For plants, soil provides another vital element. It doesn’t just deliver nutrients to hungry fruits, vegetables, and flowers; good garden bed soil increases the airflow around plant roots to avoid compaction and improve drainage as it retains moisture for basic hydration.
Gardening with raised beds provides more control over the soil. However, the best soil for raised beds depends on the plants you want to grow. Many soil types are suitable for a variety of uses, while others are more specific in their purpose. Read on for some of the top soils for raised beds and some things to keep in mind as you shop.
- BEST OVERALL: Miracle-Gro Potting Mix
- RUNNER-UP: FoxFarm Happy Frog Potting Soil
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Mountain Valley Minute Soil – Compressed Coco Coir
- BEST ORGANIC: Organic Plant Magic Compressed Potting Soil
- BEST TOPSOIL: Michigan Peat Garden Magic Top Soil
- BEST COMPOST: Charlie’s Compost, 10 pounds
- BEST PEAT MOSS: Hoffman Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss
- BEST VERMICULITE: Ferry Morse Professional Grade Vermiculite
- BEST FOR VEGETABLES: Coast of Maine Castine Blend – Organic & Natural Mix
- BEST FOR HERBS AND FLOWERS: Miracle-Gro Raised Bed Soil
How We Chose the Best Soil for Raised Beds
We researched the most sought-after soil for raised beds in their respective categories and discovered that the best options are determined by their ingredients, quantity, versatility, and other special features included by top brands.
While searching for the best garden bed soil, we found that the most popular types among users were the ones made with organic materials including peat, coir, perlite, worm castings, compost, and more. Many of these mixes are formulated to provide drainage and aeration and select options can be used for indoor and outdoor plants, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs.
Whether you need 1 cubic foot or over 15 gallons of soil, the above list includes options that resist compacting, are pH-balanced, and can be used on existing soil with grown plants as well as seedlings. Many of our picks can be mixed with other soils to create a custom blend that works perfectly for your own plants.
Our Top Picks
Here are some of our top soil recommendations to help fill raised garden beds. There are specialized soils as well as general mixes to help plants thrive, including soils from brands long trusted in the gardening world. All you’ll need to do is slip on your gardening gloves, open up the bags, fill up your beds, refill your watering can, and get growing.
Miracle-Gro has earned a strong reputation in the gardening world with a wide range of gardening soils, fertilizers, and amendments. The Miracle-Gro Potting Mix offers a blend of nutrients from a wide range of sources, including processed forest products, peat, coir, compost, sphagnum peat moss, perlite, fertilizer, and wetting agents.
The compost portion of the ingredients has a variety of sources that may include animal manures, composted leaves, grass clippings, or composted bark.
The wide range of ingredients provides an equally varied nutrient base that can nourish an assortment of plants. The diversity and inclusion of perlite prevents compaction while improving drainage and aeration. Once applied over quality topsoil, this Miracle-Gro garden soil mix has the nutrients to support plants for up to 6 months.
- Ingredients: Processed forest products, peat, coir, and/or compost, and sphagnum peat moss, perlite, fertilizer, and a wetting agent
- Quantity: Available in several sizes
- Organic: No
- Versatile mixture is suitable for a wide range of plants
- Available in a range of sizes for both small or large gardening projects
- Included nutrients and fertilizer supports plants for up to 6 months
- This mix is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use
- Heavy on the peat and coir mixture; may not be suitable for plants that prefer a fast- draining mix
Get the Miracle-Gro potting soil at Amazon (1 cubic foot), Ace Hardware (2 cubic feet), or The Home Depot (50 quarts).
The FoxFarm Happy Frog potting soil contains a mix of microbes with mycorrhizal fungi and sediment. The fungi content enhances the nutrient uptake of the root system by creating a symbiotic relationship with the root mass. Essentially, it expands the root’s reach, promoting their development.
That fungi content gets balanced with sediment that maintains the light texture and aeration needed to let plant roots expand as they consume nutrients. The mix contains a pH balance for optimal growth that’s supportive of fruit, vegetables, or flowers. Keep in mind that the soil has been inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi, so there is a possibility to see white growth in the mix, which is normal.
- Ingredients: Earthworm castings, bat guano, and aged forest products
- Quantity: 2 cubic feet
- Organic: Yes
- Mycorrhizal fungi content helps promote root development
- Excels at starting seeds; also great for winter sowing
- Product is pH-balanced and ideal for fruits, vegetables, and flowers
- Comes at a premium price; may not be cost effective for filling a large container
Get the FoxFarm potting soil at Amazon or Target.
Mountain Valley Minute Soil compressed coco coir fiber grow medium squeezes the growing medium down to a compact brick full of goodness. Made of raw coconut coir, this fibrous block expands to a light texture designed to aerate and it retains moisture. At the same time, it provides a nutritious boost for topsoil.
Gardeners can rehydrate the entire block to create 15 gallons of growing medium or hydrate only the amount needed for a specific project. The compressed packaging stores easily and provides options for a wide range of gardening needs and uses. These compressed blocks come in several sizes to suit most gardener’s available storage space.
- Ingredients: Compressed coco coir
- Quantity: 15 gallons (from 1 block); other sizes available
- Organic: Yes
- Compact, lightweight, and easy to store until needed
- Available in multiple sizes, as either large bricks or smaller pucks
- Suitable for a range of flowers, plants, and herbs
- Coco coir is quite nutrient poor; may need supplements for better plant growth
- Retains moisture extremely well; may not be suitable for plants that prefer a faster- draining mix
Get the Mountain Valley Minute Soil at Amazon or True Leaf Market.
Organic Plant Magic compressed organic potting soil for gardens and plants contains natural, organic fertilizer ingredients to feed and nourish plants. This compressed soil can be rehydrated and used as the nutrient layer or applied directly to existing soil without rehydrating. This dry, organic mix alone holds 50 percent more water than regular soil, which is one reason it works so well for raised beds.
The soil contains natural coconut coir, worm castings, mycorrhizae, helpful bacteria, amino acids, and humic acids. These ingredients work together for a slow release of nutrients so that plants don’t get overwhelmed. This package requires 12 cups of water to create 2 pounds of compressed soil. The mixture then expands to create 3 gallons of usable soil.
- Ingredients: Coco coir, worm castings, and fertilizer
- Quantity: 12 cups (expands to 3 gallons)
- Organic: Yes
- Holds 50 percent more water than regular soil; ideal for raised beds
- Can be used on existing soil as a nutrient boost
- Can be rehydrated as needed; makes for easy storage until needed
- Not available in multiple size options
Get the Organic Plant Magic soil at Amazon or Organic Plant Magic.
Topsoil fills a raised bed rather than nourishing the plants in it. The Michigan Peat Garden Magic Top Soil does that with a mix of reed sedge peat and sand. For gardeners who are using dirt from the natural landscape, this garden soil mix can loosen heavy clay soils and improve the water retention of light, airy soils.
Sometimes topsoils can arrive with twigs and debris that aren’t harmful but don’t help your garden. The Michigan Peat topsoil (usually) arrives without clumps or these surprise additions, sticking with pure ingredients. However, the topsoil is designed to be used as conditioner for heavy soil or mixed with other growing mediums, but not used on its own.
- Ingredients: Reed sedge peat and sand
- Quantity: 4.5 cubic feet
- Organic: Yes
- Works well with heavy clay soils to help loosen the mixture
- Helps increase water retention in lighter soils
- Can be used as a top dressing and to fill holes in lawns and gardens
- Must be mixed with other soil; it’s not designed to be used as primary planting medium
Get the Michigan Peat topsoil at Amazon.
Charlie’s Compost has natural ingredients composted and ready for plants to soak up nutrients. It contains a garden soil mix of chicken manure, cornstalks, forest products, hay, straw, clay, and microbe inoculants. Before being bagged, the ingredients are composted for 8 to 12 weeks, at which time they’re ready for application to the garden.
The blend is designed to be mixed with other soils or as an additive around plants. If used in direct contact with plants, be sure to use it sparingly: It’s powerful enough to burn delicate plants. There have also been (rare) instances of bags arriving with ingredients that aren’t completely broken down.
- Ingredients: Chicken manure, biochar, organic grasses and organic crop production residue
- Quantity: 0.4 cubic feet
- Organic: Yes
- Composted for 8 to 12 weeks, which is an ideal time for making nutrient-rich soil
- Powerful formula, yet it’s still safe to use in direct contact with plants
- Affordable compared to other big name brands
- Made to be used as an amendment/natural fertilizer only; must be mixed with soil
Get the Charlie’s Compost soil at Amazon.
Hoffman Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss contains 99.8 percent natural ingredients, consisting almost entirely of natural peat. This mix helps break up compacted soils, aerate roots, and improve drainage. However, the peat also holds water for better moisture retention in a raised bed setting.
This bag provides a big bang for the buck. It’s meant to mix with other soils, so even in a large raised bed, it can go a long way. Keep in mind that heavily compacted soils will require more peat to loosen the soil than light, airy soils.
- Ingredients: Peat moss
- Quantity: 10 quarts
- Organic: Yes
- Provides ample drainage and aeration; ideal for treating compacted soils
- Also adds great moisture retention, which raised beds usually require
- Relatively affordable bag can go a long way in large raised beds
- Designed to me mixed with heavy soil; not meant to be used as a primary growing medium
Get the Hoffman peat moss at Amazon.
The Professional Grade Vermiculite by Ferry Morse contains a mix of vermiculite grades, fine to coarse, in one mix. However, it tends to contain more fine-grade particles, which makes a difference in the plants for which it works best—mostly plants that prefer a high moisture content. With the right soils, it can be used to improve aeration and keep plants well hydrated.
This vermiculite provides adequate moisture levels for seedlings, too. However, the fine grade doesn’t take much moisture to keep plants healthy. Gardeners need to know their plants and soil mixes well when using this vermiculite. In some cases, it can retain too much moisture for plants that are easily overwatered.
- Ingredients: Vermiculite grades
- Quantity: 8 quarts
- Organic: No
- Fine and coarse vermiculite can be added to other soils for a potent mix
- Suitable for seedlings and plants that prefer a high moisture content
- Can help promote aeration in more compacted soils
- May provide too much moisture for some plants
- Not meant to be the primary growing medium; should only be used as an amendment
Get the Ferry Morse vermiculite at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or Ferry Morse.
Coast of Maine Organic & Natural Mix nourishes plants with natural ingredients designed for plants meant for human consumption. That doesn’t mean it can’t work well for flowers and inedibles, but when it comes to vegetables, organic ingredients assure top nutrients. It’s OMRI listed, providing an extra layer of assurance that ingredients meet requirements to qualify as natural and organic.
This raised bed mix contains fully cured compost, dehydrated poultry manure, sphagnum peat moss, biochar, worm castings, lobster and crab shell meal, greensand, and mycorrhizae.
A wide and varied mix of ingredients balances pH and provides nutrients for an equally diverse range of plants. Keep in mind that this soil is designed specifically for outdoor raised beds. It’s not one to use with indoor potted plants because it won’t provide the right moisture retention or nutrients.
- Ingredients: Fully cured compost, sphagnum peat moss, dehydrated poultry manure, lobster and crab shell meal, greensand, biochar, worm castings and mycorrhizae
- Quantity: 1 cubic foot
- Organic: Yes
- Specially designed for outdoor raised garden beds
- Balanced pH is safe to use for vegetables, fruits, plants, and flowers
- OMRI listed for guaranteed natural and organic materials
- Website has a handy calculator for how much users need for their space
- Moisture retention and nutrients not suitable for indoor use or potted plants
Get the Coast of Maine soil mix at Amazon, The Home Depot, Target, or Coast of Maine.
The OMRI-certified Miracle-Gro raised bed soil mix provides organic matter needed for good drainage while growing flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruits. The raised bed soil requires no mixing. Designed specifically for raised beds, this mixture helps keep pests and weeds under control.
The premixed blend comes in 1.5 cubic foot bags. It takes about three bags to fill a 2-foot by 2-foot bed that is 1 foot high.
- Ingredients: Sphagnum peat moss, compost, worm castings, alfalfa and kelp meal
- Quantity: 1.5 cubic feet
- Organic: Yes
- Premixed bag is specially formulated for raised bed gardens
- Mixture can help control weeds and pests
- Certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute
- Does not control moisture as well as other options
Get the Miracle-Gro soil at Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, or Tractor Supply Co.
What to Consider When Choosing Soil for Raised Beds
Growing flowers and food in a raised garden bed differs from growing them directly in the ground. Consider these key points before dumping dirt into your raised beds.
Raised Bed Height
Knowing the size of your raised bed garden will help you determine how much soil you will need to fill it. Thankfully, there are plenty of useful calculators that can help with this task, taking into account shape and dimensions. In general, the taller the raised bed, the more raised bed soil you’ll need.
Taller raised beds or tabletop designs can eliminate back strain and make gardening more comfortable. Alternatively, you can fill the bottom of a tall ground level bed with filler like dead leaves or cardboard to minimize the amount of raised bed soil mix you’ll need.
Plant Type and Root Depth
The plants grown in the garden will determine the best raised bed soil depth needed for optimum growth. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to build a raised bed that’s at least 6 inches deep. This depth allows for drainage and retains moisture at levels needed for many common crops. However, some plants have deeper roots than others. For example, 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 the growing space keeps weeds at bay and the soil warm and prevents compaction. Gardeners also get to start with pristine, neutral-pH soil. However, if you’re using previously used soil, do a soil test to determine whether you need any amendments or fertilizer to renew the nutrients.
Many gardeners have tried-and-true soil mix recipes, but in general, it’s best to avoid settling for uber-cheap bags of raised bed soil. A good soil mix contains topsoil, a small amount of substrate, and a significant amount of compost, which contains nutrients that improve soil conditions.
The least expensive bags of soil are usually low quality and full of weed seed, debris, and other nasty contaminants. They’re also unlikely to contain many valuable nutrients.
Topsoil is basically filler soil needed for everything from raised bed gardening to indoor potted plants. It makes up the bulk of most raised bed soil mixes. It’s not very rich in nutrients but is a necessary component that contains organic matter.
The substrate makes up a small percentage of the raised bed soil mix but is extremely important. It helps control moisture content, which is key in a raised bed. Some of the substrates that might appear in soil mixes include peat moss, rock phosphate, vermiculite, perlite, and coco coir. Again, the type of plants you choose to grow will help determine the appropriate substrate to support them.
Be careful to avoid adding too much peat moss, which can increase the acidity of the 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 a fluffy, moisture-retaining growing medium.
Compost from multiple sources is best because it provides a wide variety of nutrients. It can even come from your own backyard pile that consists of leaves, grass clippings, and other yard waste.
In the world of soil, the term “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 but is also free of contaminants. When the terms are used in this way, the term “nonorganic” doesn’t mean synthetic fillers or chemicals; it means that the substances are not nor have they ever been alive.
However, the term “organic” can also mean free of synthetic chemicals and pesticides. The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) covers farm practices, including soils and other substances applied to crops like organic fertilizer. In addition, the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), a volunteer organization, lists products that organic farmers can use to produce food. Both the NOP or OMRI list possible soils, amendments, and fertilizers that can be used and still maintain an “organic” garden.
Topsoil isn’t the same as garden soil. As the name suggests, it’s the top layer of soil. This general-purpose soil is ideal for filling in garden beds or preparing a bare lawn for growth.
It’s not very nutrient-rich, but it contains 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 the topsoil in first since this soil makes a great base layer and filler. Then cover the topsoil with a more nutrient-rich mix of compost, peat moss, and substrates that will nourish the plants.
The best raised bed soils contain nutrients that fuel growth. Organic, natural fertilizers include compost, sea kelp, and worm castings. These fertilizers enhance the quality and condition of the soil without you having to worry about contamination. The slow-release properties of organic fertilizers prevent potentially harmful buildup and ensure that your plants aren’t harmed by a flood of nutrients all at once.
Some raised bed 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.
If you still have concerns about filling your raised beds with the best soil, here are the answers to a few common questions about soil for raised beds.
Q. How many soil bags do I need for a raised bed?
It depends entirely on the size and shape of the raised bed. If you know your garden bed’s dimensions, you can plug them into a soil calculator to find out how much you need.
Q. How do you prepare soil for a raised bed?
If you’re buying potting soil in bags, it’s typically premixed, so there’s not much to do other than water it before planting. Topsoils that act as fillers require you to layer substrate and/or compost on top. Once you’ve done that, it’s all about water. Watering the soil prior to planting, using either a watering can or a garden hose, ensures your plants have enough moisture to start growing.
Q. Is topsoil good for a raised bed?
A topsoil product is a great filler, but it’s not designed to be the main nutritive soil in a raised bed. The plants need nutrients, and topsoil is not rich in organic matter like compost or potting soils.
Q. Can I use only compost for a raised bed?
Yes. In fact, the Square Foot Gardening Foundation recommends a compost-only option for gardeners on a budget or those who don’t have access to other mix-ins. However, while this can be cheaper (if you have access to free compost), the soil in a compost-only bed can become compacted.
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