Horticultural Charcoal vs Activated Charcoal: Best To Worst

Horticulture Charcoal and Activated Charcoal might appear similar but they are used for different purposes and offer unique benefits. Here is the key difference between the two!

Gardening is a therapeutic and satisfying activity that requires careful attention to detail. Every aspect of gardening, from plant selection to soil composition, plays a crucial role in ensuring successful growth and development.

One such aspect that is gaining popularity in the gardening world is the use of charcoal. Charcoal has been used in gardening for decades due to its numerous benefits.

However, with the introduction of different types of charcoal, it has become increasingly challenging to choose the right one.

This article aims to compare Horticultural Charcoal vs Activated Charcoal, two popular types of charcoal, to help you make the right choice for your garden.

Understanding the Role of Charcoal in Gardening

Charcoal is a form of carbon that has a high surface area and a porous structure.

This structure lets it absorb and retain moisture, nutrients, and other essential elements that plants need to grow properly.

Charcoal also has a neutral pH level, which means it does not affect the acidity or alkalinity of the soil.

When added to soil, charcoal acts as a sponge, absorbing excess water and releasing it slowly over time. This helps to prevent waterlogging (overwatering) and improves soil aeration.

Charcoal also absorbs and retains nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential for plant growth.

As a result, plants grown in soil enriched with charcoal tend to be healthier, more robust, and more resistant to disease.

The Science Behind Charcoal’s Role in Plant Growth

The science behind charcoal’s role in plant growth is fascinating. As mentioned earlier, charcoal has a high surface area and unique structure, making it an excellent addition to soil.

When added to soil, charcoal acts as a reservoir, holding onto water and nutrients and releasing them slowly over time.

This helps create a more stable soil environment, which is essential for healthy plant growth.

Charcoal also improves soil structure by increasing its porosity and water-holding capacity. This makes it easier for plant roots to penetrate the soil and access nutrients.

Furthermore, charcoal provides a habitat for beneficial soil microbes, which help to break down organic matter, release nutrients, and improve soil health.

Research has shown that plants grown in charcoal-rich soil tend to be healthier, more robust, and more disease-resistant.

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In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural Science, researchers found that adding charcoal to soil increased plant growth, biomass production, and nutrient uptake.

Another study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that charcoal reduced the impact of soil-borne pathogens on plant growth.

Benefits of Using Charcoal in Gardening

The benefits of using charcoal in gardening are numerous. Here are some of the main advantages:

1. Improved soil structure

Charcoal improves soil structure by increasing its porosity and water-holding capacity. This, in turn, improves soil aeration, making it easier for plant roots to penetrate the soil and access nutrients.

2. Enhanced nutrient retention

Charcoal has a high cation-exchange capacity (CEC), which means it can hold onto positively charged ions such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

This helps to prevent these nutrients from leaching out of the soil thus making them more available to plants.

3. Increased microbial activity

Charcoal is a habitat for beneficial soil microbes such as bacteria and fungi. These microbes help to break down organic matter, release nutrients, and improve soil health.

4. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions

When organic matter decomposes in the soil, it releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Adding charcoal to soil can sequester carbon, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change.

Horticultural Charcoal Explained

Horticultural charcoal, also known as biochar, is a type of charcoal that is specifically designed for use in gardening.

Organic Horticultural Charcoal & Terrarium Charcoal | Charcoal for Plants | Pure Hardwood Charcoal for Planting and Gardening | (4 Quart)

It is made from burning organic materials such as wood chips, sawdust, and agricultural waste at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen.

Horticultural charcoal is a stable form of carbon that has a porous structure.

The pores in the charcoal act as a sponge, absorbing and holding moisture, nutrients, and other essential elements required for plant growth.

Horticultural charcoal also helps to improve soil structure, increase soil fertility, and reduce soil-borne diseases.

Activated Charcoal Explained

Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon, is a highly porous form of charcoal created by heating charcoal in the presence of a gas.

Anthony's Activated Charcoal, 1 lb, Made in USA, Ultra Fine, Gluten Free & Food Grade

This results in the charcoal developing pores or internal spaces. These pores increase the surface area of the charcoal, making it highly effective in adsorbing toxins and impurities.

Activated charcoal is commonly used in water filtration systems, air purifiers, and as a detoxifying agent in medicine.

However, in gardening, activated charcoal removes impurities from the soil, such as toxins and heavy metals.

Horticultural Charcoal vs Activated Charcoal: A Detailed Comparison

Horticultural Charcoal Activated Charcoal
PurposeBeneficial to soil quality and water retention; primary application is gardening and horticulture.Used frequently for gas reduction, water purification, tooth bleaching, and a host of other reasons.
ProcessingIt differs from activated charcoal in that it is often manufactured from hardwood and undergoes fewer processing steps.This is accomplished by subjecting it to a unique procedure involving heating in the presence of gas, which results in the formation of additional internal spaces or “pores” that might ensnare chemicals or toxins.
PorosityBeneficial to soil quality and water retention; the primary application is gardening and horticulture.Extensively porous, thus it can trap and absorb a large variety of contaminants and chemicals.
CostCosting less than activated charcoal in most cases.Costlier because more work needs to be put in to make it usable.
AvailibilityActivated charcoal’s less porous counterpart. The reduced surface area offers fewer opportunities for chemical or adsorption reactions.Can be found in many local and online drugstores, health food stores, and supermarkets.

Horticultural charcoal and activated charcoal are two popular types of charcoal used in gardening.

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While they may appear similar, they have distinct differences that make them suitable for different purposes.


Horticultural charcoal offers numerous benefits to your garden, including improved soil fertility, moisture retention, and soil structure.

It also helps to reduce soil-borne diseases and promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms.

On the other hand, activated charcoal helps remove impurities from the soil, improve soil aeration and drainage, and regulate soil pH.

It is particularly useful in urban areas where soil contamination is common.


Horticultural charcoal is typically used as a soil amendment, mixed into the soil to improve its quality. It can also be used as a top dressing around plants to retain moisture and nutrients.

Activated charcoal is typically used as a soil additive, mixed into the soil to remove impurities and toxins. It can also be used in compost bins to reduce odors and improve compost quality.

Choosing the Right Type of Charcoal for Your Garden

  • Consider a few things when choosing between horticultural charcoal and activated charcoal for your garden.
  • For example, if you want to improve soil structure and increase soil fertility, horticultural charcoal may be your best choice.
  • On the other hand, activated charcoal may be the better choice to remove toxins and improve soil quality.
  • You may also want to consider cost and availability when making your decision.

How to Use Horticultural and Activated Charcoal in Your Garden

Mix horticultural charcoal in your garden into the soil at a rate of 10-20% by volume. You can also use it as a top dressing around plants to retain moisture and nutrients.

Horticultural charcoal can also be added to compost bins to improve the quality of your compost.

To use activated charcoal in your garden, mix it into the soil at 1-2 cups per square foot.

For best results, mix the activated charcoal into the soil before planting. Activated charcoal can also be used in compost bins to reduce odors and improve compost quality.

Common Misconceptions about Using Charcoal in Gardening

Despite its many benefits, some common misconceptions about using charcoal in gardening exist. Here are a few of the most common ones:

1. Charcoal Makes soil too alkaline

This is a common misconception, but it is not true. Charcoal has a neutral pH level, meaning it does not affect soil acidity or alkalinity.

2. Charcoal Contains Harmful Chemicals

This is also not true. Charcoal is a natural substance that is produced by burning organic materials in the absence of oxygen.

As long as you use high-quality, food-grade charcoal, you should not have to worry about harmful chemicals.

3. Charcoal Attracts Pests

This is another myth. Charcoal does not attract pests any more than regular soil does.

Does horticulture charcoal help prevent plant root rot?

Horticultural charcoal has been used for centuries as a reliable and effective method of promoting plant health.

Adding a layer of this organic material to your plant’s pot or planter has numerous benefits that can help ensure the longevity of your greenery.

The use of horticultural charcoal is a natural way to soak up any excess water that may accumulate around the roots of the plant.

This creates an environment that is less hospitable to harmful bacterial and fungal growth. The charcoal itself acts as a barrier, shielding the soil from the rot that can hinder the growth and development of your plant.

Do you need to rinse activated charcoal?

You can rinse the activated carbon with filtered water to remove any small dust particles.

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However, it is recommended to avoid tap water as it may contain chemicals that can be absorbed into the charcoal. After rinsing, make sure to use the charcoal immediately for the best results!

Can you make horticulture charcoal at home?

Biochar, or horticulture charcoal, can be created at home. However, the procedure calls for caution and focus because the fire will be involved. The process for creating it is as follows:


  • Hardwood material that has been allowed to dry out, such as branches, twigs, or old timber.
  • A metal barrel or other suitable container, in which to burn the wood.
  • Origin of Water: This is for putting out the fire in a controlled manner.
  • Tools for controlling the fire and manipulating the charcoal are a shovel and tongs.


  • Get out of the house and away from anything that could catch fire.
  • Load up that metal barrel with some dry hardwood scraps.
  • Get the fire going with the wood. Charcoal will form as the substance burns.
  • The fire should be put out when most of the wood has been reduced to charcoal (often when it is burning and covered in a coating of white ash).
  • Put out the fire by slowly filling the barrel with water. A word of caution: steam.
  • Wait until the charcoal is completely cool to use.
  • Gather the shovel and tongs and empty the barrel of charcoal. Use a hammer or something similar to smash it into smaller bits. For horticultural purposes, the pieces should be no more than an inch in size.
  • Remove any ash or dust from the charcoal by giving it a good rinse.

Before you use it in your garden or store it, make sure the charcoal has dried fully.

Always use caution when working with fire, and make sure you’re in a well-ventilated place apart from anything that could catch fire. You can use the resulting charcoal to enrich the soil in your garden.

The resulting charcoal, while still useful, will be less porous and more akin to horticulture charcoal than activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal requires more time and energy to produce since it must be heated to extremely high temperatures in a controlled atmosphere with very particular gases in order to be “activated.”

This procedure raises the charcoal’s adsorption capacity by increasing its interior surface area. It’s not practical to try this at home too often.

horticulture charcoal vs activated charcoal FAQs

Q: Is horticulture charcoal an acceptable substitute for activated charcoal?

It is situationally dependent. Horticultural charcoal is ideal for gardening since it enhances soil quality and keeps moisture in.

However, activated charcoal is required in medical or industrial applications where the absorption of poisons or impurities is required due to its greater porosity.

Q: does activated charcoal, not harm vegetation?

Yes, activated charcoal can be used in the same way as horticulture charcoal without harming your plants.

However, it is often retained for other uses due to its expensive price and high absorbency.

Q: Is activated charcoal suitable for aquarium filtration?

Absolutely. Activated charcoal does a great job of purifying water, making it ideal for use in aquariums.

It is useful for filtering out numerous contaminants, including some potentially dangerous compounds.

Q: Can you use charcoal for horticulture in a terrarium?

A resounding “yes” to the usage of horticultural charcoal in terrariums.

It prevents the growth of germs and fungi and helps keep the soil dry and aerated.

Q: When compared to horticulture charcoal, activated charcoal is more expensive for five reasons.

Activated charcoal is more expensive since its production requires more time and energy than that of regular charcoal.

Charcoal’s porosity is increased during the activation process, allowing it to adsorb more chemicals and toxins.

Wrapping Up

Both horticultural charcoal and activated charcoal have benefits for your garden. When choosing between the two, consider your specific needs and goals.

Horticultural charcoal may be a good option for you if you want to enhance your soil’s fertility and structure.

However, activated charcoal may be the better option for you if you are looking to improve soil quality by removing toxins and heavy metals.

Regardless of which type of charcoal you choose, adding charcoal to your garden can help to improve soil quality and promote healthy plant growth.