Miniature Garden Tutorials: The Dirt on the Soil

Posted by Janit Calvo on

Miniature Garden Tutorials from the Expert, Janit Calvo

Miniature Garden Tutorials: The Dirt on the Soil

One of the challenges over the years with bringing the miniature garden hobby out into the open and finding ways to share it with the rest of the world, is that it attracts a wide variety of people. And why wouldn’t it?

Miniature gardening is quite possibly the most accessible and versatile way to garden. Everyone young or old, rural or urban, experienced gardeners or those brand new to gardening, are finding out that miniature gardening is not tied to any financial, geographic or physical condition. A miniature garden can be any size, be placed anywhere and anytime: it's a hobby that you can enjoy year-round.

Anyone that is willing can find something to enjoy about miniature gardening in some form or another.

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So, to get you started into the world's best hobby, this is the beginning of a series of blogs that will answer the questions that are asked frequently and might answer questions that you don’t even know to ask yet! 

Let’s get started:

What is the difference between soil and dirt?

Soil is alive. Dirt is dead. You can see the difference. Soil is dark, rich and full of organic matter. Dirt is the lifeless, gray sandy stuff between the cracks in the sidewalk.

Can I use the soil from my garden bed in my container?

No. Use potting soil for your containers. Soil from your garden bed will not work. 

Potting soil has everything that a plant needs to keep the plant healthy in a contained environment. Different kinds of plants like particular types of potting soil mixes but for our purposes of miniature gardening, most of the plants we use need a regular organic potting soil. 

Examples of different potting soils include cactus soil. Cacti are plants that like their roots dry and will it need a sharper-draining potting soil so the water won't stay around the roots for too long. Plants that thrive on moisture, like the miniature African Violets, need constant moisture around its roots so there is usually more peat moss in that kind of specialty soil mix for African Violets.


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What kind of soil do I use for my miniature garden plants?

Our miniature garden plants prefer regular organic potting soil. You can add a hand full or two of vermiculite or perlite for extra drainage if you don't see enough of it in your potting soil - it's the white or off-white bits that are peppered throughout the soil and the amount you add to it should look peppered as well. The vermiculite/perlite keeps the soil from compacting and allows the soil to drain away the water more efficiently.

If the plant needs a special kind of soil, you'll usually find the soil information is noted on the plant’s care instructions on the tag.

Find your potting soil at your local independent garden center. Stay away from the potting soils that include fertilizer or added polymers (the stuff the keeps the moisture in,) and stay away from any kind of Miracle Gro soil. It kills our miniature garden plants.

Do I add soil in my garden bed before I plant?

There are different types of garden soil in your garden bed depending upon where you live. It could be sandy, loamy or heavy clay, for example. There are also different ways to amend the garden soil so the best, easiest and most direct way to find if your garden soil is good enough for planting in, is to either ask your gardener-neighbor, or take a soil sample into your local independent garden center and they can tell you all about your garden soil. 

Note that there are easier ways to amend an entire garden bed or build a new bed, we'll cover that in this series too. 


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When do I fertilize?

There is usually enough nutrients in fresh potting soil to feed the plants for at least TWO years before needed any extra fertilizer. After the two years, fertilize with a gentle time-release fertilizer once in early spring and again in mid summer. 

Conifers planted in the ground will not need any fertilizer, they have the ability to find their own nutrients if your garden soil has a good mix of compost.

Stay Tuned for what’s up next: Miniature Garden Tutorials: Indoor vs. Outdoor

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  • Hi Debbie, Whenever I get an email that someone’s miniature garden plants have gone south quickly, they’ve used Miracle Gro soil, which has too much fertilizer in it for our plants. Also, Scott’s is the parent company of Miracle Gro and is “in bed” with Monsanto Corp., the exclusive agent of Round-Up which we are finding traces of in our own bodies now – it’s been used for decades all over the world too. The line of Miracle Gro products is made up of chemicals and synthetics which we do not need in our water-tables nor in our food chain. You’ll also find that Scott’s also sponsors major garden groups, shows and associations – in other words, they are paying the pros to keep quiet – which is truly evil, imho. We love Super Thrive:

    Janit Calvo on

  • I was so surprised to read that you don’t reccomend Miracle Grow. I use that for all my potted plants as well as fairy gardens. I have never had a problem! What’s wrong in your eyes with Miracle Grow?

    Debbie on

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