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Buying "potting soil" from a store can be a sorry experience. You're doing it simply on faith. Unfortunately, even reputable nurseries can sell soil that can stifle, rather than enhance, plant growth.

A family member found this out the hard way. She planted tomato seeds in the alleged potting soil purchased from a top nursery, only to have her plants sit there doing nothing. They didn't have the usual growth and, when they were planted outside, five turned yellow and died.

This normally green thumb gardener couldn't bear the sad results. She paid $22 to have the soil analyzed and--wow--was it bad! Extreme deficiencies in the three major elements (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) and an overabundance of sulphates. In other words, the soil was poisoning her plants!

The nursery was bringing in the soil from a supposedly reliable supplier from another province. It's hard to believe that a company that makes its living selling soil would be selling poison!

Unfortunately, there's little you can do except to buy soil, use it and see if it produces good results. Or you can sterilize your own soil by cooking it in the oven and enduring the stench that will permeate the house.

Or just buy a soilless mixture of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite (or some similar mixture). Then simply water with soluble fertilizers once your plants have produced four leaves.

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