Compost vs Potting Soil – Garden Tips 2024?

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Plants need dirt to grow but not all types of dirt are created equal. You may be wondering if you should use compost or potting soil for different gardening needs. We’ll go over the basics of each and let you know whether your plants need compost or potting soil.

Compost vs potting soil: Compost is a mixture of brown and green material that needs at least a few weeks to break down. Then, you can add it to your garden as it is full of nutrients. Potting soil is specially made to have a light consistency that promotes water drainage. You can use potting soil and compost in potted plants but should only use compost in your outdoor garden.

Is compost better than potting soil?

Neither compost nor potting soil is better than the other. Instead, think of them as two different materials that will aid in the growth of your plants.

You should, however, be aware of the benefits of each substance so you know how best to use them.

Compost vs Potting Soil: Pros and Cons

Compost Pros


If you have a compost bin in your garden, the results will be free. This is because you use a mixture of kitchen scraps and yard waste to create compost.

Simply place layers of vegetable and fruit scraps into your compost and then layer them with fallen leaves and old plant matter. All these materials would have gone to waste, so your compost will be free.

Full of nutrients

As all of the brown and green materials break down in your compost bin, their natural nutrients are released. These are incredibly helpful for the health and well-being of your garden.

As long as you have varied items in your compost bin, you won’t have to worry about the nutrient content of your compost. You can simply add the compost to your garden and know that it will support the growth of most, if not all, of your plants.

Compost Cons

Limited amount

When you fill your compost bin up you can have grand illusions about what will happen when it is ready. The unfortunate truth is that you will have a fraction of the substance as compost after everything breaks down.

Just think about how much water is in fruits and vegetables. As these items break down, their water content is eliminated, which means a lot less compost than you would think you would have.

The same goes for old plants. Leaves are a great addition to a compost bin but they start out light and fluffy and as they break down, become much denser.

You will have enough compost to add to your existing garden but you won’t have enough if you want to dig a brand-new garden.

Wait time

If you regularly turn your compost pile and ensure it has access to the right levels of water and warmth, your compost can be ready in just a few weeks. However, for most people, the process will take a few months.

Not everyone has the time or energy to be diligent when it comes to compost. This is okay, as the process will happen eventually.

During winter, the process slows down even more. Compost piles will freeze in very cold temperatures and during this time, you simply have to wait until the warmer spring temperatures to restart the whole process.

Potting Soil Pros

Retains moisture

New potting soil will absorb water and hold it in place. Then, the water will slowly be released back into the root system of the plants.

This allows for better water regulation and healthier plants.

Better drainage

Potting soil is made to be light and airy. It has special materials, such as coconut coir and peat that has a springy texture to it.

The result is that potting soil won’t compact easily. This allows more air to circulate around the plant’s roots, which helps with oxygen retention.

When you water your plants, especially indoor plants, you want the water to reach the root system but then allow for proper drainage so the plant doesn’t become soggy and start to rot.  

Potting Soil Cons


Potting soil is sold in small bags and these can become quite expensive. While it’s fine if you need a bag or two each year, if you are starting from scratch and want to create a vast network of potted plants, the price can really add up.

Not for outdoor use

The unique construction of potting soil makes it perfect for containers. However, it is not meant for outdoor use.

Garden beds need a lot of soil, and potting soil is too expensive for this. Furthermore, potting soil is too light and won’t hold your many plants in a large garden bed.

How to determine which one to use?

Potting soil is best used for container gardening. In particular, it is great for indoor plants.

The various materials that make up potting soil allow for better drainage and more air circulation, which potted plants need.

In contrast, compost is better if you want to set up an outdoor garden or want to add nutrients back into the soil each year. You can use a larger volume of it and even if the contents haven’t completely broken down in your compost, they will once you mix them into the soil.

Can you use compost for potting plants?

Yes, you can use compost for potting plants but it should not be the primary source of dirt. Instead, a mixture of compost and potting soil is the ideal substance.

While compost is full of nutrients, it can be rather dense. Pairing it with the lighter texture of potting soil will ensure that your plants have the right environment for optimal growth.


When it comes to your plants, the more you know about compost and potting soil, the better you can set them up for success. Just remember that potting soil should primarily be used for potted plants while compost is more versatile and can be mixed in with potting soil or used in an outdoor garden.

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