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Your Houseplants' Soil Could Use An Upgrade: 4 Special Mixes They'll Love

Alessia Resta
February 9, 2022
Alessia Resta
Author + Plant Parent
By Alessia Resta
Author + Plant Parent
Alessia Resta is the creator of the Instagram Apartment Botanist. She lives in New York City with her boyfriend and their 175+ plants.
How to aerate soil using chopsticks and look after your house plants
Image by SERGEY FILIMONOV / Stocksy
February 9, 2022
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A great starting point when it comes to potting mediums is a mix of potting soil, perlite, and charcoal.

With that being said, you can play around with the proportions based on the plant you're potting and whether it will benefit more from a light and airy mix (flushes throughout the soil and roots and out of the drainage hole) or more from a moisture-retaining mixture (water still flushes through but components help retain some moisture within the soil). Good plants start with good soil, so make sure what you are using is new and full of nutrients.

There are lots of materials you can use to mix soil, but here is a list of common, easy-to-find ingredients that plant parents can mix to create their own soil mixtures:

  • Potting soil: Garden soil that contains fresh nutrients for your plant and sometimes fertilizer. You can purchase this in bags.
  • Perlite: Ground volcanic rock that holds moisture and fluffs up/puts air into your mix. This allows more water to pass through when you're watering that plant. You can also use vermiculite, which is a ground mineral product, but I'm a perlite girl, personally!
  • Charcoal: Like perlite, ground charcoal creates an airier medium. It also improves the quality of your soil by allowing air to flow through and creating pores that help hold nutrients for your plants. Plus, it's great for avoiding harmful fungus and bacteria.
  • Orchid bark/chips: These are perfect for breaking up the soil and providing more air circulation for the roots of plants. I also find some roots love attaching themselves to the chunks of bark, making the roots stronger and happier.
  • Coconut coir: Ground coconut husks are similar to peat moss and provide a great texture to the soil, as well as retain moisture. Coco coir tends to expand when watered, so be aware that when you're using it in a pot, you want to leave some room at the top of the pot for that expansion.
  • Sphagnum moss: Bits of sphagnum moss are excellent at holding moisture once it is rehydrated. I love breaking the strands of moss into smaller pieces and then adding them to my soil mix. It's ideal for plants that would benefit from more moisture retention.

Soil mixes to start with:

Leaf-lover mix:

This mix is airy, drains well, and is perfect for philodendrons, monstera, and most other foliage-filled houseplants. I added coco coir and sphagnum moss for a little bit of added moisture.

  • 1 part potting soil
  • ¾ part perlite
  • ¾ part charcoal
  • 1 part orchid chips
  • ¼ part coconut coir
  • ¼ part chopped sphagnum moss

Sweetheart mix:

This soil mix drains well and retains moisture, so it's perfect for anthuriums and alocasia. The mix is great for plants that have roots that like airflow but also love that extra bit of moisture that can be retained in the sphagnum moss.

  • 1 part sphagnum moss
  • ¼ part HydroBalls
  • ¼ part orchid bark
  • ½ part orchid chips
  • ¼ to ½ part charcoal
  • ¼ part potting soil

Huggable mix:

This mix is airy, chunky, and drains well, and is perfect for monstera, anthuriums, philodendrons, cactuses, and succulents. With lots of chunky medium in the mix, the roots can't resist latching on. This is great for plants with large roots.

  • 1¼ parts potting soil
  • ½ part HydroBalls
  • ½ part orchid bark
  • ½ part perlite
  • ¾ part charcoal
  • ¾ part orchid chips

Desert darling mix:

This mix drains well and is perfect for cactuses and succulents. The mix is also great for plants that have finer, thinner root systems.

  • 1 part potting soil
  • ¾ part perlite
  • ½ part charcoal
  • ½ part sand
  • ¼ part orchid chips

Green rule of thumb: Store your soil in an airtight container in a cool, dry space until ready to use. Moisture can attract fungus and gnats, which are the last things you want in your soil.

Reprinted with permission from Plants Are My Favorite People: A Relationship Guide for Plants and Their Parents by Alessia Resta copyright © 2022. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Lucila Perini. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Alessia Resta author page.
Alessia Resta
Author + Plant Parent

Alessia Resta is the creator of the Instagram Apartment Botanist. She lives in New York City with her boyfriend and their 175 plants.