DIY Potting Soil Recipe Using 3 Simple Ingredients

DIY potting soil with just 3 ingredients? You bet! Here’s a homemade potting soil recipe your container gardens will love.

Make DIY potting soil your plants will love with this simple recipe. (The Grow Network)

DIY Potting Soil Recipe Using 3 Simple Ingredients

Today you’ll learn how to create DIY potting soil using only 3 simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate ideas for homemade potting soil in case you don’t have those 3 ingredients readily available.

My DIY Potting Soil Recipe

If you’d like to see my potting soil ingredients at work, here’s a video I created that illustrates the process:

First, you’ll need a place to work.

I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making homemade potting soil isn’t rocket science—and you can really do it anywhere.

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Second, gather your materials. My recipe has 3 main potting soil ingredients.

1. Rotten Wood

Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and adds a loose and airy texture to the mix.

Using rotten wood as one of your potting soil ingredients adds a light, airy texture. (The Grow Network)

As you know if you’ve read my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I don’t throw away or burn the logs and sticks that fall in my yard. Instead, I use them to feed the soil.

Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood for your DIY potting soil.

If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.

2. Aged Cow Manure

Since fresh cow manure is too “hot,” I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age and dry for a few months.

Aged manure improves soil structure and provides a slow release of important nutrients. (The Grow Network)

If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.

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NOTE: Manure in the United States is often contaminated with long-term herbicides that will destroy your garden and your potted plants. Read Karen’s story and learn more about that danger here.

3. Sifted Soil/Grit

I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:

I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil, and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.

Sifted soil from your chicken run makes for a rich addition to your DIY potting soil. (The Grow Network)

You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.

I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants, and even regular old sand.

Mix It All Up

Now all you need to do is get mixing.

Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure, and one part grit/soil as my potting soil ingredients, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.

As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them, and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.

If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run it through some hardware cloth to sift it.

7 Alternate Potting Soil Ingredients

Compost is an alternate ingredient in this homemade potting soil recipe. (The Grow Network)

Don’t Have Cow Manure?

Try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do. It’s often full of seeds too, so watch out for that unless you want pumpkins growing out of your potted begonias.

Don’t Have Grit/Sand?

Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely too, though you have to buy them.

Don’t Have Rotten Wood?

Replace with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir since it seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mold sifted out in the local forest. It’s wonderful and has the added bonus of containing beneficial bacteria and fungi.

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Along with these excellent options, I’ve also added ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells, and even moldy cocoa nibs.

When I ran my nursery business, I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company. I set the mixture aside for years to break down.

Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy—with a good mix of ingredients—and your plants will do great.

What Do You Think?

What’s your favorite recipe for DIY potting soil? Do you use other creative potting soil ingredients not mentioned here? Let us know by leaving a comment below!


This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on February 22, 2019. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments; however, we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!

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This post was written by David The Good


  • Ariel Laman says:


    A couple of months, Margery, you did a video on a complete box of soil, etc., & when I tried to buy the
    product I didn’t get an answer. Do you know what happened to the company & if they are still in business, how
    can I get the box to start my gardening in the next month?

    Thank you
    Ms. Ariel Laman

  • Scott Sexton says:

    This is perfect! I was just looking into this yesterday. I’ve been buying the super-cheap potting soil at a certain un-named farm supply store. The price is right, but it smells weird…like petroleum. It might be my imagination, but I’m still pretty uneasy about it. So I’m really trying to find something better. I’ve got all these ingredients on hand, so I’ll sure give it a go. Thanks!

  • Kb says:

    What do you think about using Donkey boo. instead of cow..?

    1. EsraKaskaloglu says:

      I use aged horse manure as the fresh one is too hot and it works fine for my garden. So I would suspect donkey manure should work too!

  • EsraKaskaloglu says:

    I use aged horse manure as the fresh one is too hot and it works fine for my garden. So I would suspect donkey manure should work too!

  • Emily Sandstrom says:

    Ideal safe easiest fertilizer (especially for fruit trees) is bird poop – peafowl for the fruit trees. A crabapple tree tripled in size from peafowl and a lilac tree at least doubled because the songbirds sit in those trees all day.

    I sent an email to Marjory about a product that creates great soil for gardens by just applying it – for potted plants too. She should sell it. Right now, I don’t remember it (It’s obscure).

  • kellystorto7 says:

    I live in the desert so . . .

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