Stop Throwing Out Old Potting Soil


Does Mother Nature throw out all the soil on the earth and go to the store to so she can start over with fresh soil every Spring? Of course not.

So why do we?

Gone are the days when I throw out old potting soil in the spring.

Now, revitalizing my existing soil is part of my Spring Garden Chores and it’s so simple – I’m surprised more people don’t do it.

With the increase in available information about good gardening practices including composting and accepted traditions such as hugelkultur, I have to believe that annually throwing out potting soil will become a thing of the past. Like the old saying goes when you know better you do better.

My process is pretty simple.

First, I cut down any old plant material and then I snip it into bite-size pieces. Just pretend you’re making a salad with those old stems and leaves.


Next, I usually remove about half of the garden soil from the container. A main reason I remove about half the soil from my containers every spring is so that I have room to add in new plant material without dirt spilling over the top of the containers.

I’ll break this material up as much as possible – it’s usually pretty root-bound on that top layer of my containers.

Today we are working on the kitchen garden beds. I like to use old recycling bins for my surplus soil storage.

Here’s a bin full of dried garden material from last fall (it’s all dried herbs from my kitchen garden) along with the soil from the top level of the container. That old garden material is about to get snipped into little pieces and mixed back into the soil… dust to dust, baby.


Next, I’ll add some perlite to keep the soil light and aerated for better decomposition and organism habitat.

I get my perlite extra coarse and in these ginomous bags from Amazon. (affiliate link)

Why do I get such a big bag?

Twofold – First, it’s super cheap online like this so definitely worth going big.

Second, it reminds me that I should be filling a third of my containers with this stuff. It changes the mentality from scarcity to “hey – we got plenty – fill ’em up!


Why perlite?

Well, perlite is fantastic for a number of reasons.

Even though it looks like those little styrofoam balls and it’s super light-weight like styrofoam balls – it is not styrofoam.  It’s actually volcanic glass.

Less important than understanding fully what it is – let’s get onboard with what it does.

First, since perlite is light-weight, it makes your soil lighter and fluffier.  Amen to that.

Second, that lightness means your soil can have more air pockets and air pockets make roots happy. And happy roots make happy plants. It’s like when your mom bought your tennis shoes a size up so that you’d have room to grow.  (Thanks Mom!)

Third, perlite makes your soil drain better and drainage means that you won’t have disgusting rot issues or disease issues that accompany water-logged plants. Yuck.

Finally, perlite doesn’t hurt anything. (You can’t say that about many things in the garden). You simply can’t wreck your garden bed with perlite.

You might not understand what fertilizer to buy.

You might not care whether it’s organic or not (it is organic, by the way).

You might not believe that roundup and other chemicals are not good for the planet.

But – you can get on the perlite bandwagon and I guarantee you and your plants will be happy with the results.

Here the boys are getting the old plant material and about half the soil out of last year’s bed – filling the old blue recycle bin (that is very apropos, don’t you think?)

Next, they’ll top the whole thing off with perlite (about 30%) and mix it in really well.


I also have them add more perlite to what is left in the old beds to get them ready for this year.

Now the beds are ready to go and they look fantastic. The light, fluffy soil (Thanks perlite!) makes planting so dang easy.


Finally, I’ll continue to add organic matter and compost to the recycle bin throughout the season. I’ll add things like egg shells, coffee grounds, loads of leaves, big-time rotting pieces of wood from nature walks, and other food scraps.

All of this organic matter and compost gets occasionally mixed throughout the summer and it makes for perfectly viable gardening soil that is readily available when you need it.

Note: The old blue recycling bins have drain holes in the bottom. And, the bins do not have lids so the soil is exposed to the elements and the bins allow me to transport the soil to containers all over the property when needed.

Ok – enough about soil…

Now for a bunny update.

Just like last year, we discovered a baby bunny nest in the far left kitchen garden bed. So now that one will have to wait to be prepared until those little guys have hopped away. A few jumped out of course when we began working and the boys found one hiding behind some the the deck furniture. We’re leaving them be. They’re so little!IMG_3940Resized

Still growing...

Jennifer Ebeling
Jennifer Ebeling is a proud Minnesotan and U of MN alumni. Gooooooo Gophers! Each week, Jennifer produces and hosts Still Growing - a gardening podcast dedicated to helping you and your garden grow. The show is an in-depth interview format. Guests featured on the show share a passion for gardening and include authors, bloggers, professional gardeners, etc. Listeners and guests of the show can join the Still Growing community on Facebook. It's a place to ask questions, share garden stories, interact with great guests featured on the show, and continue to grow and learn. Jennifer and her husband Philip have four children, a big golden lab named Sonny, and live in lovely Maple Grove, Minnesota. P.S. When she's not teaching her four kids a new card game - or teaching them how to drive a car - Jennifer loves inspiring individuals and groups to maximize and personalize their home & garden.
Jennifer Ebeling
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1 Comment

  1. Garden Project 1: Retaining Wall Repair - 6ftmama on February 14, 2017 at 11:06 am

    […] I like to plant them high and dry – usually along the rock borders in the garden – and with lots of perlite in the soil.  You can read about my love for perlite in this post. […]

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