Can You Use Soil Conditioner as Potting Soil? (How Safe Is It?)

Humans have come a long way in finding methods to enhance plant growth. From sow to harvest, we have always done our best. And one of the most vital practices we have come across for plant health and development is using soil amendments, and soil conditioners being an essential type of it.

Soil conditioner is used as a soil improver and is immensely beneficial. But can we plant directly into this wonderful amendment to give our plants the best medium to grow? Can you use soil conditioner as potting soil? Let’s take a look!

No, you can’t use soil conditioner as potting soil because it will provide an excessively nutrient-rich base, which will harm the plant roots. It will also lead to plant instability due to its fine particles. Instead, mixing it through the top 4-5 inches of soil is the best way to use it.

What is a Soil Conditioner?

Soil conditioner is a type of soil amendment that mainly targets the soil structure. It concentrates on improving the physical properties of soil and providing nutrient balance to plants. It can be of two types: Organic and Inorganic.

Types of Soil Conditioners

1. Organic Soil Conditioner: An organic soil conditioner chiefly improves the structure of the soil, along with other factors such as nitrogen content, pH, etc. It is a form of organic soil amendment and is suitable for all kinds of soil, clay as well as sandy soil. It includes blood meal, bone meal, mushroom compost, etc.

Vermicast as Soil Conditioner

Examples:

  • Animal manure (improves structure, adds nitrogen)
  • Worm castings (adds nitrogen)
  • Sawdust (reduces pH)
  • Wood chips (improves structure, acts as a weed barrier)
  • Cover crops (adds nutrients, prevents erosion)
  • Sphagnum peat moss (improves porosity)

NOTE: You should remember that the materials used as organic soil conditioners should be aged and composted enough. The fresh organic material should be added to fallow land where there is no sowing for at least six months.

Organic soil conditioners can be store-bought or homemade. You can read the label of the bagged organic conditioner and apply it accordingly. However, you should use homemade organic soil conditioners after a year.

2. Inorganic Soil Conditioner: An inorganic soil conditioner focuses on soil pH and cation-exchange capacity. It deals with specific problems. Gypsum, perlite, vermiculite, pulverized limestone, etc., are examples of inorganic soil conditioners.

It is best to buy inorganic soil conditioners from garden centers or feed stores since it is nearly impossible to make them at home.

Examples:

  • Gypsum (adds calcium)
  • Vermiculite (deals with soil compaction & water-holding capacity)
  • Perlite (improves porosity & water retention)
  • Pulverized limestone (improves pH, adds calcium)
  • Polysaccharides & polyacrylamides (reduces erosion)
Perlite with Soil
Organic Soil ConditionersInorganic Soil Conditioners
Carbon-basedMineral-based
Improves structure mainlyImproves pH and CEC mainly
Can be homemade or store-boughtPreferably store-bought; nearly impossible to make at home

If soil conditioners are the garland of qualities, then why not use them as the sole medium for planting? Let’s find out why!

Why Should You Not Plant Directly in Soil Conditioner?

We use conditioners to improve the texture of our hair. But that doesn’t mean we only rely on them for our hair. We need shampoo to count on too! Similarly, a soil conditioner is excellent for soil texture as long as it is used with potting soil. Planting directly into a soil conditioner won’t lead to the successful growth of plants as.

  • Soil conditioners have a tiny particle size, which won’t provide strong and substantial support to plants. Poor support will lead to plant instability, and ultimately plants won’t survive. 
  • Soil conditioners are too rich in nutrients, which might cause a glut in plants. Abundant nutrients can lead to an overrich base, which is harmful to the plant roots.

This concludes that a soil conditioner is an amendment and cannot be used as a substitute for potting soil. So, how should we use it for our plants, if not directly?

How to Use Soil Conditioners?

Tilling the Top Soil With Rack

It is essential to follow the accurate way of using soil conditioners to reap the maximum benefits. Here’s a quick guide to using soil conditioners for your plants.

Step 1. Soil Testing

First and foremost is testing the soil to which you wish to apply the soil conditioner. This will give you a clear idea about what is lacking in the soil and what type of soil conditioner you should use to overcome the problem.

Step 2. Measure Your Yard

You need to measure your yard or count the number of pots you wish to apply the soil conditioner to. This will help you get an adequate quantity of soil conditioner and sidestep wastage. 

Step 3. Till the Topsoil

Till the topsoil up to 4-5 inches deep. This will help the soil conditioner to reach a suitable depth.

Step 4. Spread the Soil Conditioner

Now, spread the soil conditioner all over the soil around the plants appropriately,

Step 5. Mix the Soil

Use a rake to mix the soil conditioner with the existing soil.

And you’re done!

Therefore, adding soil conditioner along with the potting soil is beneficial since it will improve the qualities of the soil and make it a perfect medium for growing plants.

But, what qualities are we exactly looking for in soil conditioners? What benefits will our plants get from them?

Advantages of Using Soil Conditioners

Soil conditioners can beef up the soil in several ways.

  • They optimize plant health.
  • They are sustainable.
  • They ameliorate compacted soil.
  • They enhance air circulation and drainage.
  • They improve the cation-exchange capacity and water-holding capacity of the soil.
  • They increase the nutrient content and facilitate the uptake of plant nutrients.
  • They boost the mineral content in the soil, which leads to better vegetation.
  • They aid in rebuilding the soil damaged by improper handling.
  • They fix soil pH.
  • They cut down irrigation costs, pesticide applications, and fertilizer needs.
  • They work slowly but give long-term benefits.
  • They are better than synthetic sprays.

Hence, soil conditioners are a great way to rally our soil. However, with plenty of advantages, certain disadvantages are there too.

Disadvantages of Soil Conditioners

  • Expensive: Taking care of your soil might cause a load on your pocket if you’re going with soil conditioners. Some might be costly, depending on the need for soil.
  • Time-consuming: Homemade organic soil conditioners might require waiting up to a year before application. This won’t work if you need to amend the soil immediately.
  • Harmful to Plant Health if Used Excessively: Excess use of soil conditioners can be detrimental to plant health, and surfeit runoff of nutrients in waterways can damage the water quality.

But don’t let these few disadvantages stop you from choosing soil conditioners for your garden. Despite them, soil conditioners ultimately go a long way in benefitting your soil.

However, it is still necessary to be on the safe side while using soil conditioners.

Precaution While Using Soil Conditioners

  • Ensure thorough mixing of soil conditioner with topsoil since it is an integral part of the whole process. Leaving the soil conditioner on top of the soil can lead to drying out of the soil conditioner, causing the opposite effect. It can stir up dehydration of plant roots and deterioration of plant structure.
  • Handle soil conditioners with care, especially the inorganic ones. Avoid contact with eyes and skin, inhaling water solutions, or swallowing. 
  • Avoid the overuse of inorganic soil conditioners as they may burn the plants.

Has it ever crossed your mind to make your own soil conditioner? After all, what’s better than offering something to the plants you made yourself?

How to Make Soil Conditioner at Home?

If you’re concerned about the health of your plants but also on a tight budget? Here’s a step-by-step guide to making your own soil conditioner at home:

Step 1. Take 1 part of composted manure.

Step 2. Add 1 part of inorganic matter (gypsum is easily available).

Step 3. Add 3 parts of organic boosters (bone meal, seaweed powder, etc.). Mix the materials, and you are good to go!

Just three simple steps will give you ‘your soil conditioner’!

NOTE: While adding organic boosters, remember to ensure they are composted enough.

Since now you are acquainted with ‘how to?’, it is also essential to take charge of ‘how much?’

How Much Soil Conditioner Should You Use for Plants?

The amount of soil conditioner to be used depends on the type of soil and plant. However, a helpful rule of thumb is applying 3 to 4 inches of soil conditioner per square foot of soil. 

When to Use Soil Conditioners?

Soil Conditioners work the best when applied before planting. But organic soil conditioners should be used afterward as well. A general recommendation is to apply soil conditioners once in spring and once in fall.

Are you wondering what soil conditioners remind you of? Well, soil conditioners have similar functions to compost. But they are not a substitute for compost.

Difference Between Soil Conditioners and Compost

Soil conditioners and compost, both, are soil amendments. However, there is a difference between application, structure, functions, etc. Let’s take a look!

Soil Conditioners and Compost
CompostSoil Conditioners
Works well with indoor plants and outdoor plants.More common with outdoor plants.
Fine particle size.Smaller particles than compost.
Can be used for top layer application and by mixing in soil.Only to be used by mixing in topsoil.
Compost can be used as a soil conditioner.Soil conditioner can’t be used as compost.

Compost is the best general-purpose soil conditioner due to the beneficial microbes present in it and its property to improve the structure of the soil.

In what form does a soil conditioner come?

Soil conditioners come in many forms like liquid, granule, and powder. The most common form is granules.

Are soil conditioners and fertilizers the same?

No, soil conditioners and fertilizers are not the same. Fertilizers supply nutrients, while soil conditioners improve soil structure to aid plants in utilizing the nutrients better.

Can soil conditioner be used as mulch?

No, it is not recommended to use soil conditioners as mulch because soil conditioners left on top of the soil can lead to drying out, causing dehydration of roots.

Is the soil conditioner similar to garden soil?

No, soil conditioner is different from garden soil. Soil conditioner is an amendment that can be added to garden soil to improve its quality.

Where can we buy soil conditioners?

Soil conditioners are readily available online or can be purchased in any garden center nearby. It can also be made at home.

Can we use compost as a soil conditioner?

Yes, compost can be used as a soil conditioner. In fact, it is the best general-purpose soil conditioner available. However, remember that soil conditioners cannot be used as compost.

So, now you know that not only your hair but also your plants need conditioners. So why not give them the best conditioner as per their requirement? Use your expertise and make the best planting mix. Let those plants shine! And if you want to know more about planting directly into compost, we’ll guide you through it!