Is organic gardening soil worth it?

Flowers & Plants

The Organic Materials Review Institute is a nonprofit, independent organization that determines which products are allowed for organic production and processing based on international standards set by the U.S., Canada and Mexico. An OMRI listing can help gardeners quickly identify products that are suitable for organic farming.

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A breakdown of organic gardening soil

For a plant to grow, it needs five elements: sunlight, air, moisture, nutrients and proper temperature. Four of these five elements depend on the quality of soil you use. Without the right soil, your plant will not get the air, moisture or nutrients it needs to survive.

Is all soil the same, or does organic soil make a difference in your garden? Keep reading to find out.

Isn’t all soil organic?

One of the first things you probably learned when venturing into the rewarding world of gardening was that dirt is not soil. The difference between the two is that dirt is not alive, but soil is. If all you have is dirt, your plants will never grow. In other words, all soil is organic.

Why is only some soil labeled organic?

Organic soil has different classifications

Organic is a popular marketing buzzword that has become synonymous with “healthy” in the food world. This is because food that is labeled USDA Certified Organic is the most heavily regulated food system in the U.S. However, when the word organic is used in conjunction with soil, it is not a certification; it’s more of an adjective that might not mean what you think it means. 

Regular soil vs. organic soil

While it can seem confusing that all soil is organic, but not all soil is labeled organic, there is a difference. Regular soil is manufactured using ingredients such as peat moss, bark, perlite, vermiculite and styrofoam. While some of these ingredients are organic, they don’t usually contain impressive amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium, the three elements needed for plant growth. The rest of the ingredients found in regular soil help with water drainage and aeration, so plants’ roots can get sufficient moisture and oxygen.

On the other hand, organic soil contains ingredients such as compost, seaweed, fish meal, bat droppings, bone meal, soybean meal, manure and worm castings. These items add essential nutrients to the soil, raising the level of nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium so a plant can thrive. In short, using organic soil is roughly the equivalent of a human having a purposeful, nutrient-rich diet – all the elements needed for healthy growth are present.

Pros and cons of organic soil

Like everything else in life, organic soil has its pros and cons.

Pros

  • Organic soil is nutrient-rich: The additional ingredients in organic soil will provide your plants with the nourishment they need to thrive.
  • Organic soil is free from chemicals and pesticides: Organic soil is made from natural, organic matter and doesn’t contain chemicals or pesticides.
  • Organic soil can help your plants resist pests and diseases: Like taking vitamins to fortify your body, plants grown in nutrient-rich soil have increased resistance to pests and disease. 
  • Organic soil can be targeted for specific plants: You can balance the mixture of organic soil ingredients to make it better suited for particular plants.

Cons

  • Organic soil is more expensive than regular soil: Due to added ingredients, some organic soil can cost as much as two to four times more than regular soil.
  • Organic soil may not be pH balanced: The addition of organic elements means the pH level of organic soil is not as consistent as regular soil and will often be more acidic.
  • You can over-fertilize organic soil: Because organic soil already includes nutrients, you must be careful when adding fertilizer to ensure you don’t hurt or kill your plants.

Best organic soil options

Miracle-Gro Nature's Care Organic Garden Soil

Miracle-Gro Nature’s Care Organic Garden Soil

An OMRI-listed product that is formulated for in-ground gardens. It contains bone meal, earthworm castings, kelp meal and more, and it is suitable for fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot.

Burpee Organic Premium Potting Mix

Burpee Organic Premium Potting Mix

This versatile product is suitable for use in container and raised-bed gardening. It provides slow-release nutrients that can feed your plants for up to three months. It is formulated with coconut fiber, which can help maintain moisture between waterings.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Miracle-Gro Nature's Care Raised Bed Soil

Miracle-Gro Nature’s Care Raised Bed Soil

This specially formulated organic soil is designed for fruits, flowers and vegetables in raised-bed gardens. It contains alfalfa meal, kelp meal, earthworm castings and bone meal to nourish your plants.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot.

Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil

Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil

This organic potting soil is for western regions only. It is an all-purpose soil you can use for indoor containers, outdoor containers, raised beds, flowers, vegetables and herbs.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

Burpee Organic Seed Starting Mix

Burpee Organic Seed Starting Mix

An eco-friendly soil alternative mix that is designed to be used for starting seeds. This compressed brick of coconut fiber expands to 8 quarts after adding water, and it is OMRI listed for organic use.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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