The real dirt on potting soil

Features - Hard Goods

Give customers the information they need to grow success in their gardens.

June 16, 2014

With hundreds of growing media on the market today, people can get confused about what to purchase, how to read the label and most importantly, when to use it. We sat down with Ed Bloodnick, director of grower services and product development at Premier Tech Horticulture, makers of PRO-MIX growing medium, to discover exactly what it means to plant a $1 plant in a $10 hole.

Q: What trends are you seeing in growing media?

A: Years ago, gardeners would spend time blending their own mixes with different “secret” ingredients to grow beautiful plants. Time is no longer a luxury. Homeowners are looking for easy, simple steps to plant and beautify their homes. The biggest trend in growing media is to provide customers simple solutions with less investment of time that produce great results. Producers are now making potting mixes that contain time-release fertilizers, water-absorbent gels and plant-growth enhancers like mycorrhizae. And with the booming popularity of edible gardening, organic mixes are in demand. Another trend that continues is “designer mixes” made for very specific uses, like cactus, orchids or African violets.

Q: What are some of the most popular growing mix combinations?

A: By far the most popular combinations for potting mixes are made with a base of Canadian sphagnum peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. The high-quality ingredients provide predictable results and have been mainstays for commercial growers for more than 50 years.

Other quality ingredients include coir and humus. Coir is extracted from the husk of the coconut and provides a fiber with unique properties. Coir should be specially processed to leach out undesirable salts or plants will suffer.

Outdoor plants benefit from a humus and Canadian sphagnum peat moss mix that stimulates beneficial soil microbes and improves the friability of soils. This rich mix makes a super healthy environment to grow stress-free plants.

Q: Garden center customers want to know: why should they choose one mix or another?

A: The healthiest soil is not often found at the end of a gardener’s shovel. It is important to educate customers on how to choose the right potting or garden soil mix for the right growing application because each product is formulated for a specific use.

For example, seed starting mixes should have a fine texture and low amount of fertilizer to encourage seed germination and young plant growth. For long-term planting applications, customers should look for time-release fertilizers and water-saving components. Both save time and money and increase success.

Q: What does it mean to be OMRI listed?

A: The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) is a national organization that determines which input products are allowed for use in organic production and processing. OMRI Listed products are allowed for use in certified organic operations under the USDA National Organic Program.

If people want organic growing mixes for their fruits, vegetables and herbs, they should use products with the OMRI seal, as they have been verified for use in organic production and processing.

Q: Let’s talk about peat.

A: Peat has been the main ingredient in potting and planting mixes for years. It is a natural, organic soil conditioner that regulates moisture and air around plant roots for ideal growing conditions. It absorbs nutrients and water like a sponge — up to 20 times its weight — and releases them over time as the plants require.

[Most] Canadian producers are committed to preservation and reclamation of peat bogs for future generations, not just because it’s highly regulated and monitored by the federal and provincial government, but because it’s the right thing to do. Of the 270 million acres of peatlands in Canada, only .016 percent, or one in 6,000 acres, is being harvested.

Q: Is Canadian sphagnum peat a sustainable resource?

A: Yes. Peat forms at a rate of 1 to 2 millimeters a year, accumulating at more than 70 times the rate it is harvested. Harvested bogs are returned to wetlands so the ecological balance of the area is maintained. For more information, visit

Q: How can IGCs improve growing medium sales?

A: IGCs have the number one selling advantage: an informed staff that provides one-on-one guidance. You know that growing mixes are not “one size fits all” — but your customers don’t. Explain what each growing mix contains. If your staff sees someone purchasing a flat of herbs, for example, they should suggest a mix specially formulated for edibles. It’s an easy add on, and your customer will appreciate the professional tip.

Q: Do you have any merchandising tips or tricks?

A: The best ways to merchandise potting mixes are to use the point of purchase (POP) materials provided, cross merchandise with other related products and feature merchandise to show how the products work. With different formulations, consumers need to know which potting mix will work best for their specific need. Something as simple as a potting display gives the homeowner ideas on how to use products and how to achieve the same results at their home. We’ve learned the value of demonstration workshops in driving sales.

Q: What does planting a $1 plant in a $10 hole mean to you?

A: There really is no secret. It’s simple: great soils make great plants. Whether planting in containers or flowerbeds, plant root systems require the proper balance of air, water, nutrients and pH to flourish. Regular yard dirt can be heavy, which compacts roots. Help customers choose potting mixes and garden soils that are formulated to grow great plants.