Soil Compaction in Pots: Prevention and Tips to Loosen Soil

Soil Compaction in Pots Prevention and Tips to Loosen Soil

Every gardener has gone through pots of compacted soil. Without proper intervention, this can prevent your plant from getting adequate nutrients, air, and water. 

How then can you prevent soil compaction?

You can prevent soil compaction by using clay pots instead of plastic, making regular soil changes, using high-quality potting mix, aerating the soil, and controlling moisture carefully.

Want to know more? Let’s talk about what you need to know about soil compaction, from causes and effects to how difficult or easy the preventive measures for it are.

What is soil compaction?

What is soil compaction
Image: Department of Agriculture and Food

Soil compaction is when soil particles compress, reducing the amount of pore space available. 

It’s a common occurrence in potted plants that can be caused by using old or wrong soil types, excessive watering, poor drainage, and too much sunlight.

What causes compact soil? 

What causes compact soil
Image: Roman Synkevych 🇺🇦 on Unsplash

Soil can become compacted over time due to a number of things, including using the old or wrong soil types, excessive watering, poor drainage, and too much sunlight.

While these factors can individually cause compaction, it’s more often a combination of these that leads to soil compressing over time.

To give you a better idea of how this happens, let’s look at each one in detail.

1. Old soil

Old soil
Image: George Becker on Pexels

When was the last time you purchased a new potting mix for your plants? If you can’t remember when, then it’d be best to take that as a sign to put your plant in a pot of fresh potting soil or mix.

Old soil has been through a lot – uncountable waterings, doses of fertilizer, piles of compost, and more. 

Over time, this can cause congestion in the soil. As air pockets diminish, it’s easier for the soil to compress and become compacted.

2. Wrong soil type

Wrong soil type
Image: cottonbro studio on Pexels

Using the wrong type of soil can increase the likelihood of it compacting over time. This is because different soil mixtures are specifically created for certain environments.

For example, it’s improper to use garden soil for potted plants because it doesn’t contain any aerating materials such as perlite or vermiculite. This is because garden soil already has natural aerators such as worms which help loosen it up.

Instead, it’s best to use potting mix for potted plants because it has the necessary ingredients to compensate for the lack of natural aerators.

3. Excessive water and inadequate drainage

Excessive water and inadequate drainage
Image: cottonbro studio on Pexels

Excessive rainfall or improper irrigation or watering can also cause the soil to compact, especially if there’s inadequate drainage.

Because there’s nowhere for the extra water to go, it remains in the pot. A pot that’s full of water will create compaction as there’s no space for air and oxygen to circulate.

As a result, it’ll cause the soil to become heavy and press down on itself. Over time, you’ll notice the soil begin to compress and the water will have a harder time penetrating the soil.

4. Too much heat

Too much heat
Image: Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

If your potted plant is outside or sitting in an area that receives too much sunlight, this could cause the beneficial microbes in the soil to either become dormant or die. 

Aside from that, the soil loses more moisture than it can retain. High temperatures can impede the uptake of water and nutrients, which can cause the plant to get stressed.

As a result, the soil begins to compact as there’s little material, in other words, microbes and moisture, taking up space in the soil.

What are the cons of compacted soil?

What are the cons of compacted soil
Image: Glen Carrie on Unsplash

The downsides of compacted soil are that it causes poor root development, inadequate absorption of nutrients, and insufficient aeration, all of which inhibit proper growth and development.

Even then, soil compaction can be good, in a way. After all, it helps to strengthen your soil. 

However, as we’ve already noted, too much compaction is a big mistake as it can cause several problems in the long run. Here are a few risks that may arise if you leave your soil compacted for too long:

1. Poor root development and reduced growth

Poor root development and reduced growth
Image: Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

Plants need enough space to develop without any hitches. However, compacted soil hinders growth because there isn’t enough space for the roots to move.

If prolonged, your plant will have no other choice but to coil its roots into a spiral, causing it to become rootbound. 

While this may seem rather normal to some, the lack of intervention could cause your plant to die. Since plants’ roots continue to grow, they’ll eventually get tangled and choke themselves to death.

2.  Inadequate absorption of nutrients

Inadequate absorption of nutrients
Image: Anna Tarazevich on Pexels

Soil compaction hinders the absorption of nutrients, water, and oxygen because there isn’t enough space for them to reach the plant. 

While your plant may get some nutrients, you won’t be able to see substantial improvements. 

This is because regardless of how much fertilizer you use, your plant won’t be able to absorb it properly in substantial amounts. 

 3. Insufficient aeration

Insufficient aeration
Image: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Insufficient aeration will inhibit your plant from getting enough oxygen, which it needs to properly sustain itself. 

Remember that a plant does to respire is combine the sugars made from photosynthesis with oxygen to create energy. 

Plants get oxygen not just through their leaves but also their roots. And without oxygen, a plant won’t have enough energy to properly develop and strengthen itself.

Apart from that, insufficient aeration will result in microbe death, which can make your plant more susceptible to diseases.

Poor air circulation also means that excess water will have nowhere to go. Constantly wet soil will increase vulnerability to root rot and diseases due to standing water.

What are the benefits of loosening soil or preventing compaction?

What are the benefits of loosening soil or preventing compaction
Image: Steven Weeks on Unsplash

The main benefits that your plant can get from having loose soil come from them getting proper aeration and space for nutrients, oxygen, and water to comfortably pass through.

This means that your plant won’t have to worry about working extra-hard to absorb any of the nutrients, oxygen, and water in the soil. 

Hence, it’s less stressed and entirely focused on sustaining its own growth and ensuring that it has a steady development. 

How do you test for compacted soil?

How do you test for compacted soil
Image: Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash

The main way you can test for compacted soil is to do a wire test, which evaluates the hardness of the soil by sticking a straight wire as deep as possible. Compacted soil will be difficult to penetrate, causing the wire to bend.

Since soil compaction happens inside, gardeners have no natural way of telling how compacted their pots really are without the use of diagnostic tools. The most popular tool is a penetrometer or a soil compaction tester. 

However, most gardeners don’t have a penetrometer laying around in their shed. Luckily, you can easily find out whether or not your soil is compacted by testing the hardness of the soil.

Since soil compaction typically happens in the middle and bottom portions of the pot, using the wire test will show how severe your compaction is. 

How do you do wire tests for soil compaction?

How do you do wire tests for soil compaction
Image: Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
DifficultyEasy
DurationLess than 5 minutes
Things You NeedStraight wire or chopstickFlag (optional)Pen
  1. Gently stick a straight wire flag or chopstick vertically into the soil. 

Continue pushing it deeper vertically into the soil until it can no longer penetrate through the soil.

It may be a bit difficult at first so ensure that you wiggle the wire or chopstick around a bit to loosen up the soil.

  1. Once your wire flag can no longer go any further, it’ll typically bend. Mark where the ground meets the wire flag or the chopstick.

This is so that when you pull it out, you have an idea of where the soil has begun to compact.

If you can’t penetrate the soil, this means that your soil is heavily compacted. Don’t try to poke holes with your wire flag or chopstick anymore as you could accidentally damage the plant’s roots. 

  1. Repeat the test in several different areas.

Why? Because there could be rocks and other material in the soil that’s blocking your wire flag or chopstick from going through.

Using a pen, continue to mark where the found meets the wire flag or the chopstick.

  1. If most areas seem to be compacted, dig up the soil to check compaction. 

If the soil is truly compacted, you’ll see that there are little to no pockets of space for nutrients, water, and air to circulate.

You may also notice that the roots of your plant are tangled up as it doesn’t have enough room to penetrate through the soil.

You can use a spade or shovel to slowly dig up the soil. Add a bit of water to loosen it up, too.

How do you prevent compacted soil in pots?

How do you prevent compacted soil in pots
Image: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Soil compaction in potted plants can be prevented by using clay pots instead of plastic ones, changing the soil periodically, using high-quality potting mix, aerating the soil, and controlling moisture.

Note that most of these can be applied to plants planted in the ground as well, e.g. aerating the soil and controlling moisture.

Read on to learn more about how applying these actions can create a more conducive growing environment for your plant.

1. Use clay pots instead of plastic pots

Use clay pots instead of plastic pots
Image: Vanessa Serpas on Unsplash
DifficultyNormal
Duration10 to 20 minutes
Things You NeedClay potPotting mixCatch pot or saucerWaterSpadeStick

How to Do It:

  1. For your new pot, choose one that’s about 1 to 2 inches larger than your previous one. This will lessen the likelihood of soil compaction as there’s more room.
  1. Next, construct your plant’s new clay pot by covering the drainage holes with porous materials. In other words, use something that doesn’t retain moisture to avoid standing water.

You can use a fine plastic mesh screen, coffee filter, landscape cloth, or rock slightly larger than the drainage hole.

  1. Lightly massage the pot with the plant still inside to get the soil loosened up. You can also use a stick and gently stick it through the soil, wiggling it around carefully so as not to injure the plant’s root system.
  1. Next, use a small spade to remove the loosened soil. 
  1. Afterward, turn the pot onto its side and massage the pot while slowly pulling out the plant. 

If there’s resistance, don’t forcefully pry out the plant. Instead, go back in with a stick and gently wiggle it around in different areas to loosen up the soil.

  1. Once you’ve got the plant out, massage the root ball. Remove all of the excess soil and uncoil any tight roots to allow for more room to grow in its new pot.

It’s possible that you may lose a couple of roots in the process. Don’t worry, though, as they’ll grow back.

Just continue being gentle and careful about your movements so as to avoid any additional injuries to the plant.

  1. Next, fill about ⅓ of your new clay pot with potting mix. Gently hold up your plant high enough so that the tip of its longest root is touching the first layer of soil.
  1. Continue to hold up your plant as you gradually fill the clay pot with more potting mix, making sure to fill in all the small nooks and crannies.
  1. Once you’ve filled up the entire pot and got your plant situated, lightly pat down the soil to set it all in place.
  1. Then, put your clay pot either in a catch pot or on top of a saucer so that there’s something to collect excess water.
  1. After, water your plant immediately as it’s currently going through a lot of stress after being transplanted. Water deeply until the excess begins to drain through the bottom holes. 

Don’t remove the residual water just yet as your plant could absorb this if it’s still thirsty. Hence, leave it alone for about 30 minutes.

Then, throw away the excess water.

  1. Situate your plant in an environment suitable to its needs.

Why It Works:

While plastic pots are lightweight and relatively more affordable, they come with a ton of cons. These include heat retention, health concerns, and poor durability, to name a few.

They’re also non-porous, which means that oxygen and moisture don’t have anywhere to go. As a result, plastic pots hold moisture for almost twice as long as clay planters.

Since the soil is constantly wet, there’s little air circulating freely. As established earlier, wet soil is more prone to compaction.

Aside from that, a moist environment makes your plant more susceptible to root rot and suffocation as there’s no oxygen to intake. 

Having mentioned all that, using a clay pot is the way to go because it’s porous enough to allow for proper air circulation and ample moisture retention.

2.  Change the soil periodically

Change the soil periodically
Image: GreenForce Staffing on Unsplash
DifficultyNormal
Duration10 to 20 minutes
Things You NeedClay potPotting mixCatch pot or saucerWaterSpadeStick

How to Do It:

  1. Before anything else, perform a wire test to see how compact your soil is. If your stick can easily penetrate the soil, then you can skip replacing the soil for a couple of months.

However, if your soil appears dry and hard, then it’s time to change it.

  1. For your new pot, choose one that’s about 1 to 2 inches larger than your previous one. This will lessen the likelihood of soil compaction as there’s more space.
  1. Next, construct your plant’s new pot by covering the drainage holes with porous materials. In other words, use something that doesn’t retain moisture to avoid standing water.

You can use a fine plastic mesh screen, coffee filter, landscape cloth, or rock slightly larger than the drainage hole.

  1. Lightly massage the pot with the plant still inside to get the soil loosened up. You can also use a stick and gently stick it through the soil, wiggling it around carefully so as not to injure the plant’s root system.
  1. Next, use a small spade to remove the loosened soil. 
  1. Afterward, turn the pot onto its side and massage the pot while slowly pulling out the plant. 

If there’s resistance, don’t forcefully pry out the plant. Instead, go back in with a stick and gently wiggle it around in different areas to loosen up the soil.

  1. Once you’ve got the plant out, massage the root ball. Remove all of the excess soil and uncoil any tight roots to allow for more room to grow in its new pot.

It’s possible that you may lose a couple of roots in the process. Don’t worry, though, as they’ll grow back.

Just continue being gentle and careful about your movements so as to avoid any additional injuries to the plant.

  1. Next, fill about ⅓ of your new clay pot with potting mix. Gently hold up your plant high enough so that the tip of its longest root is touching the first layer of soil.
  1. Continue to hold up your plant as you gradually fill the clay pot with more potting mix, making sure to fill in all the small nooks and crannies.
  1. Once you’ve filled up the entire pot and got your plant situated, lightly pat down the soil to set it all in place.
  1. Then, put your clay pot either in a catch pot or on top of a saucer so that there’s something to collect excess water.
  1. After, water your plant immediately as it’s currently going through a lot of stress after being transplanted. Water deeply until the excess begins to drain through the bottom holes. 

Don’t remove the residual water just yet as your plant could absorb this if it’s still thirsty. Hence, leave it alone for about 30 minutes.

Then, throw away the excess water.

  1. Situate your plant in an environment suitable to its needs.

Why It Works:

As mentioned earlier, using old soil tends to compact easily since it’s been through a lot. Immeasurable watering, doses of fertilizer, and piles of compost can result in congestion.

This, mixed with a variety of other factors such as excessive rainfall and gravitational pressure will result in the soil becoming hard, clumpy, and tight. 

Hence, it’s important to change your soil to a fresh, new batch periodically as all soil will gradually lose its properties as time goes by.

The frequency will still depend on several factors. This includes what kind of plant you have, the environment that it’s in, sun exposure, and the frequency of your watering, among other considerations.

Soil changes are recommended to be done anywhere from 1 to 2 years. Though, if you notice that your soil has begun to compact, it may be time to replace it already.

3. Only use high-quality potting mix

Only use high-quality potting mix
Image: Neslihan Gunaydin on Unsplas
DifficultyNormal
Duration5 to 10 minutes
Things You NeedHigh-quality potting mix

When choosing the right kind of potting soil, you’ll want to focus on the right mix that can:

  • Lock moisture and nutrients
  • Add sufficient anchorage
  • Provide ample drainage
  • Adequately aerate the soil

There are a ton of potting mixes or blends in the market that will definitely leave you confused about which one to get. The key to picking out the best potting soil mix is by understanding the ingredients.

Here’s a handy guide for choosing potting mixes based on what you want to achieve and the ingredients each mix has:

The Effect You WantThe Ingredients to Look for in the Potting Mix or Blend
Moisture and nutrient retention• Peat moss or sphagnum moss
• Vermiculite
• Coconut coir fiber
• Aged evergreen bark
Anchorage• Pine bark
• Wood by-products
• Manure
• Bark mulch
Drainage• Perlite
• Coarse sand
• Crushed rocks
Aeration• Peat moss or sphagnum moss
• Vermiculite
• Coconut coir fiber

Other than that, you’ll also want to increase the nutrient composition of your soil, especially when transplanting. To do so, add the following beneficial additives to your potting mix:

  • Compost
  • Worm castings
  • Aged bark
  • Coconut coir
  • Vermiculite
  • Alfalfa, kelp, or bone meal

Why It Works:

One of the leading causes of soil compaction is using the wrong kind of soil for your potted plants. 

While it may seem like a good idea to use soil from your garden for your potted plants, this is actually a big mistake. 

There are various types of soil to make up for the different needs of specific plants. This includes supplying the right amount of nutrients, beneficial microbes, and aeration, among others.

For potted plants, potting mix is the way to go as it’s specifically made for growing potted plants. 

It’s made with ingredients that are meant to help lock moisture and nutrients, add sufficient anchorage, provide ample drainage, and adequately aerate the soil.

4. Add materials to aerate the soil

Add materials to aerate the soil
Image: Sandie Clarke on Unsplash
DifficultyNormal
Duration10 to 20 minutes
Things You Need• Peat moss
• Coconut coir
• Pumice
• Horticultural sand
• Perlite
• Vermiculite

How to do it:

  1. When preparing your pot, first add porous materials to provide adequate drainage. 

You can use a fine plastic mesh screen, coffee filter, landscape cloth, leca, or rock slightly larger than the drainage hole.

  1. Mix in your aerating material and soil, ensuring they’re well incorporated. Here’s a quick guide on the ratio.
Aerating MaterialMaterial to Soil Ratio
Peat Moss1:1
Coconut Coir1:1
Pumice1:3
Note: For succulents, you’ll want more pumice than potting soil, which is about 3:2.
Horticultural Sand1:4
Perlite1:1
Vermiculite1:1
  1. Deeply water your plant until the excess begins to drain through the bottom and onto the catch pot or saucer.
  1. Leave the plant alone for about 30 minutes. If it’s still thirsty, it’ll absorb the excess water.
  1. After, throw away any remaining water in the catch pot or saucer. 
  1. Observe how well your plant adjusts to its new soil mixture. If you’ve noticed that your soil still takes a long time to dry, you may want to add more aerating materials.

Why It Works:

Garden soil typically has natural aerators such as worms and insects that create frequent activity within the soil. Constant movement keeps the soil loose, preventing it from compressing over time.

Unfortunately, potted plants don’t usually have natural aerators. As a result, it’s important to add aerating materials to prevent soil compaction.

This works by creating motion in the soil through various additives to produce small pockets of air that allow oxygen, nutrients, and water to travel freely without injuring the plant’s roots.

Here’s a list of aerating materials that we recommend that you add to your soil to boost air circulation and drainage.

Recommended Aerating Materials:

a. Peat Moss

Peat Moss
Image: CBC

Peat moss is a dark brown-colored, acidic, fibrous soil amendment that’s made from decomposed organic materials. Specifically, from living materials and mosses recovered from underwater peat bogs.

Sometimes referred to as sphagnum moss, it’s a great addition to the potting mix as it retains water and nutrients in the soil, which would otherwise leak out. 

Another pro to adding peat moss to your potting mix is that it also helps aerate the soil thanks to its fibrous texture. As a result, your soil has better water retention and overall consistency.

It’s worth noting that since peat moss has an acidic pH level, it’s most commonly used with plants that love acidic soil. 

Nevertheless, you can add them to virtually any plant that is encountering water-retention issues.

b. Coconut coir

Coconut coir
Image: Epic Gardening

Coconut coir is made from, you guessed it – coconuts. In particular, it’s the natural fiber harvested from between the coconut’s outer coating, also called the ‘husk’, and the internal shell. 

Also called ‘coco coir’ and ‘coconut peat’, it’s often regarded as a more sustainable alternative to peat moss. This is primarily because coconut coir is greatly contributing to the cutting down of trash produced. 

It also works just as well at retaining water and adding to the drainage of the potting mix. Since it acts like a sponge, it can hold generous amounts of water which helps retain moisture in the soil.

Coconut coir also biodegrades slowly, which means that it adds natural organic matter to your soil over time.

Aside from that, it has a balanced pH level of 6.0, which means that it isn’t too acidic for most plants.

c. Pumice

Pumice
Image: Plantisuss

Pumice is a type of lightweight volcanic rock that’s also a commonly used material to help aerate the soil. 

Given its structure, pumice is actually better at sustaining the soil structure. Since it doesn’t break down, which helps to constantly keep air flow circulating and prevents the soil from compacting.

Hence, it’s a great option for succulents and cacti that have shallow root systems that are best left untouched.

Because of its porosity, it helps increase the abundance of microbial life in the soil. This brings about a ton of benefits, from regulating nutrients to aiding in the decomposition of organic matter.

d. Horticultural Sand

Horticultural Sand
Image: The Niche Nursery

Horticultural sand goes by several names, such as coarse sand and sharp sand. It’s made out of a variety of materials such as sandstone, quartz, and granite.

Because of its sharp edges and irregular shapes, horticultural sand doesn’t promote clumping. It doesn’t fill up the pockets of space in the soil either, which means it’s great at keeping the soil loose and well-drained.

Having mentioned that, horticultural sand is best used together with heavy soils that don’t adequately drain water on their own. This includes clay and loam soil types.

Since it’s lime-free, you won’t have to worry about it messing up the soil’s pH level. Hence, it’s great to use for virtually any type of indoor or outdoor plant.

e. Perlite

Perlite
Image: Growing Advice

Perlite is another lightweight volcanic glass that’s a common ingredient in potting mixes thanks to its ability to create air pockets within the soil.

Despite resembling styrofoam, perlite is a more eco-friendly alternative because it’s a naturally occurring mineral. Hence, they come in various shades of black and gray without a specific shape or form.

Aside from that, it doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals and has a neutral pH level.

It’s quite sturdy and porous so it doesn’t lose its structure when in the soil. As a result, it helps maintain air pockets within the soil, preventing compression over time.

f. Vermiculite

Vermiculite
Image: Plant care for Beginners

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring, non-toxic, clay mineral that’s mined from rocks. It’s then treated with high pressure and heat, causing it to inflate. 

The final result is a sparkly, porous material that aids with aeration along with the retention of moisture and nutrients. 

Because of this, you won’t need to water as often as its unique shape helps trap nutrients and water in the soil.

Apart from that, it’s a gardener’s favorite because it’s a sterile medium. Hence, using enough vermiculture can ward off bad bacteria and fungi. 

It’s an all-around medium that can be used for propagating cuttings, starting seeds, germination mixes, potted plants, and outdoor raised beds. 

5. Add natural soil looseners

Add natural soil looseners
Image: sippakorn yamkasikorn on Unsplash
DifficultyEasy
Duration5 to 10 minutes
Things You NeedSpade
Nightcrawlers, red wigglers, or pot worms
Chopsticks
Water

How to Do It:

  1. Select the right type of worm depending on what your soil needs. Here’s a comprehensive comparison of these lovely little crawlers.
Common NameNightcrawlerRed wrigglerPot worm
Scientific NameLumbricus terrestrisEisenia fetidaEnchytraeidae
Appearance• Segmented
• Pinkish-red body
• Pointy head
• Plump tail
• Clitellum or collar-like ring in the middle
• Segmented
• Brownish-red body
• Yellowish tail
• Plump head
• Pointy tail
• Segmented
• Unpigmented and translucent body
SizeUp to 25 cmUp to 8 cmUp to 30 mm
Best ForAerating soilBreaking down decomposing matterAerating topsoil
  1. After, prepare the soil by gently loosening it up. You can use a spade and chopsticks to lightly poke through the soil.
  1. Next, add about 1 inch of compost. This will be what your worms will feed on.
  1. Water your soil to provide a moist environment for the worms.
  1. Lastly, gently place a few worms on top of the compost and allow them to make their way into the soil.

Why It Works:

While the thought of adding worms to your soil may seem a bit gross, they’re actually completely harmless to you and your plant. 

In fact, they shouldn’t even be considered pests given how beneficial they are to the environment. Hence, it’s best to refer to them as friends instead.

They love to tunnel through the soil which helps to naturally aerate and loosen it. This way, water, nutrients, and oxygen can flow freely without any hitch.

By burrowing through the soil, they also help turn it, mixing whatever’s on top with the soil below.

Other than that, they help by munching on decomposing organic matter such as dead roots, manure, grass, and leaves. 

Once they’re done, they produce helpful droppings which are also commonly referred to as worm castings or vermicast. They’re natural fertilizers that help to enrich your soil.

Though, keep in mind that despite their small size, earthworms need room to move around, too. Hence, you can only add them to pots that are at least 1 gallon big. 

6. Loosen the soil occasionally 

Loosen the soil occasionally
Image: Andres Simon on Unsplash
DifficultyEasy
Duration5 to 10 minutes
Things You NeedChopstick, shovel, or fork

How to Do It:

  1. After, use a chopstick, small shovel, or even a fork and gently dig through the substrate, loosening it up.
  1. Once you’ve gotten the topsoil fluffy and airy, carefully penetrate through the soil and wiggle your tool. This will help break apart the middle and bottom half of the soil.
  1. Keep an eye out on the structure of your soil and repeat these steps when it’s beginning to look hard and dry.

Why It Works:

By turning the soil, you’re creating more air pockets for water, oxygen, and nutrients to easily pass through. 

If you don’t have any burrowing friends to help you out, you’ll be left to your own devices to loosen the soil yourself.

As a result, you’ll need to get creative with ways how you can prevent the soil from compressing over time. 

This also provides enough space for your plant to freely grow out its roots as there isn’t much resistance in the soil since tilling it makes it softer and easier to work with.

7. Avoid overwatering and underwatering 

Avoid overwatering and underwatering
Image: Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash
DifficultyEasy
DurationLess than 5 minutes
Things You NeedWater

How to Do It:

  1. Observe the soil’s texture and your plant’s behavior. Depending on the season and climate, your plant’s soil may take a lot quicker or longer to dry up.

Hence, you’ll want to avoid watering your plant on a set schedule such as, say, every weekend. Instead, it’s best to water your plants when they need it.

  1. Once your plant is showing signs of dehydration, such as droopiness, it’s time to water it.

Deeply water your plant until the excess begins to drain through the bottom and onto the catch pot or saucer.

  1. Leave the plant alone for about 30 minutes. If it’s still thirsty, it’ll absorb the excess water.
  1. After, throw away any remaining water in the catch pot or saucer.

Why It Works:

It’s important that you don’t blindly follow a strict watering routine as this could cost you the quality of your soil. Instead, you’ll want to pay close attention to your plant and its soil for signs that it needs water.

Overwatering fills up the empty pockets in the soil for too long because it doesn’t have anywhere to exit from. This puts weight on the soil causing it to compress and tighten. 

Aside from that, beneficial bacteria will die as there’s no more oxygen in the environment. 

As a result, anaerobic bacteria thrive and make the soil more compressed. Aside from that, this makes the plant more stressed and susceptible to catching diseases. 

Underwatering, on the other hand, causes the soil to dry out. When there’s no water, beneficial microbes begin to die, causing their space to slowly get covered by soil.

8. Ensure adequate drainage

Ensure adequate drainage
Image: Claudio Fonte on Unsplash
DifficultyEasy
Duration10 to 20 minutes
Things You NeedPot with drainage holesLeca or small rocks

How to Do It: 

  1. When sifting through the various pots at your local garden or hardware store, choose one that has at least one drainage hole at the bottom.

For medium-sized plants and pots, you’ll want a drainage hole to be about ½ inch in diameter. 

Meanwhile, the drainage holes for larger-sized plants and pots should be around 1 inch in diameter.

  1. After, fill about ⅓ of the pot with leca, a lightweight, marble-sized clay aggregate that provides great drainage and doesn’t compact over time.
  1. Next, fill about ⅓ of your new clay pot with potting mix. Gently hold up your plant high enough so that the tip of its longest root is touching the first layer of soil.
  1. Continue to hold up your plant as you gradually fill the clay pot with more potting mix, making sure to fill in all the small nooks and crannies.
  1. Once you’ve filled up the entire pot and got your plant situated, lightly pat down the soil to set it all in place.
  1. Then, put your clay pot either in a catch pot or on top of a saucer so that there’s something to collect excess water.
  1. After, water your plant immediately as it’s currently going through a lot of stress after being transplanted. Water deeply until the excess begins to drain through the bottom holes. 

Don’t remove the residual water just yet as your plant could absorb this if it’s still thirsty. Hence, leave it alone for about 30 minutes.

Then, throw away the excess water.

  1. Situate your plant in an environment suitable to its needs

Why It Works:

Having adequate drainage ensures that excess water has somewhere to go once all of the soil’s pore space has been taken up. 

Without drainage holes, the water will have nowhere to go and often end up on top of the soil as it has no room to move down. 

When this happens, plants aren’t able to receive adequate amounts of water to survive. This also puts additional weight onto the soil, causing it to compress. 

Before purchasing pots, ensure that there are enough drainage holes for the extra water to escape from.

FAQs 

How often should you loosen potting soil?

The frequency of how often you should loosen your potting soil will depend on various factors. 

However, it’s a tell-tale sign when the soil feels hard and tight. When held, it doesn’t break apart and can be easily molded like clay.

Can I repot a plant with compacted soil?

You can repot a plant with compacted soil the same way you would any other plant. You’ll need to be a little more careful as its roots may be a tad more pressure-sensitive.

You’ll need to gently brush away the excess soil before transferring the plant to a pot with fresh and loose soil.

How loose should soil be?

Soil should be loose enough that roots can easily penetrate through and grow freely. However, ensure that it isn’t too loose and that it breaks apart easily.

It may take a bit of trial and error to get the perfect consistency and texture for your plant. You can experiment with various soil types to see what formula provides the best compaction.

How to retain moisture in pots?

The easiest way to keep moisture in pots is to use potting mixes that have ingredients such as sphagnum peat moss or coir, which are great at preserving water.

Perlite and vermiculite are also commonly added to potting mixes as they help keep moisture while helping aerate the soil.

Can loosening the soil damage the roots?

You can damage the roots while loosening the spoil if you’re poking and prodding too aggressively.  Hence, you’ll want to be gentle and careful to minimize causing any more harm. 

Nevertheless, you won’t have to worry too much if you’ve accidentally hit your plant while loosening up the soil. 

While a healthy plant will be able to regrow any damaged roots effortlessly, the same cannot be said for a plant that’s undergone a lot of stress and deficiencies in a soil-compacted environment.

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