It All Begins With The Soil
North America enjoys much diversity in what it provides to gardeners for use in their gardening activities in the way of soil amendments and potting mixes. So many different names, types, and promises out there that quality becomes lost in the mix. Since selection of the roots new home is as important as choosing the plant itself, it would be better to keep an eye on the quality of the medium, and not let it drift to a ‘price only’ consideration. Yes, price does not always mean quality either.
Let’s start out with a simple look at what we are talking about. The range of products used in the industry runs from coarse, long fibered sphagnum peat moss to complex potting blends. All have or can have a purpose, but none are complete as a single raw material. The attempt is made to adapt materials into a suitable replacement for natural mineral soils, or, in the case of specialized plants such as cannabis, replace and commercially supply an environment for them that closely approximate its preferred growing locations. To this end, several materials are adaptable to these purposes, some better and some easier to use than others. Peat moss forms the base of almost all potting blends available in North America.
Additional components include many things like composted bark (for porosity, bulk, and chemical attributes), leaf mold (fertility and organic complexes), perlite (for porosity), vermiculite (for nutrient holding, CEC), sand (porosity), Styrofoam (porosity), clay pebbles (porosity), sugarcane pulp, rice hulls, charcoal, lime (pH control), sawdust (not recommended), and many others. All of this adding up to creating a proper mineral soil substitute. Very little mineral soil is ever used in potting blends outside of sand, or, in some instances, organic rich topsoil. The denser the material, such as sand or clay, the more money it takes to ship so it has lost much of its popularity. When these items are combined correctly, then can form the base for a great soilless system for growing, and then fertilized to match the crop.
Roots Organics Potting Soil
Roots Organics Original
This is a ready to use mix created with a balanced air to water ratio of porosity and water retention to allow for frequent feeding of fast growing, heavy feeding plants. This coco-based soil contains peat, pumice, and our own in-house perlite. The perlite and coco base allow for quick draining and even drying for frequent feeding of fast growing, heavy feeding plants. Begin feeding 10 to 21 days after transplanting for vigorous fruiting and flowering plants.
Ingredients: Perlite, Coco Fiber, Peat Moss, Composted Forest Material, Pumice, Worm Castings, Bat Guano, Soybean Meal, Alfalfa Meal, Fish Bone Meal, Kelp Meal, and Greensand.
Roots Organics Formula 707
This is a ready-to-use soil created for a special kind of gardener, those who want to control their own destiny. Formula 707 is different from the other growing mixes created by Aurora Innovations. It was designed with greater water-holding capacity, fewer nutrients, less perlite and less pumice, and it contains ingredients specific to large container gardening. In fact, the packaging is a 30-gallon grow bag containing about 20 gallons of the finest quality potting mix. Just punch holes in the bottom, cut off the top and plant.
Peat-based soil with coco to air it up. Peat, coco, perlite, and pumice base. Formula 707 has less perlite and more peat than the Original Potting Soil, which means that Formula 707 holds water slightly longer, but you can start feeding it a little faster. Begin feeding your plants 10 to 14 days after transplanting for vigorous fruiting and flowering plants.
Ingredients: Peat Moss, Composted Forest Material, Perlite, Coco Fiber, Pumice, Worm Castings, Bat Guano, Soybean Meal, Fish Bone Meal, Kelp Meal.
Canna Terra Professional Potting Soil
“CANNA Terra Professional Plus formula was developed to fulfill the desire of creating the purest soil mix possible and to obtain the best effects with CANNA TERRA nutrients.”
Potting soil mixes that are available on the market can vary greatly in quality from one to the other. In the Netherlands the RHP foundation focuses on quality maintenance and control of peat products, soil components, potting soil mixes and substrates such as coco, perlite, pumice stone etc. Substrates and substrate components that have the RHP quality mark are safe mixes (few weeds and free of disease).
- Exclusive, high grade ingredients such as airy peat moss and different types of tree bark (as a substitute for perlite) are components of CANNA Terra Professional Plus. They have an antiseptic effect and increase aeration qualities. This has a direct result in promoting exceptional root development and formation of thicker stems.
- CANNA Terra Professional Plus is enriched with special feeding mixes, containing all the elements plants need during their first week, meaning no additional feeding is needed at that time!
- The medium is also pH-adjusted for long-term control with a lime charge large enough to last an entire cycle.
- It has a mineral-nutrient starter charge that adjusts the initial level of nutrients up to a good beginning charge, correcting the ratios to work perfectly with CANNA TERRA nutrients.
Canna CoCo Professional
CANNA Coco substrate is a 100% organic product having a fine, uniform structure, free from viruses, chemical additives and soil diseases. The fact that CANNA Coco is not steamed is not the only thing that distinguishes it from other substrates; this is also achieved by the use of pure, first class source materials. Which come from India, where CANNA’s production facilities use fresh water only to soak the coco. This to make sure no salts gets in contact with CANNA Coco, ensuring a clean product.
Strong root formation, powerful growth and reusability are combined in the CANNA Coco substrate. It also combines the tolerance and organic nature of soil, with the feeding precision of hydroponics.
It has a complex balance between water and air which means that it outstrips other substrates. CANNA Coco substrate has been developed and tailored to the needs of the CANNA grower.
Sungro Sunshine Mix
Sunshine Mix #4
A premium mix for indoor growing, Sunshine Mix #4 with Mycorrhizae contains a higher amount of horticultural perlite for plants that prefer greater air porosity. It’s our classic #4 boosted with endomycorrhizae and containing Resilience for stronger stems and improved root mass. Low phosphorus fertilizer has been included to better support mycorrhizal establishment and growth.
Ingredients: Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, perlite, dolomite lime, low phosphorus fertilizer, proprietary blend of endomycorrhizae, and wetting agent.
Sunshine Advanced Mix #4
OMRI Listed for organic gardening, Sunshine Advanced Mix #4 is recommended for indoor growing. This myco-active mix retains moisture while providing improved root aeration and drainage. This product contains RESiLIENCE for stronger stems and improved root mass.
Ingredients: Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, perlite, coir, dolomite lime, gypsum, organic fertilizer, proprietary blend of endomycorrhizae, and organic wetting agent.
The MYCO Benefits of Sunshine Advanced
All SSA mixes are myco-active, so you can grow in confidence. Each contains a proprietary blend of endomycorrhizae designed to colonize a wide spectrum of crops. We are proud of these blends, and the great results they give growers and gardeners every day.
Other mycorrhizae-enhanced growing mixes on the market may contain a single species of endomycorrhizae or a blend of endo and ecto mycorrhizae. Sun Gro’s are better. We amend ours with a blend of endomycorrhizae species designed to enhance colonization under a wide range of growing conditions. And, we do not add ectomycorrhizal because they provide no benefit to most crops.
What Are the Benefits of Resilience Enhanced Mixes?
Time and time again, research at Universities, in commercial grower trials and at the Sun Gro Discovery Center, supports significant and dramatic positive results with Resilience. Trials have shown that plants grown in silicon-enriched mixes have the following advantages:
- 40% BETTER ROOT GROWTH for increased nutrient uptake and support
- 13% EARLIER FLOWERING for more attractive plants, faster
- 12% INCREASED STEM DIAMETER for stronger plants and reduced breakage
- 77% LONGER TIME BEFORE WILT for increased shelf life
FoxFarm Happy Frog Potting Soil
Happy Frog Potting Soil is alive with beneficial microbes and fungi that help break down the incorporated rich organic matter to feed the plant through its roots. Enriched with generous amounts of natural earthworm castings and organic bat guano, your potted plants will have never had it so good. The high-octane shot of earthworm castings comes from a healthy earthworm culture bursting with life, which is packed with the vital organic materials that all plants thrive on.
Your flowers will love Happy Frog for the bat guano that is harvested in a sustainable manner from caves on tropical islands. Bat guano has been recognized for centuries as a powerful organic fertilizer and soil amendment that benefits the growth of all plants.
Happy Frog also contains powerful root stimulators called Mycorrhizal fungi, which dramatically enhance root development which enables plants to absorb more nutrients. The benefits are significantly larger and earlier harvests. The soil also contains humic acids, a naturally occurring material that is found in certain soils and peat that results from organic matter decomposing over long periods of time and may increase the micronutrient uptake by plants.
Ingredients: Composted forest humus, sphagnum peat moss, perlite, earthworm castings, bat guano, humic acid, oyster shells, and dolomitic lime for pH adjustment.
FoxFarm Ocean Forest
The ultimate potting soil has everything your plants need, in one bag. Ocean Forest is a powerhouse blend of premium earthworm castings, bat guano, and sea-going fish and crab meal. Aged forest products, sandy loam, and sphagnum peat moss give Ocean Forest its light, aerated texture.
Garden tip: Perfect for containers and ready to use right out of the bag. Ocean Forest is pH adjusted at 6.3 to 6.8 to allow for optimum fertilizer uptake. There’s no need for nitrogen fertilizers at first; instead try an organic blend like FoxFarm Big Bloom Liquid Plant Food to encourage strong branching and a sturdy, healthy growth habit.
Ingredients: Composted forest humus, sphagnum peat moss, Pacific Northwest sea-going fish emulsion, crab meal, shrimp meal, earthworm castings, sandy loam, perlite, bat guano, granite dust, Norwegian kelp, and oyster shell (for pH adjustment).
Using Potting Soils
Peat is naturally quite acidic (pH 3.5-4.5) so lime must be added to raise the pH. Off the shelf, most potting mixes contain lime. The amount of lime that must be added depends on the composition of the peat. For example, garden peat always needs more lime than peat litter to raise the pH.
On average, potting soil needs 11 – 13 lbs of lime per m3 (264 gallons) to increase the pH. After adding the lime it will take a few weeks for the pH to stabilize. If no lime is added, or not enough, high concentrations of elements such as manganese, iron and phosphate will become highly available which may lead to signs of over feeding or toxicity.
The concentration of aluminium can rise to toxic levels for the plant, causing root thickening, which will restrict nutrient uptake. If your potting mix’s pH is too low, the addition of 20 grams of lime (Dolomitic) per 2.65 gallons (10 litres) will raise the pH one point.
The correct degree of acidity for potting mediums is between 5.8 and 6.2; values higher than 6.2 can lead to phosphate depositing out of solution in the form of calcium phosphate, making it less accessible to the plant.
Measuring Soil Nutrient Levels & pH
The most reliable way of measuring the nutrients present in the soil is to use the 1:1.5 extraction method, which is used to determine the root environment’s EC and pH. The EC and the pH of the drainage water will vary because soil and soilless mixes are capable of holding back a number of elements while excluding others. It is best to carry out a 1:1.5 analysis after three to five weeks of cultivation. The easiest way to make this analysis is to follow the plan given below step by step:
- Take a soil sample. This can be done with a ground drill or a spoon. Take the soil from a large number of different places (and pots) to ensure that the sample is representative.
- Put the sample in a bowl and determine if it is moist enough. This is done by squeezing some soil in your hand; if moisture just barely comes out it is OK. To increase the sample’s moisture content add distilled water. Mix the soil well after adding water.
- Take a 250 ml measuring jug and fill it with 150 ml of distilled water. Add soil to bring it to 250 ml, mix it well and leave it for at least 2 hours.
Mix it well once again and measure the pH.
Filter the mixture that you now have and measure the EC. Target values for the EC are between 1.1 and 1.3 and for the pH between 5.8 and 6.2.
Not all potting soils are suitable for cultivating short cycle crops, even less for long-term crops. The three most important factors that should be taken into consideration when choosing a potting mix are structure, pre-fertilization and relative pH. Good pre-fertilizing and proper pH adjustment are critical for a successful harvest. Potting soil, rockwool and coco are the three most important growing mediums for fast growing plants. The big advantage in using potting soil is it’s ease of use, it’s buffering capacities, and it’s forgiving nature.
The pH balanced mediums are preferred by indoor growers. The lime for pH control is very seldom adequate to get past 3 months of growing, you will want to keep an eye on this to make sure the pH doesn’t drift to an undesirable area. Always test and pH balance your water prior to adding in nutrients.
Another thing to note about some of these potting soil mixes is that you will have fungus gnats hatching from the soil unless you take early preventative measures. Unless you are dealing with sterilized mediums, there will be undesirable pests in the soil. Beginning treatment with gnatrol on day one is critical for eliminating fungus gnat larvae and the dead root hairs they cause that lead to disease. Using a watering regimen that includes gnatrol will lead to a strong root system and your plants will thank you by feeding aggressively.
When using any of these potting soil mixes, you will need to find the right balance of nutrients and additives to use throughout the growing season. There is no clear winner here, we all have our own favorites. Roots Organics Original is a favorite for many growers, just look at the inventory of the different potting soils at your local hydroponics shop and you will see what we mean. My preference is to use a CoCo Coir medium mixed with the FoxFarm Ocean Forest potting soil at a rate of 2:1 and then use synthetic nutrients for feeding. When feeding with this mix, a good feeding regimen would be to feed with nutrients, then use just water for the next watering, then use an organic tea for the following watering. I learned this routine by talking to one of the guys at my local hydroponics shops and haven’t looked back. So don’t be afraid to ask questions and maybe you will learn some new indoor gardening secrets!