Soil won’t absorb water

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Rehydrating Potted Plants: Watering An Overly Dry Container Plant

Most healthy container plants can tolerate short periods without water, but if your plant has been badly neglected, you may need to implement emergency measures to return the plant to health. This article will help you with fixing a dry container plant.

Can I Save My Overly Dry Container Plant?

Leaf wilt is a sign of stress and the first indication that a potted plant is too dry. At this point, regular watering may restore the plant.

Indications that a potted plant is badly dehydrated include slow growth, yellowing and curling of lower leaves, and browning or brittleness of leaf edges. Dry plants often pull away from the sides of the pot. The leaves may take on a translucent appearance and the plant may drop its leaves

prematurely.

Fixing a dry container plant is never a sure thing, but if there is life in the roots, you may be able to save the plant.

How to Rehydrate Container Plants

Rehydrating potted plants is tricky and regular watering won’t rehydrate a potted plant if the potting soil has shrunken away from the sides of the container. Instead of absorbing into the soil, water will run straight through the pot.

If your plant is in this situation, use a fork to carefully break up the dry, hardened potting soil, then submerge the entire container in a bucket of lukewarm water. Leave the pot in the water until no air bubbles float to the top.

Remove the pot from the bucket and allow the plant to drain thoroughly, then use clean scissors or pruning shears to prune the plant down to healthy, green growth.

Place the plant in a cool, shady location. Hopefully, it will begin to show signs of life within a few hours, but rehydrating an overly dry container plant may take up to a month.

If you aren’t sure if the plant is worth saving, remove the plant gently from the pot and check the roots. If the roots are shriveled and display no green even after your attempts at rehydration, it may be time to bid the plant farewell and start over with a healthy new plant.

Watering Houseplants Guide

How often should I water my houseplants?

How often should I water my plants? Is a question we’re frequently asked. To answer this you need to understand that without water a houseplant will die – This is a fundamental principle of all plants, it’s especially important with houseplants as they don’t have access to natural sources of water, and therefore depend completely on us to get it right. So let’s dive in to this guide.

That said most plant death is actually caused by too little water… or equally too much. It’s a fine balancing act and this guide will help you understand how to get it right.

When to water houseplants?

Houseplant’s are not keen on strict routine. Yes, you may hear your neighbour Jane saying she waters all her plants heavily every Sunday morning without fail, or Uncle Chris might swear his success is down to watering sparingly every Tuesday and Friday evening.

However the fact remains that often such routines are unlikely to work long term and are only setting you up for problems later on. Each plant has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to watering, even two plants of the same type could have differences. For example their location and their size will vary and effect how much water they need.

So how do you know when to do it?

Unfortunately the answer to this usually comes down to experience and practice. There isn’t a hard and fast rule to follow, it’s a simple case of observing your plant, and interacting with it.

By “interacting” we mean touching the soil surface and just below that to see if it is moist or dry. If the soil surface and the first inch below is dry, it’s likely time to water your houseplant. If the soil surface is still damp, no more water is needed.

If your plant’s not too big or heavy you can also pick it up; a pot or container which is heavily saturated with water will be much heavier than a pot which has completely dried out. There are also instruments you can buy which beep or light up when it’s time to water again.

Of all the methods and tricks people suggest the weight of the pot is by far our favorite one. Once you’ve done it a few times you will “just know” by it’s weight how much water is left accessible for the plant and you will be able to gauge if it needs to be left alone, or if it needs a top up or a soaking.

How much to water depends on…

Look for your particular houseplant in our Hub section of the website to understand its individual watering needs. When you’ve understood this, there are a few other things to consider because lots of different factors can influence how much the plant uses and therefore the time needed between watering’s.

…The plant itself

If the plant has fleshy thick leaves it’s been naturally adapted to receiving less water, cacti and succulents for example. Too frequent watering here and you will be increasing the chances of rotting. On the other hand if the plant’s leaves are thin or numerous then it will have less tolerance for under watering and will need more frequent watering.

…The time of year

There is less light in Winter and the temperature is cooler. This means the plant slows down because photosynthesis is less effective. Providing the room isn’t excessively hot you may be able to reduce watering to just once or twice a month over the Winter months.

…The environment

As the temperature and light intensity goes up so does the need for water. An increase in both of these variables results in a more effective level of photosynthesis which in turn needs more water.

…The surrounding humidity

Plants which are in very humid locations will need less water than those in dry environments.

…The size of the plant pot and the material it’s made of

As a general rule a large plant in small pot will need much more water than a small plant in a big pot. This is because if the roots are filling the pot, there is less capacity for the soil to hold water (because the roots are taking up the space). The opposite is true when the plant is small but in a large pot, in these circumstances much more water can be held by the soil so less frequent watering is needed..

Plant’s in clay pots compared to those in plastic ones, will normally need more water because the clay is porous and water is wicked away from the soil in the pot. Finally If you apply a mulch around the plant water will remain in the pot for a longer period as the mulch prevents the soil surface drying out as quickly.

Signs from the plant to look out for

Sometimes it’s easy to know when to get the watering can out as a number of houseplants are rather clever and tell you when they want water. The Peace Lily in the photo below for example is very obvious.

The picture on the left is the Peace Lily telling you it really needs water, the one on the right shows its now got plenty. Most however don’t give such clear signs, but there are a few subtle hints you might be able to pick up on.

Signs that it’s had too little water

  • Leaves become limp and wilted. Sometimes faded or translucent.
  • Flowers fade quickly or fail to actually bloom.
  • The oldest leaves on the house plant start to fall off.
  • Leaf edges become brown and dry.

Signs that it’s had too much water

  • Leaves become limp and wilted.
  • Flowers become moldy.
  • Both old and newer leaves on the house plant start to fall off.
  • Leaf tips become brown.

Under-watering and over-watering cause very similar warning signs in house plants

Ahem. If you have read the two lists above you might be forgiven for thinking we have made a mistake and copied the same signs into each. Unfortunately it’s no mistake, frequent under watering and over watering cause very similar warning signs in house plants! Even the Peace Lily example above sometimes isn’t always that clear. If the Peace Lily has had too much water it also flump’s over a little bit, which the novice may assumes means more water is needed, and before long he or she is trapped in a cycle of continuously over watering.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, if you ever see any of the symptoms listed above you will just need to rely on other methods to judge (such as pot weight / touching the soil / common sense etc) and make an educated decision as to which type of watering mistake is causing the problem, and adjust accordingly.

What time is best to water?

What ever time suits you! Well this is mostly true, a lot of house plants don’t mind if you water them in the morning, afternoon or evening. However as a general rule its best to avoid watering any plant in the evening when it involves wetting their crowns or exposed stems. The idea is that if you do this, the water sits on the plant and when the temperature drops at night it can encourage plant rot or diseases. If you watered that plant in the morning, by nightfall the water should have subsided or evaporated from the crowns / exposed stems.

How to water

There are three main ways to water. Sometimes it’s about what is most convenient for you, other times it’s simply about preference. However it’s almost always best to water heavily once, then wait until the soil starts to dry out rather than little and often.

Watering Can Method

This just involves watering from the top and allowing the water to filter through the pot by gravity. Although it’s very quick it’s less accurate than the other two methods below and so it’s always best to have the pot sitting in a container or drip tray to catch any water that comes out of the drainage holes. If your container has no drainage holes for excess water to escape from then you have no choice but to use this method, but be very careful you don’t over do it!

Bottom Watering Method

The plant pot is sitting in a drip tray and you just fill the tray up. Eventually the water will be drawn up into the dry root ball. If the drip tray is quite small you may need to do this a few times until no more water is drawn up. Be sure to tip any excess water that is still in the tray away after half an hour to prevent rotting.

Immersion Method

You need to fill a lager container such as a washing up bowl, and then lower your plant pot into the water just so the water level reaches the top of the pot. Bubbles will appear on the surface, and when they stop (after a minute or so) the root ball will be fully saturated with water and you can remove the pot from the water. This method carries a risk of spreading diseases or pests if you are doing multiple plants in the same water. Make sure your plants are healthy, or ensure the sick one goes in last.

What water to use

The best water you can use on your house plants is the most natural – Rainwater or bottled water. However both of these options can be impractical or expensive in the long term, so tap water is the most commonly used type of water. In the majority of situations tap water does not cause any problems, however if you live in a soft water area you need to carry out an additional occasional step to avoid issues. This is because soft water contains salt that will build up in the soil which will eventually effect the natural transfer of minerals and water into the roots.

To avoid this happening “flush” the pot once every couple of months. This just involves pouring in water to wash the salt build up out of the drainage holes. Be sure to provide fertiliser as you will also wash out nutrients in addition to the salt by doing this.

Watering troubles

Watering is normally a quick and painless process, but sometimes there is something wrong with the soil which causes issues:

Water won’t penetrate the surface

This is caused by a very dry surface soil. You don’t typically get this unless your potting mix contains high levels of clay, for example if you have used garden soil instead of potting compost. Or the soil is completely bone dry. The solution is straight forward however, just prick the surface with a fork or small trowel to break it up a little, then try watering again.

Water runs straight out of bottom

This is almost always caused because the soil has dried out completely. This results in soil pulling away from the edges of the container creating a clear channel for the water to drain through, and the soil therefore does not have a chance to grab any of the water that is quickly passing by. The solution is to follow the Immersion watering method above, if that isn’t practical you can try Bottom watering.

About the Author

Tom Knight

Over the last 20 years Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the Ourhouseplants Team.

Also on Ourhouseplants.com

Credit for the houseplants and watering can – Kaufmann Mercantile
Credit for the houseplant group photo to – Robin Berthier

How and how often to water your plants

How to water my plants?

The best place to start for watering intel is the product page of the plant you’ve bought from Patch. This is where you’ll get bespoke information about what your plant needs to thrive. Just scroll to the bottom for tips on when and how much to water it. There are, however, a few general rules for watering.
The best tip involves getting your hands dirty
Stick a finger in the pot until the soil reaches your knuckle. How does it feel? It should feel a little moist by your fingertip. If it’s not, give it a good drink. If it feels very wet, then you can let it be.

If your plant is ready for a soak, pour water onto the soil until the pot is about to overflow and then allow it to drain for thirty seconds. Then, do this again to make sure that every inch of root gets a drenching.

Water the compost, not the plants. Giving the container a really good soak, so that water eventually runs out of the bottom of the pot, is much better than frequent dribbles. If the water runs out immediately, it means the compost is so dry that it has shrunk away from the pot, and the water is just running straight down the sides, leaving the compost – and the roots – as dry as before .

In that case, go slow and steady, so the water really soaks in. Or, with small pots, dunk them in a bucket of water and hold under until air bubbles stop rising. Then lift out and drain.
Indoor plants
For indoor plants, if you find that after ten minutes there is still excess water at the bottom of the pot, then pour this water down the sink as the plant has quenched its thirst. Not doing this risks saturating the roots and killing the plant.
Outdoor plants
For outdoor plants with a drainage hole, the excess water will simply escape through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot. If the water runs out immediately, it means the soil is so dry that it has shrunk away from the pot, and the water is just running straight down the sides, leaving the compost – and the roots – as dry as before. In that case, go slow and steady, so the water really soaks in . Or, with small pots, dunk them in a bucket of water and hold under until air bubbles stop rising. Then lift out and drain.

Most plants appreciate being left to dry out a little bit between waterings, otherwise their roots can rot. But if your plant is like Bertie or Boo, the Fargesia Bamboo (below), they prefer things a little damp. To be on the safe side, check the product page.
But what about when it rains?

Your plants will form a pretty effective umbrella over the compost so make sure you keep an eye on your plants’ water levels even if it’s raining!

Feeding plants

In the growing season, plants need food as well as water. For outdoor plants the easiest way by far is using Miracle Gro Pot Shots – controlled release fertiliser plugs which will last for 6 months or more. Plug them in any time during the growing season (March – September). See on the pack how many you need for the size of your container then just push them down into the compost with your finger. Job done .

For indoor plants, always keep a pot of Baby Bio nearby. Best to mix this into your watering can once a month during the growing months.

Keeping plants healthy beyond watering and feeding

Bugs are less common in the city but keep a close eye on the plants – much easier to deal with the first signs of infestation. If you see clusters of tiny bright green or black flies at the tips of shoots or on buds, they ‘re aphids . Either pinch the shoot off and bin it, or mix some washing-up liquid with water in a spray bottle and blast them off.

Plan watering kit

You’ll need a watering can and the choice is vast – Patch have a larger one for outdoor plants and a smart decorative one for your house plants. Typically, a long spout is more practical for pots than a short stubby one, and since it may well have to live on your balcony or terrace, choose one that’s good to look at through the living room window! Other than that , household scissors can serve as secateurs and an old serving spoon will do the job of a hand trowel.

Most Read

Have a dig around in many Australian backyards and you will find sandy soil.

There are plenty of plants that grow well in this type of soil, and one of the greatest advantages of sand over clay is good drainage.

But sandy soils are also susceptible to becoming water repellent, or hydrophobic, if they’re neglected.

When a soil becomes hydrophobic, it repels water instead of absorbing it to provide moisture for plant growth. The problem can be made worse by long periods without rain or water.

In addition to water repellence, the soil particles can also become covered in a waxy coating.

This occurs when uncomposted organic matter sits on the soil and, as it breaks down, the soil particles are coated with an oily, waxy residue that prevents water penetrating.

The longer water sits on the surface of the soil, the worse the problem becomes and the harder it is to remedy.

TIP Leaves from gum trees can also cause hydrophobia by releasing eucalyptus oil as they break down, coating the soil particles.

Testing for hydrophobic soil

Determine how repellent your soil is by checking how long it takes for water to soak into a scoop from the garden or a pot. Under one minute is considered low, up to 10 minutes moderate and over 10 minutes means it’s a severe problem.

Step 1. Scoop out

Scoop out soil from a garden bed or pot and put it in a saucer.

Step 2. Make a well

Make a well in the centre of the soil, then pour in water.

Step 3. Feel the soil

Feel the soil to see if the water pools or is absorbed into the soil.

Turf trouble

Dry patches of grass in lawns are often caused by water-repellent soil. Most rolls of turf are planted in a soil with a high sand content and are more prone to the problem than lawns grown from seed.

Rule out other potential problems like pests or diseases, compaction, too little or too much water, and salinity before you treat for water repellence.

Apply a wetting agent at the beginning and end of spring, then again at the beginning of autumn, watering the grass deeply with a hose after each treatment.

Pick the right plants

There is no quick solution to the problem of water-repellent soil and managing it takes time and effort.

Adding organic matter and clay soil, together with a wetting agent, can improve the absorption of water, as both of these materials hold water well.

Compost increases the level of micro-organisms in the soil that eat away at the waxy coating.

Using an organic mulch will also help to retain moisture, as it breaks down into the soil.

Lift up the mulch every couple of months to check that it hasn’t stuck together and formed an impenetrable barrier. Break it up with a fork and incorporate new mulch to prevent this occurring.

For this front garden, the less-hardy plants were replaced with dry-tolerant plants, as they survive better during periods of little rain.

Blue fescue was planted on either side of the path to form a border. And to continue the silvery-green foliage theme, coastal correa, gazania, silver bush and westringia were added.

Liriope, lavender, lamb’s ears, dianella and hardenbergia are other dry-tolerant options.

This front yard was neglected and the soil was in ill health Hardy plants and improved soil have transformed this barren front yard

Treat potting mix

When water runs off the top of the mix or straight through the pot and out of the drainage holes without being absorbed, it’s usually a sign that the potting mix has become hydrophobic.

Avoid using old potting mix when planting in containers and replace the mix every few years. To improve water absorbency, immerse pots in a solution of wetting agent and water until the potting mix is saturated.

Apply a wetting agent with a watering can every 2-3 months at the recommended rate.

Simple Ways to Fix Dry Garden Soil

The main particles in healthy soil are decomposed organic ingredients. These are natural ingredients that were once living organisms.

The more natural ingredients in the soil, the better moisture retention.

If you’ve found your soil is dry and dead, follow these simple steps to bring it back to life!

Gather a few of these ingredients…(you won’t need all of them so gather the ones that are easiest to find)

  • Compost – THE best form of organic matter. Compost is decomposing items that were once living. Eg fruit and veggie scraps. Follow this link to my super easy ‘In-Garden’ Composting Method – Do you know how to compost?
  • Mushroom Compost – also great to add to dry soil.
  • Old animal manure – find this in bags for sale along the side of country roads. Allow it to break down for about a month before placing in gardens. Or purchase bags of rotted manure at your local garden centre or hardware store.
  • Garden and lawn clippings – both great to enrich your soil. Make sure there’s no weed seeds included in lawn clippings, as they’ll sprout in your garden!!
  • Mulch – Cane, hay or other mulched plant matter helps to improve soil and retain moisture during dry times.
  • Coir peat – a sustainable resource from coconut fibre. This retains moisture in garden soil and potting mix.
  • Worm castings and liquid – great to have a home worm farm. Add worm poo and worm wee to your soil…It will love it!! (so will the kids!) Learn more about Worm Farms HERE
  • Blood & bone (one of my faves), organic fertilisers and organic liquid plant fertilisers.

Follow this method –

  • remove any mulch and weeds in the garden
  • give your soil a gentle dig with a garden fork. Don’t turn the soil over, just push your fork in and give it a wiggle around.
  • give the soil/ground a good hose with water before applying ingredients. This will help to retain moisture in the lower levels of soil.
  • sprinkle Blood & Bone (as per application rate on bag).
  • apply a 5-10cm layer of chopped garden clippings or a thin layer (about 2-5cm) fresh green lawn clippings.
  • apply 5-10cm layer of compost, rotted manure or mushroom compost.
  • cover with a 5cm layer of cane mulch
  • give the area a good watering to wet all ingredients OR apply a few full watering cans of diluted worm liquid or organic liquid fertiliser.

Get your hands in the mix (gloves on) to ensure everything is nicely damp. If not, water again.

Allow the ingredients to ‘rest’ for approx. 2-3 weeks. Checking moisture levels weekly (keep moist and then start planting in your garden.

TIP – if you have existing plants growing, but need to improve soil, just apply the ingredients around plants ensuring ingredients are 5cm away from stems or main trunk.

Water is a key element for plants to live. Without proper watering, your garden has no chance of survival. Unfortunately, in a lot of regions in Australia, the problem of hydrophobic soils occurs, which means that getting the water to where it needs to be, can be a bit of problem. Read on to find out what hydrophobic soil means for you and how can we fix it.

First of all, what does hydrophobic soil mean? It can happen in most situations, but is mostly found in hotter areas, where the high temperature of the soil causing rapid drying out, which negatively impacts on its organic content. The main feature of the hydrophobic soil is the inability of moisture to absorb. When water falls on the soil, it runs off the surface, or simply sits there and doesn’t mix.
As organic matter (in particular native leaf litter) breaks down, waxy residues are left behind. More often than not, this isn’t a bad thing, as it either mixes through the soil harmlessly, or is broken down by fungi and other natural processes in the soil. When the waxy residue builds up and coats the soil particles though, water repellency can occur. The more soil particles coated, the less water that penetrates.
The lower the surface area of the soil aggregate (like sand, which has less surface area on the soil aggregates than say, clay) the less waxy residue required to coat it. A simple small experiment with the soil may show whether it’s hydrophobic or not. Just take some soil and pour water onto it. If it doesn’t absorb and just pools there with round edges, you’ve got a problem.

An example of hydrophobic soil.

Hydrophobic soil is dangerous for your plants, because in spite of being watered properly, no water reaches the root zone, and your plants can become stressed.

If you’ve got it, how can you fix it?

Wetting agents.
The simplest way to make your soil absorb the water is using the wetting agent. These impact on the waxy residues in the same way washing detergents impact grease and fat particles in your washing up. By reducing the surface tension of the water, the moisture can more easily penetrate the soil particle and get moisture where we need it, and our plants are watered properly. Wetting agents are easly purchased from any nursery or gardening store, are really easy to use and 99% of the time will fix your problem.

Good soil health.
The best way to fix any soil issue, is to keep it happy. Healthy soil will generally not have problems like water repellency. Working a good, well aged, organic compost through your soil, watering it regularly, and keeping the microbial activity churning along will help reduce any chance of that annoying waxy residue accumulating. Making sure you have a good soil mix will also aid in allowing plenty of space between the soil pores for water to infiltrate. Hydrophobic soil isn’t great, but it’s not the end of the world. Using soil problems like this is a great excuse to give your garden a bit of love and TLC and get them back to where they need to be for healthy happy plants.

But I just watered that houseplant

It’s a fairly common scenario: You notice that the soil of a houseplant is bone dry when you just gave it a big drink of water the day before. What’s wrong?

There are several possible causes, one of which almost never occurs to home gardeners. But first, the easy answers:

Did you actually use enough water? You know you have when you see water dripping into the saucer beneath the pot. If there’s none there after several minutes, you need to water more.

Second is that the plant is rootbound — which means the root system is much too large for the amount of soil — and absorbs all the moisture practically instantly and then needs more. This usually occurs with plants you’ve grown in the same pot a long time and those you’ve just bought.

How do you tell if a plant is rootbound? Check the hole in the bottom of the container to see if roots are visible. Also, when the soil is dry, carefully remove the plant from its pot and look to see if the surface of the soil covered with roots growing around and around the root ball. If the plant is rootbound, repot it.

But what if neither of those causes seems to apply to your situation? You water and quickly see that water show up in the saucer, but the next day the soil feels dry again.

A common reason is that the potting mix has dried out and isn’t absorbing the water. Most commercial potting mixes contain peat, which holds water well once it has been moistened, but — as everyone who works with sphagnum peat outdoors knows — is difficult to wet the first time.

What that means in potting soil is that if the peat is allowed to dry out at some point (you went on vacation, you forgot to water on a regular schedule), it won’t absorb water readily from then on; the water just runs down the sides of the pot into the saucer.

If you think this is your problem, there are several ways to moisten the potting mixture again so it will work as it’s supposed to.

If the plant is in an 8-inch pot or smaller, fill a bucket or tub with lukewarm water. Then, holding your hand over the top of the soil at the base of the plant (to prevent the soil from washing away), immerse the plant, pot and all, until the water stops bubbling. Then take care not to let it dry out completely again

Obviously that won’t work with most houseplants in big pots. There you have to use a surfactant or wetting agent to get the soil to absorb water. Surfactants can be bought at nurseries and home stores, but liquid dishwashing liquid (Joy, Ivory, etc.) works just fine.

The main thing is to not overdo the detergent — that can harm the plant. The usual recommendation is a few drops per gallon of lukewarm water. I’d say not more than 1/4 teaspoon. Slowly pour this over the soil, trying to wet all portions of the surface. (As much as possible, stay away from the edges of the pot, because that water will run straight through and not be absorbed.)

Sometimes that works right away, but occasionally you may have to repeat the procedure several times over a few hours for all of the soil mixture to finally stop repelling water. (Be sure to remove the excess water from the saucer each time.) But it does do the trick.

Two final notes: If you read the bags of the potting soils you buy, you’ll find that some already contain wetting agents to prevent just this type of problem, so that can be another solution if this is a perennial problem with your houseplants.

Or — no kidding — you can get your houseplants their own accounts on Twitter and have them tell you when they need watering! Sometimes I think technology has gone a tad too far.

What should I do before using dried up bagged potting soil?

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  • Is it the end of the growing season in your neck of the woods? What should be done with containers that had plants growing in them all summer? Did you buy some bags of potting soil from the store, but never used them and stored them in your garage for a few years? If any of these ring a bell, you might be wondering:

    Does potting soil go bad? For the most part, no it does not! As long as your potting soil does not have a foul smell, a bad insect problem, or a disease issue, it is perfectly fine to use to grow your plants successfully!

    Even though potting soil may be old or used over and over, it can still be used again the next season! However, this probably does mean you will have to give it a good jump start to get it back to its top form!

    Read on to learn about what makes a good potting soil and how to preserve and rejuvenate it each time it is used.

    What are the Basic Contents of a Good Potting Soil?

    Any good potting soil is lightweight and does not compact easily. The plant and the soil is going to be confined to a small space, so it’s really important that the roots can breathe in that soil.

    Potting soil also must drain water very well, and the container must have adequate drainage holes to let that water out. It is important to be sure the plant’s roots don’t drown!

    Since garden soil does not drain water well, it should not be used in pots or containers. Potting soil or seed starting mix can be purchased at a gardening store. While these pre-made mixes can be convenient to use, they could contain man-made nutrients that I do not recommend.

    In order to save money and stick to be being organic, I make my own potting mix and have had great success! Here is a full detailed article I wrote explaining the process of my homemade mix: DIY Potting Soil and Seed Starting Mix to Save Money. I mix four parts peat moss to one part vermiculite and one part perlite together to make my potting mix. These ingredients provide a lightweight, breathable and moisture controlled environment for containers. You can check out our Best Soil Amendments products page to help you get started!

    This mix alone doesn’t really have many nutrients that your plants need in order to grow and thrive. This is one reason it never really goes bad. It is organic material that doesn’t break down very fast when used in a container. When starting fresh with my potting mix, I add organic nutrients such as compost or worm castings. This will give your container enough nutrients to last the entire growing season of a plant!

    When the season is over, potting soil does not have to be thrown away! Save time and money by not having to make a new potting mix every year. If it is stored properly and given a good jump start next season, it will be perfectly fine to use for container plants!

    How Should Used Potting Soil be Stored Over Winter?

    To prevent mold, mildew, fungal, disease, and pest problems from infesting your potting soil over the winter, here are a few steps you can take.

    First, old plants and any big clumps of roots should be removed completely from the containers. Also, I recommend that potting soil not be stored in growing containers! Most likely, containers are a solid material that could crack when the temperatures freeze and the soil expands. It is also recommended to let the soil dry out to prevent mold and mildew problems.

    Find something clean to use to store the potting soil. This could be a new trash bag or a washed out plastic bin or trash can. I recommend using a natural cleaner to do so!

    If you are storing unopened bags of potting soil, you can just place the bags in the container. If the bags are already opened, just pour in the used potting soil, seal the container and store it in a dry place! Now let’s learn what to do when it’s time to use this soil again next season!

    How to Rejuvenate Your Potting Soil Next Season?

    When Spring comes around and it’s time to start planting in containers again, get out the stored potting soil! But WAIT! It will need some boosting before it can be used!

    Add more potting soil. If the quantity of old potting soil isn’t going to be enough, it is perfectly acceptable to add more to it. I mix and add 4 parts peat moss, 1 part vermiculite, and 1 part perlite to my potting soil.

    Water! Your soil will most likely be dry, as it should be, so it will definitely need some water. I usually put my soil in a wheelbarrow and continue to spray and mix the soil together until it is thoroughly moistened. If you squeeze a handful of the soil, a few drops of water should drip out. That is the optimal amount of moisture. If more than a few drops of water drip out with a squeeze, then the soil is too wet.

    Add more nutrients! Even though you hopefully added nutrients to the potting mix last year, the plants grown in that soil likely used most of them to grow; therefore, this soil is now considered depleted. This is also true for the soil out in the garden. It is very important to give back to your soil each year. For potting soil, mix in 1-2 inches of compost to the top of the soil and you could also mix in a cup or so of worm castings if you have them available. If you haven’t started making your own compost (you should start now!) you can buy a granulated organic fertilizer from the store to add to your mix.

    We have now written a full article on fertilizer for containers that you can read here: Does Potting Soil Need Fertilizer?

    “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

    Proverbs 11:25

    Other Ways to Re-Use Old Potting Soil

    Some of you may not have a convenient place to store a bunch of potting soil over the winter. Have no fear, there are other useful things you can do with it! Just don’t throw it away!

    Spread it out on top of your garden. This is a great way to add organic matter to your garden. Just spread it out on top of your garden beds and let nature do the rest! Do not till or dig it in. Do not disturb your garden soil! The rain, snow, and worms over winter will naturally sift the material into the soil. Other than potting soil, I always recommend adding a layer of compost and then mulch on top of the garden before winter.

    Add it to your compost pile. I am continuously adding garden waste to my compost pile throughout the year. It will all break down and get added back into your garden, strengthening the soil and, in turn, the plants grown in that soil! The end of the fall season is when I top off my garden beds with a layer of compost about one to two inches deep.

    Add it to a worm bin. Your potting mix would be a great thing to add to your worm bin as extra organic matter and bedding. You can also add shredded leaves, paper and cardboard.

    Give it to someone else! If all else fails, at least give it to someone else instead of throwing it away!

    Check out Our Favorite Products page to find everything you might need to help make your garden a success!

    Related Questions

    Can potting soil get moldy? Yes, potting soil can get moldy. In most cases, however, it doesn’t mean it cannot be used. You can mix in some compost to incorporate good life back into the soil. The only case where you would not want to use moldy potting soil is for seed starting.

    How do I moisten dried out potting soil? Put your dried soil into a wheelbarrow or bucket. Continue to add water into the soil while mixing it up at the same time. Keep mixing in water until the soil is dark and has the consistency of a wrung out sponge.

    How do I dry out potting soil that is too wet? If your potting soil is too wet you can spread it out in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp and let it dry out in the sun and wind.

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      • Watering globes are a useful tool to provide your potted plants with water while you are away on vacation. Alternatively, they can be used all the time, to reduce the frequency that you have to manually water your plants. But before you set up a watering globe you really want to know how long it is going to last.

        How Long Do Watering Globes Last? Watering globes normally last for between 7 to 14 days, depending on the size of the globe, the size of the opening, the soil they are placed in and the plant they are intended to water. There are a number of variants of watering globe, which influence the length of time that they will water your plants.

        Do Watering Globes Really Work?

        Yes, watering globes do really work, although to look at them, you could be forgiven for wondering how. Watering globes, aqua globes or watering spikes, as some people call them, are blown glass globes with long thin necks.

        The water in the globe is slowly released into the soil, providing a steady supply of water for your plants over time. They are quick and easy to set up and are ideal for indoor potted plants which would easily dry out if they go unwatered for more than a few days.

        Whilst there are many options for controlled watering of your potted plants, watering globes are one of the cheapest and simplest to use. I have used them with great success for trips of up to three weeks, and have always returned to living plants, although they aren’t always perfect.

        How Does A Watering Globe Work?

        A watering globe works by providing a slow and steady supply of water to your plants. It limits the ability of water to leave the globe using a small opening for the water to escape.

        To use a watering globe, you fill the globe up with water and then invert in, carefully pushing the long thin neck of the globe into the soil. At first, a small amount of water will escape out of the neck of the globe, but then two processes will limit the rate at which the globe empties.

        Firstly, the physical presence of soil at the entrance to the opening will limit the rate at which water is able to leave the watering globe.

        Secondly, the water leaving the globe will prevent air from entering the neck of the globe. If no air is able to get in to to displace the water, the water will be unable to leave as a weak vacuum is formed.

        Once the soil around the neck of the globe dries out, air will be able to enter the globe and displace a small amount of the water, until equilibrium is restored.

        This process will limit the rate that the globe empties. Whilst the rate of emptying will depend on a lot of factors, including the type of soil in the pot, the water requirements of the plant and the ambient temperature, you can reasonably expect a watering globe to last for 1-2 weeks if used correctly.

        Although I have gone on trips of up to 3 weeks while relying on a watering globe for my indoor potted plants, I do this knowing that the water is likely to run out after about two weeks. However, from experience, I know my plants can go for about a week without water and still be in reasonable shape on my return.

        What Is An Aqua Globe?

        An aqua globe is another name for a watering globe. There are multiple different manufacturers, and there is some variation in the naming of them.

        There are also a number of different variants which use the same idea as a watering globe to water your plants.

        Some products use the typical glass globe with a long thin neck.

        Others are detachable spikes with a screw on reservoir. These can make it easier to refill the water when it is empty.

        Other variants simply provide a spike and screw attachment for you to use your own plastic or glass bottle as a reservoir. While these aren’t as nice to look at, if you’re just after functionality, they work well and give you a bit more flexibility to choose the size of the reservoir that you use.

        What Are The Advantages Of Watering Globes?

        It’s not hard to see the advantages of watering globes. They are inexpensive and look really attractive. I’ve had plenty of people comment on my watering globes. Some people are baffled about what they are and how they work and some people just think they look really well.

        Using a watering globe is really easy and quick, so if you’re going on vacation, it is a job that you can do quickly and easily and won’t be a major chore.

        You don’t have to move your potted plants from their normal position to use a watering globe. You don’t need to attach the watering globe to an external water supply and there is no electronics or complicated controls. They simply use physics to release water to your plants slowly over time.

        What Are The Drawbacks Of Watering Globes?

        There are a few negative things about watering globes that you should be aware of. I don’t think any of these makes watering globes a bad option, but it will depend on your individual needs and preferences.

        The rate that a watering globe delivers its water is variable, and you may not be able to completely control this. I’ve heard of people having an empty globe after 2 days! Mine last anywhere from 1-2 weeks usually, but this is still quite a large variation, and could make the difference between living and dead plants on your return from your trip.

        There are a few tricks to getting them to work reliably, so as long as you set them up right, they shouldn’t empty in less than a week. It would be a good idea to try one a few times while you are not on vacation, to get a good idea whether it is going to last sufficiently long.

        My best tip if you are finding your watering globe empty after a few days, is to water your plant thoroughly before inserting the watering globe into the soil. This seems to prevent problems with the globes emptying quicker than they should.

        Another drawback is that they are delicate. They are made of blown glass, and the neck is long, thin and fragile. It wouldn’t take much to crack or smash one, so care needs to be taken when filling them and placing them into the soil.

        The other issue I have had is that the opening in the neck of the watering globes can be quite variable in size and the ones with very narrow openings can be a bit tricky and slow to refill.

        How To Stop Your Watering Globe Getting Clogged?

        One issue I have encountered while using watering globes is when you take them out of the soil to refill them, you sometimes find the opening can be clogged with soil. This is a bit tricky to fix as the opening can be very small. I have previously used a wooden skewer or cotton bud to unclog mine, which normally works well.

        The best way to stop your watering globe getting clogged is to make a hole in the soil with a long, thin implement such as a pencil or screwdriver before inserting your watering globe. This prevents soil being forced up into the neck during insertion, and also reduces the risk of breaking the watering globe while inserting it.

        What Are The Alternatives To Watering Globes?

        There are quite a number of alternatives to supply your plants with water while you are on vacation. These include the following;

        • Setting up a wick to jug or bucket of water
        • Using a self watering planter
        • Putting your plants in a watering tray with capillary matting
        • Setting up an electronic watering system.

        These all have their pros and cons and the best choice for you will depend on a range of factors.

        Overall, I think watering globes are well worth a try. They aren’t perfect, but they are inexpensive and do the job most of the time.

        Watering Potted Plants

        Most Potted Plants require more care than those planted in the earth. The reason is that in their unnatural isolated environment, they do not have the benefit of the moisture and nutrients that the earth can provide to them. Whatever they require to remain beautiful and luxurious must be provided by you.
        When you water your potted plants, do you wonder if they get enough? Often we give them just enough to keep the overflow from making a mess. When plants are regularly watered from the top, there is no way to be sure that every Root and Rootlet got a drink.

        The “drink” contains dissolved nutrients that the moisture has removed from the soil. The plant needs these for health and growth. Every Root is important to the well being of the whole plant. Imagine if your family got lots of food, but YOU were left out.

        The next time you finish watering a smallish potted plant, do this:
        Fill a bucket with water and submerge the plant. If air bubbles pop to the surface of the water, there probably were roots that were still thirsty. The rest of your potted plants are very likely similar.



        #1 – The DIP Method
        The Dip Method was just described, where you submerge the whole plant. Keep it under water until there are no more air bubbles surfacing. You can be sure that every Rootlet is satisfied, and the foliage got a bath at the same time. This may not be possible with larger plants, but read on. . .
        #2 – The TUB Method
        This method is handy for pots that are too cumbersome or large to lift. Here the potted plant is kept in a tub that has a drain threaded to accept a garden hose. The tub must be higher than the soil level in the pot. Fill the tub with water until it is above the level of the soil and the bubbles stop surfacing. Then drain the water out with a garden hose. Leave the hose on until there is no more seepage. Then screw a water-tight cap on the drain.

        #3 – The RESERVOIR Method
        With this method, a small pot or other container with a hole in the bottom
        is buried in the center of the container, level with the soil. It is filled with water every day or two, and has the effect of watering from the bottom of the container.

        I prefer that the watering pot reaches to the bottom of the container. The taper may cause the pot to be rather large. Or you can use a length of 1″ plastic pipe that is cut off at an angle to prevent it from sealing on the bottom of the container as below:

        #4 – The PIPE Method
        This is similar to Method #3, except that the pipe holds less water, and so it may take longer to pour enough water to satisfy the plant.

        #5 – The DRIP Method
        With this method, a length of small-diameter tubing brings water from a pressurized source or an elevated reservoir. A valve controls the flow to an occasional drip. The drip must be just often enough to replace the water that the plant and air have absorbed. One drop every ten minutes may be adequate for a small plant in a cool, humid location. But another tube going to a large plant where it is hot and dry may have to supply a drop ever few seconds. It is important to check the output occasionally, in case the supply has been interrupted.

        #6 – The WICK Method
        Here the tubing from Method #4 has been replaced with a length of wick that moves water by capillary action. It has the benefit of being more or less automatic in that dry soil will take more water from the wet wick than damp soil will. Of course, the water supply may not be pressurized. The wick can be a rope made of absorbent material. If you put the wick inside a length of tubing (except for the last 6″), there is no chance of things it accidentally touches becoming wet. The diameter and elevation of the wick determines the water flow. Several wicks may be needed to water a large potted plant.

        These last two methods may be ideal for vacationers. If you use any of these methods, it is best to have the pot in a saucer to catch any seepage. Usually seepage will evaporate from the saucer before it overflows.

        All of these methods attempt to get water to the bottom of the pot. When the pot is watered from above, the tendency is for roots to grow near the surface where the nutrients are dissolved. This causes plants to be “shallow-rooted”. This same inadequate watering outdoors may cause plants to suffer greatly on hot summer days when the roots get warm and dry.

        The water may contain dissolved natural or commercial plant nutrients, which you prepare according to the directions on the package.
        To be sure that roots are getting adequate water, you can use a Moisture Meter. It has a metal probe that you push into the soil to indicate the amount of moisture present. I find them to be very useful.

        While you may not appreciate the appearance of opaque containers, they do have the advantage of visual moisture monitoring.

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