Get a PDF copy
Home Plant guides Do different types of soil matter for your plant's health?

Soil next to pot with Succulent Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Unsplash

Do different types of soil matter for your plant's health?

If you've ever been to a plant shop, you might have seen a lot of different bags of soil. When you're just starting out in your plant journey, this can be very intimidating. Which bag do you need for your plant? Does it matter if you choose one bag over the other? Can choosing the wrong bag of soil harm your plant?

These are all great questions and valid concerns! In this plant care guide, we'll look at the most well-known types of soil mixes. We'll have a look at whether the type of soil mix you get works for your plant and whether it matters which bag your pick up. We won't look at mixing your own soil in this post, but stick to the premixed bags that you can instantly use with your houseplants.

There are several different types of soil that you can use for your houseplants. These are the most common types of potting mixes you'll find in shops and on the internet:

  1. Cactus/Succulent soil
  2. Flower potting mix
  3. Indoor potting mix
  4. Plant specific potting mixes

There are many other soil mixes, like garden and vegetable soil mixes. These types of soil mixes unfortunately don't work for houseplants and they're also not meant as a soil mix for pots.

Let's have a look at why you shouldn't use outdoor soil mixes for indoor plants. After that, we'll have a look the different types of soil mixes for houseplants and whether these actually make a difference for your plant's health.

Why can't you use outdoor soil mixes for houseplants?

Back to top

Soil outdoors Photo by Manikandan Annamalai on Unsplash

There are a lot of different types of bags of soil in any plant shop you'll visit. This can be very intimidating for beginning plant owners. You'll have bags that say "soil mix" and others say "potting mix". But what does it mean? And can you use soil mixes when you're putting plants in pots?

Let's go over these two different types of soil!

Garden soil

The very first thing you might notice is that most shops have potting soil and just plain soil. The plain soil mix is generally used for gardens and vegetables. This type of soil is not designed to be used in a pot and you should avoid using this in pots for several reasons:

  • It holds a lot of moisture
  • It get dense easily, not letting oxygen reach the roots of your plants

If you use this type of soil with your houseplants, you risk over watering your plants and causing root rot. If you want to use this type of soil with your houseplants, you'll have to add extra ingredients to help with drainage and to prevent compacting of your soil. You can read more about how to do that in "How to make your soil drain water quickly?".

Potting soil for outdoor plants

Along with the garden soil that you might find, you will also find potting soil for outdoor plants. You might wonder if you can use this for your houseplants. The short answer: Not without adding ingredients to it.

The potting soil, unlike the garden soil, will hold it's shape quite well, so it won't stop oxygen from reaching your plant's roots. However, outdoor potting soil still holds onto a lot more moisture than indoor potting soil. Like the garden soil, you'll have to add ingredients to improve the drainage of the soil if you still want to use it with indoor plants. If you don't improve the drainage, you will likely over water your houseplant.

Now we know that you shouldn't use any outdoor soil mix, even if it's for potted plants, for your houseplants. If you really want to use it for your plants, you'll need to add extra ingredients to improve the structure and drainage of your soil. However, it's best to look into getting soil that's designed for indoor plants.

Let's now look at a few common types of indoor plant soil!

Cactus & Succulent soil mix

Back to top

Succulent sunlight exposure

One of the most well-known premixed bags of soil is the Cactus & Succulent soil mix. But is this type of soil only good for succulents and cacti or can you use it for any indoor plant?

The cactus & succulent soil mixture is especially designed for plants that love to be in a dry environment. This type of soil doesn't hold onto a lot of moisture and will completely dry out in a day or two. This seems like a bad thing, but it gives the perfect growing conditions for drought-loving plants.

Your succulents and cacti, but also plants like the ZZ plant, don't tolerate moist soil for too long. If you were to use any type of soil that holds onto water for several days and doesn't drain excess water as well, you will over water these plants.

This type of soil generally contains a few different ingredients, like:

  • sand
  • perlite
  • rocks
  • potting soil

Sand, perlite, and rocks are there to provide excellent drainage to the soil, since those ingredients don't hold onto water. The perlite and the rocks help the keep the structure of the soil, so it doesn't compact over time. This combination of ingredients give your drought-loving plants the perfect growing conditions.

Flower soil mix

Back to top

Flower Photo by MIO ITO on Unsplash

Flowers can be grow outdoors, but some flowers you have to grow indoors, because they wouldn't survive in outdoors. Which flowers you can grow outdoors or have to grow indoors depends on what kind of environment you live in. Flowers generally need a lot of moisture and fertilizer to grow properly. These flowering plants use a lot of energy to grow their flowers. This energy has to come from somewhere: mainly the soil.

Flower soil mixes usually hold quite a bit of moisture and contain a lot of nutrients for your flowers to grow. Generally, most flowers only grow once and then die, so the flower soil mix is designed to feed your flowers generously. However, this soil won't do well long-term, unless you keep adding fertilizer when you grow new flowers.

It's generally best to use flower soil mix just for flowers. Because this type of soil retains so much moisture, which is perfect for flowers, it will over water most other houseplants. You can always choose to improve drainage of the soil mix, after which you could also use it for other plants.

Indoor potting mix

Back to top

Monstera out of the pot

A great all-round potting mix for you houseplants is any general indoor potting mix. This type of potting soil is great for the average houseplant and you can adjust it for any type of houseplant with a few extra ingredients. A general indoor potting mix usually stays moist for 4-5 days, depending on the time of year and sunlight exposure, which is great for most plants. Most indoor plants like to dry out for a few days before you water them again, so this type of soil works well for those plants.

If you notice that your plant needs a little bit more moisture, you can add things like peat moss, vermiculite, or sphagnum moss. If you're looking for more information about how you can retain more moisture in the soil, be sure to check out "How to make your soil retain more water?".

However, if you notice that your plant is getting too much water, you can add ingredients like perlite, sand, and rocks to the soil. These ingredients help to drain excess moisture more quickly and will help the soil to stay fluffy to allow oxygen to reach the plant's roots. If you're looking for more information about helping to improve the drainage of your soil, you can have a look at: "How to make your soil drain water quickly?".

As you can see, a general indoor potting mix is great for most houseplants. Some might need a few slight adjustments, but it will be your best bet for most houseplants.

Plant specific potting mixes

Back to top

Along with a lot of general potting soil mixes, you'll also find soil mixes for specific plants. These mixes are perfectly mixed to provide the ideal growing environment for that plant. If you find a soil mix for a plant you want to repot, this type of mix would be the best choice, because you'll know it's mixed just for your plant.

You'll find a lot of these types of mixes on the internet, rather than in plant shops, so you might have to look for them a little more.

MIxed bags of soil for specific plants are the best way to give your plant the growing conditions it likes. So if you happen to find a bag for a plant you're repotting, it's best to choose the more specific mix you need.

You can also learn to mix your own soil and you'll always have the perfect soil for your plants. This does take a little bit of practice, but it's worth a try.


In the beginning we asked ourselves: "Do the different types of soil mixes really matter for my houseplant?". In this plant care guide, we've discovered that the different mixes make a huge difference for your plants and that it's best to find a soil mix that's made for your plant. These soil mixes are there to give you the tools to help build the ideal growing conditions for your houseplants.

Some soils retain a lot of moisture, while others drain it all away. Each soil mix has it's own purpose and it's up to you (with my help) to figure out which soil fits with which plant. The most important thing you can do when buying new soil is this: do a little bit of research about the watering requirements of your plant. Does your plant need very little water? Perhaps the cactus and succulent soil mix is perfect for your. If your plant needs more moisture, find a soil mix that contains coconut coir or vermiculite to give your plant what it needs.

If you're still struggling, don't worry, you'll learn how to find the right mix over time. Everyone struggles with this in the beginning, but we all learn.

Thank you for reading this post! I hope it helps you to keep your plants healthy and beautiful! If you're looking for more guides on specific plants, you can always request a plant guide to get a guide for the plant you have trouble with.

Tags: soil

Posted on: Sep 25, 2021 Last updated on: Apr 8, 2022

Are you ready to put your new knowledge into practice?

Get your own products from the links below and support us in our mission to help people take care of plants like this.

This page contains affiliate links. Support me and my mission by ordering through my links. Thank you!

Pin this plant guide

More guides by Plant care for Beginners