffocation when used for container plants.

So what’s the ideal medium for indoor and container plants? 
Skip ahead to find out.

3 FAQs on Using Potting Soil & Garden Soil

Let’s now discuss three common questions related to potting soil vs garden soil:

1. How Do You Turn Garden Soil into Potting Soil?

Here’s how you can convert garden soil into potting soil:

  • Break up the soil and sterilize it by baking it in the sun. This can help to render native soil pathogens and any weed seed useless (if present).
  • Add amendments that improve existing soil aeration and water drainage, like biochar and rice husks.
  • Add compost to improve its nutrient levels.

And voila! Your garden soil is now as effective as potting soil.

2. When Should You Refresh Old Potting Soil and Garden Soil?

Since garden soil and potting soil both contain soil, they can last for a long time. But their organic material eventually decomposes, depleting their nutritional value. 

So, here’s how often you should refresh these soils:

  • Replenish garden soil with fresh soil every growing season or once a year.
  • Refresh old potting soil with new potting soil every year.

3. Can You Use Garden Soil as a Substitute for Potting Soil or Vice-versa?

Yes, you could use either garden soil or potting soil to grow outdoor plants. 

However, potting soil is a better choice as a growing medium as it’s specifically created to support plant growth.

But neither is the right choice for indoor plants or container gardening. For that, it’s best to go for an effective potting mix.   

Garden Soil vs Potting Soil vs Potting Mix

Potting mix is a soilless medium meant for indoor plants. 

Conventional mixes include amendments, like sphagnum moss and perlite, that are beneficial for plant growth and seed starting. 

It’s light and fluffy, unlike heavy potting and garden soils. And its structure and nutrient characteristics create suitable conditions for container gardening.  

Read our potting mix vs potting soil article for more information.  

However, since traditional potting mixes are primarily made from peat moss, they become less useful after some time. They also have a high carbon footprint and contribute to global warming.

Fortunately, there are long-term alternatives that are also beneficial for the environment. 

The Best Product for Houseplants: Rosy’s Indoor Potting Mix

Rosy offers an all-natural, peat-free Indoor Potting Mix that’s ideal for any potted plant.

Unlike traditional potting mix, Rosy’s mix is specifically crafted from sustainable ingredients like biochar, vegan compost, and endomycorrhizal fungi. They deliver plant nutrients, optimize water drainage, and create a thriving micro-community for growing plants.

Moreover, this soil mix helps capture atmospheric carbon dioxide, making it earth-friendly. 

How do you use Rosy's mix?
Simply add it to your pots or mix it into your soil to nurture your container garden. It’s that easy!

Wrapping Up

Garden soil and potting soil are distinct soil types that can serve different purposes in your outdoor garden. 

But if you need an indoor gardening or seed starting mix, you’ll need a potting mix. 

And what better indoor planting mix than Rosy's, which benefits potted plants and the environment.

So why not try a bag of our Indoor Potting Mix to turn a new leaf in your garden?