Soil is where it all begins. It is the origin of many of our most loved indoor plants. Yet, at the same time, the world of soil can be intimidating (internal monologue: what even is LECA, what is a substrate, what am I doing wrong?!). Cue Taylor from Plant Apothecary, who is on a mission to change that – she’s here to demystify the wonderful world of soils. Offering her ready-mixed soil kits and live sphagnum moss on our online store was a no-brainer, but what more could we learn from her? What got her into soils in the first place? What do plant parents need to know about soil? (And what do cacti and ferns have to do with it?).
The cactus vs fern analogy
It might be a step too far to call Taylor a soil mixologist, but she certainly knows her way around dirt, substrate, and LECA balls (more about those later). Reluctant to talk in unnecessary jargon, Taylor prefers simple and tangible analogies (love that).
We started our chat talking about soil mixes, and Taylor had an amazing way of explaining why different plants need different types of soil.
“Let’s start by thinking of a fern in its natural habitat. Where exactly does it grow? Somewhere damp, probably thick with trees. Maybe the fern is even co-existing with some fungus, shaded by luscious leaves.
Next, let’s think about a cactus. A cactus might grow next to a bunch of sun-baked rocks, rooting in the shifting sand, encountering almost no rain or animals.
Their homes are obviously very different: where they live and what they grow in are different. And even when we take them out of their natural environments, where they come from hasn’t changed.
So, if we want to encourage these plants to survive outside of their natural environments, then we need to give them something that feels like home. By mixing the right soil we are giving them a growing environment that comes naturally to them.
Put simply, what a fern needs is not what a cactus needs, and the soil you pot them in should reflect that”.
What is a soil mix?
A soil mix is just that: a composite (mixture) of multiple elements, a combination of dirt (earth) and other elements such as shells, LECA (the helpfully named Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate) balls; or just clay balls, orchid bark etc.
You can break soil down into two parts:
1. Compost: this is the soil/dirt, itself a mixture of decomposed organic substances, loaded with nutrients, and the basis of most substrates
2. Additives: these can be organic or inorganic, and their main function is usually to provide something other than nourishment to the roots. These functions can be as varied as moisture control, oxygenation, pH balance, or even just to add weight to the mix. So, when you add things, what you are doing is breaking up what otherwise would be just dense dirt. Soil has the tendency to pack up and you usually don’t want it to clump into a solid mass, as you need it to act as a welcome home for each type of root system.
- Coco coir
- Orchid bark
- Sphagnum moss
- Clay (LECA) balls
Mixing soils is like cooking, you can experiment and have fun, playing around with ratios and ingredients. The key to a great soil mix is mixing one up that is going to work for the plant in question, and understanding that what may work for one plant, may kill another. In contrast, preparing terrariums is more like baking in that the ingredients have been decided and ratioed out, and playing with the recipe can distort the desired outcome.
Taylor tip: “Approach soil mixing like cooking: you have recipes, and you can follow them, but there is also room for improvisation, personal preference, and experimentation”.
Why soil matters
It seems rather obvious to say it, but the soil that your plants sit in is a vital source of nutrients. The soil literally holds the roots of your plants and it will impact how much your plant growths and thrives (or doesn’t). One of the main issues that indoor plant parents have is having a soil mix that is too dense and does not allow for drainage. Combine this with planters that do not have a drainage hole at the bottom, and it is no surprise that the most common cause of death for indoor plants is overwatering (one of the reasons our planters were designed with good drainage).
Taylor tip: Understanding soil types will help you match the soil to the plant.
The idea behind Plant Apothecary soils
Taylor mixes up substrates and soils so that you don’t have to!
Taylor’s Plant Apothecary brand is all about making plant care fun and not intimidating.
Taylor’s Plant Apothecary has its origins in Reddit’s r/soils thread: this is where Taylor first went hunting for information on soils. Like many plant parents, Taylor got serious about plants during Covid, ending up with 100s of plants.
She started off slowly by making her own soil concoctions, enjoying the tangible nature of soil mixing, giving small bags to her friends who encouraged her to make a business out of it.
Slowly, Taylor’s potting kits started to sell, and she was quickly known as the plant and soil lady.
“A big part of this for me is the well-being aspect. Taking care of something else helps you take care of yourself: this for me is a big part of the joy of plants. It is a kind of physical catharsis, where it is not just about the plant, but also you.”
There is something about putting your hands into soil that is very satisfying. It is about connecting with the earth, with the plants, with ourselves. Soil mixing can be really therapeutic!
What can you do to embrace plant soils?
Taylor is adamant about demystifying plant care: “I don’t like jargon or gatekeeping.
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as“houseplant soil”, but with a bit of base knowledge you can play around with different types of substrates and get the basics of ratios to create something really good. Don’t be intimidated by the jargon.
You will get better over time, and it will improve. Make yourself some mini recipes, start with three different additives and then keep mixing and changing.”
Don’t take soil so seriously. Have fun, play around with it. Get your hands on a good soil mix and see what is in it, read the Plant Apothecary blog, or try making your own. Soil is for everyone!
“Behind every gardener are a lot of dead plants”
Last bit of Taylor wisdom: “Don’t limit yourself and don’t think that you cannot buy or handle a specific plant. Because you know, behind every gardener are a lot of dead plants”. Hear hear!