Vegetable Garden Soil: Soil Requirements For Vegetable Plants

Vegetable Garden Soil: Soil Requirements For Vegetable Plants

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By: Heather Rhoades

If you are starting a vegetable garden, or even if you have an established vegetable garden, you may wonder what is the best soil for growing vegetables. Things like the right amendments and the right soil pH for vegetables can help your vegetable garden grow better. Keep reading to learn more about soil preparation for the vegetable garden.

Soil Preparation for a Vegetable Garden

Some soil requirements for vegetable plants are the same, while others differ depending on the type of vegetable. In this article we will only focus on the general soil requirements for vegetable gardens.

In general, vegetable garden soil should be well draining and loose. It should not be too heavy (i.e. clay soil) or too sandy.

General Soil Requirements for Vegetables

We recommend before preparing soil for vegetables that you have your soil tested at your local extension service to see if there is something your soil is lacking in from the lists below.

Organic material – All vegetables need a healthy amount of organic material in the soil they grow in. Organic material serves many purposes. Most importantly, it provides many of the nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive. Secondly, organic material “softens” soil and makes it so that the roots can more easily spread through the soil. Organic material also acts like small sponges in the soil and allows the soil in your vegetable to retain water.

Organic material can come from either a compost or well rotted manure, or even a combination of both.

Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium – When it comes to soil preparation for vegetable garden, these three nutrients are the basic nutrients that all plants need. They are also known together as N-P-K and are the numbers you see on a bag of fertilizer (e.g. 10-10-10). While organic material does provide these nutrients, you may have to adjust them individually depending on your individual soil. This can be done with chemical fertilizers or organically.

  • To add nitrogen, either use a chemical fertilizer with a higher first number (e.g. 10-2-2) or an organic amendment like manure or nitrogen fixing plants.
  • To add phosphorus, use either a chemical fertilizer with a high second number (e.g. 2-10-2) or an organic amendment like bone meal or rock phosphate.
  • To add potassium, use a chemical fertilizer that has a high last number (e.g. 2-2-10) or an organic amendment like potash, wood ash or greensand.

Trace nutrients – Vegetables also need a wide variety of trace minerals and nutrients to grow well. These include:

  • Boron
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Chloride
  • Manganese
  • Calcium
  • Molybdenum
  • Zinc

Soil pH for Vegetables

While exact pH requirements for vegetables vary somewhat, in general, the soil in a vegetable garden should fall somewhere be 6 and 7. If your vegetable garden soil tests significantly above that, you will need to lower the pH of the soil. If the soil in your vegetable garden tests significantly lower than 6, you will need to raise the pH of your vegetable garden soil.

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Read more about General Vegetable Garden Care

Best Soil For Vegetable Garden In Raised Bed Of 2021: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

If you are looking for the best soil for a vegetable garden in a raised bed, this guide will tell you everything you need to know. You will end up with the most productive soil for your plants. And you will not waste a lot of time to find it.

If you understand how these soils work, you will find just what your plants need. Not all lands bring the same benefits to your garden. It is essential to use the right type to get the best results!

Once you have all the right information, getting the product that you need is natural. So, keep reading and see what you can invest in to help your plants thrive!

The following products are the best soil for vegetable gardens in a raised bed. You can count on them in almost any circumstances, and you will not regret investing in them! Your plants will be very healthy and beautiful as you grow them in this soil!

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Soil for Growing Vegetables

A good growing mix for vegetables should be lightweight to prevent the soil from packing down and also free from contaminants. Avoid bringing in dirt from outdoors, which often contains insects and pathogens that can quickly overwhelm an indoor gardening container and lead to plant failure. To get off on the right foot, consider using a commercial soil mix specially designed for indoor growing.


Not all soil types are appropriate for growing vegetables. Some are better suited to growing flowering plants, potted trees, or houseplants. The terms “soil mix” and “growing mix” are interchangeable, but most indoor mixes do not contain actual dirt. Instead, they feature an optimum blend of ingredients that provides indoor plants with the best chance to survive and thrive.

  • All-purpose: An all-purpose indoor soil mix may or may not contain a fertilizer to help establish vigorous plant growth, and it may not be the best choice for indoor vegetables. If an all-purpose mix contains fertilizers to boost houseplants, it may result in heavy foliage growth rather than vegetable production. Vegetable plants need nutrients that will encourage blossom development because blossoms are necessary for vegetable growth. An all-purpose mix without any fertilizers may be better because a vegetable-appropriate fertilizer can be added later as needed.
  • Organic mix: Many indoor gardeners wish to grow organic food—free from all chemicals. Organic soil mix will contain only natural nutrients, such as bone meal or fish emulsion, rather than chemical fertilizers.
  • Seed-starting: For the best germination results, seed-starting mediums should be sterile because new seedlings are tender, and the presence of bacteria or other contaminants can quickly destroy a whole flat of tiny seedlings. Seed-starting mix is often very light and fluffy, which allows the seedlings to send down roots easily.
  • Plant specific: Even among vegetables, different varieties have different nutritional needs. If the gardener plans to grow only tomatoes, for instance, a tomato-specific soil that’s pH-balanced for these fruits is likely to produce strong, healthy plants. A plant-specific soil mix isn’t a must, however, because plant-specific fertilizers can be added to the growing mix after planting.


Indoor growing mixes usually contain a variety of lightweight natural ingredients. Most indoor growing mixes feature a combination of peat moss, coconut fiber (coir), vermiculite, and/or perlite. They may also contain a range of nutrients. Both vermiculite and perlite provide vital aeration to the roots, which is essential for growth. Even in the best planters, plant roots have limited space to grow, so the growing mix must be nutritious and also drain well.


Outdoors, a vegetable plant has plenty of room to send out roots in search of nutrients, but in a container, nutrients are quickly absorbed, so plan on using a soil mix that contains time-released nutrients or, alternately, plan on adding fertilizer periodically throughout the growing period. Soil mixes contain various amounts of fertilizer based on the desired vegetable being grown. Chemical fertilizer content is labeled by ratio using three numbers, such as 10-10-10. The first number indicates the amount of nitrogen, the second shows the amount of phosphate, and the third indicates the amount of potash in the mix. Mixes that contain organic fertilizers, such as bat guano, do not list a ratio. When buying a mix with chemical fertilizers, use the following as a general guideline.

  • Leafy vegetables: A balanced fertilizer ratio, such as 14-14-14, or 10-10-10, is optimal for growing spinach, lettuce, and other leafy greens.
  • Root vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, and other tubers benefit from a fertilizer with slightly less nitrogen, such as a 5-10-10, to produce robust and edible root systems.
  • Above-ground vegetables: Many above-ground veggies, such as cucumbers and squash, benefit from a balanced fertilizer, while acidic plants, such as tomatoes, will thrive on fertilizer with slightly higher phosphate, such as a 2-3-1 blend.

Moisture Retention

Sphagnum peat moss naturally absorbs and retains moisture, making it a top choice for many indoor growing mixes, but some manufacturers include an additional wetting agent, such as water-absorbing crystals, to help keep the mixture from drying out. When saturated, the crystals swell and then slowly release water into the growing medium as the medium dries out. This can help prevent both over- and under-watering, which can lead to weak plants. Depending on the amount of moisture-retaining ingredients, the soil may actually swell in size when watered and then shrink as it dries out. Where consistent moisture isn’t a concern, such as in self-watering planters, it’s less important to have a growing mix that retains water and gradually releases it.

Fungal Growth

Most indoor growing mediums do not contain antifungal ingredients, and some contain beneficial fungus in the mushroom family. If the growing medium includes a nutritious, mushroom-like component, it will often appear on the label as “mycorrhizal” or “mycorrhizae.” Unfortunately, unwanted types of fungus can also develop in the growing medium, especially if the mix doesn’t drain well, giving fungus a foothold and potentially ruining the crop. The solution is usually to water less often and allow the soil mixture to dry out slightly between waterings. Also, commercial antifungal sprays are available. Well-drained mixes that allow water to pass through easily are less likely to lead to unwanted fungus development.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Soil for Raised Beds

Growing flowers and food in raised beds differs from growing directly in the ground. Consider these key points before you dump a load of dirt into your raised beds.

Raised Bed Height

Knowing the size of your raised bed will help you determine how much soil you need to fill it. Thankfully, there are plenty of handy calculators that can help you out with this task. The taller your raised bed, the more soil you’ll need. If you prefer a taller raised bed, perhaps to eliminate back-breaking bending, you can build a raised bed or buy a tabletop model, which will require less dirt. Alternately, you can fill the bottom of a tall ground-level bed with filler like dead leaves or cardboard to minimize the amount of soil mix you’ll need to purchase.

Plant Type & Root Depth

Some plants have deeper roots than others. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to build a raised bed that’s at least 6 inches deep. This depth will accommodate many crops. However, if you plan to grow root vegetables like carrots, a depth of 12 inches is preferable.

Raised beds are great for any kind of plant but work particularly well for growing vegetables. Elevating your growing space keeps weeds at bay, warms the soil up faster in the spring, and prevents compaction. You also start with pristine soil with a neutral pH, which makes it easy to grow pretty much anything.

Soil Components

Different gardeners have tried-and-true soil mix recipes, but it’s agreed that you should avoid settling for uber-cheap bags of soil when filling beds. The cheapest bags are usually low quality and full of weed seed, debris, and other nasty contaminants. They’re also unlikely to contain many valuable nutrients. A good soil mix contains topsoil, a small amount of substrate, and a significant amount of compost, which is filled with nutrients to help improve the soil condition.

Compost from multiple sources is best—it can even come from your backyard pile. Topsoil is basically filler soil and makes up the bulk of most soil mixes. It’s not very rich in nutrients but is a necessary component that contains organic matter. Finally, the substrate makes up a small bit of a soil mix but is extremely important. It helps control moisture content in the soil, which is exceptionally important in a raised bed. Some substrates that might appear in soil mixes include peat moss, rock phosphate, vermiculite, perlite, and coco coir. Be careful to avoid adding too much peat moss, which can increase the acidity of your soil and throw off the pH balance.

Some gardeners prefer to fill raised garden beds with a topsoil-free mix, using equal parts compost, perlite, and coco coir. It makes for an excellent, fluffy, moisture-retaining growing medium.

In the world of soil, organic refers to organic materials such as compost and mulch. Nonorganic materials aren’t necessarily harmful, they’re just inert and include things like pebbles, rock phosphate, and perlite. Nonorganic soil that contains no organic matter lacks nutrients and is also free of contaminants. These terms help describe the soil’s content.

The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) covers farm practices regarding soils and other substances applied to crops. In addition, the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), a volunteer organization, lists products that organic farmers can use to produce food. Many soils available to consumers have the OMRI listing.


Topsoil isn’t the same as garden soil. As the name suggests, it’s the top layer of soil. It’s a general-purpose soil that’s ideal for filling in garden beds in the landscape or preparing a bare lawn for growth. It’s not very nutrient-rich, but it contains an important organic matter, so it’s not entirely useless. If you buy topsoil bags and plan to use them to fill your raised beds, pour them in first, since topsoil makes a great base layer and filler.


The best raised bed soils contain nutrients. Organic, natural fertilizers include compost, sea kelp, and worm castings. These types of fertilizers help improve the quality and condition of soil without you having to worry about contamination. After all, too much fertilizer is not a good thing. The slow-release properties of organic fertilizers prevent potentially harmful buildup and ensure that your plants aren’t flooded with nutrients all at once, which can cause them harm.

Some soil mixes may contain synthetic fertilizers. They provide a quick nutrient boost but don’t improve soil condition and texture like organic options. This is why it is best to choose or make a soil mix with organic nutrient sources like compost.

Add perlite to make up around 10-50% of the total volume of potting mix.

If you want better water retention and don’t plan on using a lot of extra nutrients, then 10-20% perlite is your target.

Too much perlite can cause the nutrients leach out faster from the soil as water drains through easily.

If you plan to add a lot of nutrients for high yield of your vegetable containers, aim for 30-50% perlite.

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Our Top Picks

To qualify as a top pick, indoor potting soil should be clean, resist compaction, and drain well. The best soil for growing vegetables indoors may vary depending on an individual gardener’s needs, but it should be the foundation for producing healthy, strong plants. It needn’t necessarily contain fertilizers, but if it does, they should be well suited to specific vegetable production. The following commercial soil blends vary by ingredient and cost, but they are all well suited for growing vegetables indoors.

Watch the video: Whats wrong with my tomato plants? My greenhouse is too cold


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