When you first take potting soil out of a bag it is light and even a little fluffy. It is made to be airy. But over time, it can become quite hard in a container. Here is why it can get hard and what you can do to fix it.
Why does potting soil get so hard: Potting soil becomes hard if it doesn’t get enough regular watering. The peat moss inside potting soil is meant to release water slowly, but if it becomes too dry, it stops working. If you use old potting soil or unclean containers or shovels, then you may inadvertently transfer bacteria and fungi to your soil, which can make it feel hard.
What is potting soil?
Potting soil is full of nutrients and is made to be light and airy to promote drainage. It is a mixture of many substances, including topsoil, perlite, peat moss, and bark.
Potting soil is often used for container gardening or with seedlings. It can be used in larger gardens but is often mixed with topsoil or compost.
What causes potting soil to get hard?
One of the most common reasons for hard potting soil is underwatering. This is when you don’t water your plants often enough.
Water ensures that the soil remains light and fluffy. When there is no moisture in the soil, it will collapse on itself, becoming much denser than intended.
A large component of potting soil is peat moss, which is good at absorbing water and then slowly releasing it into the rest of the soil. However, peat moss only works if it is kept moss. Once it dries out, it can become inefficient.
Potting soil is sold in bags and is supposed to be sterile and free of diseases. However, once that bag is open, you are exposing it to the elements.
Potting soil can attract certain fungi and bacterial infestations. This can be via airborne toxins or transferred through containers and shovels.
As the fungal infestation spread, it will alter the texture of the potting soil. The result can be a loaf of dense soil that needs to be thrown out, along with the infected plant. Some fungi can spread quickly, taking over an entire container or garden.
Too much heat
Many houseplants prefer being in front of windows as they will get an excessive amount of sunlight. However, windows can often be too hot for plants, especially if you don’t regularly water them.
Even if you are watering on a regular schedule, that intense heat can quickly make the soil bone dry. Again, if this happens, the peat moss in the potting soil becomes inefficient.
Too much clay
If you want to mix potting soil with soil from your garden, ensure it isn’t full of clay. Clay, when exposed to heat, will dry up and the result can be soil in your container that is far too dense.
Indoor plants should be repotted every one to two years. Not only do they grow in size and thus need a larger container for their roots, but the soil will become old and devoid of nutrients.
As soil breaks down and the roots take over, it loses its buoyancy. Even if you add fertilizer, the soil can still clump together and become very hard.
Buildup of salts
If the water in your soil can’t drain properly, salts from fertilizer or minerals from tap water can build up. As a result, your soil consistency will change and become hard.
What to do when your potting soil gets hard?
Repot your soil
The best bet with hard potting soil is to start fresh. Unless you have just planted your plant and your potting soil is relatively new, you should replace potting soil every one to two years.
This can also be a good opportunity to use a larger container as your plant will most likely have grown in this time.
Lessen the amount of fertilizer
One reason for hard soil can be the build-up of natural minerals and salts. Even though your plant needs fertilizer, too much can be a bad thing.
If the fertilizer builds up in your container, it can alter the texture of your soil. This can also be a result of tap water which has a lot of natural minerals.
Every plant is different, so be sure to double-check what its fertilizer needs are and stick to that schedule. As long as your plant looks and feels healthy, you don’t have to worry as much about adding extra nutrients.
How do you prevent potting soil from getting hard?
Use new potting soil
Unfortunately, premium potting soil can cost a lot, so it’s understandable that gardeners want to preserve any remaining potting soil for future use. However, once that bag is open, it is no longer sterile.
It is best to use the entire bag up when you need it. Keeping some potting soil for the next year just increases the likelihood of fungal matter, which can lead not only to denser soil but to damaged plants.
Stick to a regular watering schedule
Even if your plant’s soil isn’t dry, you still want to water it. Aim for moist soil but not soil that is oversaturated with water.
Water once a week, and more if it is summer or you have your plant near a window. When in doubt, check the soil by using your finger.
The top of the soil may seem dry but further down can be quite moist. If you feel slushy soil, then this is a sign there isn’t enough drainage, which can cause the opposite problem to dry soil, and result in damaged roots.
Potting soil is meant to be light so when it becomes hard, this is a sign there is a problem. If the soil is new, stick to a regular watering schedule and ease up on your fertilizer. If the soil is old, repot your plant and start with fresh, clean potting soil.