Potting Soil Made Easy: Tips & Tricks for Gardening Success

Hard, dry potting soil is every home gardener’s worst fear. As someone who gardens at home, you might have confronted various unforeseen challenges that hinder successful gardening. However, every issue comes with a corresponding solution.

Potting soil getting tough is an often occurrence. You can improve this by providing ample water supply timely, changing the potting soil frequently, and refraining from packing the soil too tightly. The weather also plays a role in dictating the texture of your potting soil. 

Surprisingly, even experienced home gardeners fall victim to this horticultural problem. The underlying problem can be as simple as purchasing low-quality soil for your potting soil suffering from hydrophobia! Yes, that’s a thing!  

What is potting soil?

Potting soil is often interchanged with other soil types, such as garden soil, topsoil and even potting mixes.

plastic scoop and compost on a table

Potting soil is a soil variant best for container and potted plants.

Gardeners often acquire them due to their great ability to retain moisture. A common ingredient for them is peat, which is great for healthy plants. To aid you more about soil differences as compared to potting soil. Check my recent article on the differences between potting, topsoil and garden soil. It recounts the uses and advantages of each and the main ingredients for these soils.

4 Major Reasons Why Potting Soil Gets Hard

Let’s dive deeper into the root of the problem.

Using soil of the wrong texture makes potting soil hard

soil in buckets with a green trowel

A common gardening mistake is to think using soil with a more clay-like consistency will moisten the soil. However, I’m afraid that’s not right.

This soil type makes the top layer dry out faster than the bottom and middle layers, thus creating a cracked surface. This leaves the plants deprived of the necessary nutrition.

Fungi infest potting soil.

While you may feel optimistic about your newly purchased bag of potting soil, don’t expect it not to disappoint. The premade potting soil mix sold in nurseries is usually prepared months in advance, and they go through a rigorous treatment process before being packed.

These soil mix packs are composed, sterilized, and treated at the lowest heat to prevent them from spoiling or decaying before being sold.

However, once the seal is broken and the soil is used, they are vulnerable to being infested by many fungi in your garden. Fungi grow fast in sterile soil and under optimum gardening conditions that you provide but are also short-lived in the same conditions, thus drying out the soil.  

Using hydrophobic soil for potting soil

It may sound amusing to you that how can soil possibly be “scared” of water when they need this very thing to survive? As unusual as it may sound, a special type of soil does have this characteristic.

When peat moss, an essential element of every potting soil, dries out, the soil is termed hydrophobic soil.

It becomes difficult to rewet the soil because it constantly repels water rather than absorbs it. When you put water, the liquid runs between the sides of the plant, and most of the water drains out, leaving the soil parched and arid.

Weight does not define potting soil quality.

watering a house plant with a sprayer

Many home gardening practitioners believe that heavier soil equals better quality. This is completely wrong and a common gardening mistake. Soil can weigh more for either of two reasons:

  • Pre Soaking the soil
  • If there was an addition of a good amount of sand

Soaking potting soil beforehand exposes it to problems such as breaking down, becoming compact, and making it a potential carrier of root diseases. While a wet sandy texture is good for potting soils, an extra addition of actual sand is not. This will only deteriorate soil quality because people often use it as a cheap filler.

What to do when the potting soil is tough

On other occasions, when the soil becomes extremely hard and dry with a cement-like texture that seems impenetrable, take the gradual route of sprinkling instead of absorbing.

This type of dried soil will be less likely to absorb water and cause water run-off.

Sprinkle water on the potting soil.

To tackle this problem, sprinkle the surface of the soil lightly and repeatedly using a water sprinkler to ensure that the water runs off the sides. Eventually, the tough surface will give in and absorb the water.

If sprinkling initially does not benefit you, try breaking up the surface with a fork by making indents.

This is a lengthy process but a very effective one.

Consider moving the potted plant.

small seedling in a small pot held by a hand

What to do when mother nature is drying out your potting soil? Do you need to pack up your garden and move? Well, partially, yes.

If you think the weather or surrounding environment is the culprit for degrading the quality of your potting soil, try moving the pot (not the whole garden!) to a more appropriate place.

What Type Of Potting Soil Should You Purchase?

Opt for something that has a wet sand-like texture. It should not have a liquid consistency like clay but should not be too coarse, either.

But, it should be like sand with which you can form shapes with your palm.

Also, assess the weight of the soil before buying and avoid hefty packs. Do not go for overly flamboyant sellers about using organic materials, as too much organic content can ruin the quality.   

What Factors Should You Assess Before Purchasing Potting Soil?

While the texture and weight of soil are two important factors, the purchase place is also crucial. Buy potting soil from reliable brands and sources, whether a physical outlet or online store.

Ask for recommendations from other gardeners who have purchased potting soil without facing the problem of drying out.

Gardening requires effort; proper background research will keep your effort from going down the drain. 

Does The Weather And External Conditions Play A Role In Making The Soil Dry?

The weather plays a role in making the soil dry, and so does the season. While spring sounds like the best time to ramp up your gardening efforts, this optimum season also brings an influx of fungi.

Outdoor and indoor plants have varying requirements as the surrounding outdoors can get too dry, and indoor plants often lack receiving sunlight.

You should also note that plants have varying needs, as growing cacti highly differs from growing herbs.

FAQs on Potting Soil Made Easy: Tips & Tricks for Gardening Success

How do you prevent potting soil from getting hard?
You can prevent potting soil from going hard with minimal effort by using a gardening technique known as mulching. This eliminates the need to change the entire potting soil. For mulching, place some mulch or wood chips and mulch on the soil’s surface, and this will aid in retaining its moisture.

Is dried-out potting soil still good?
Potting soil that has gone dry does not necessarily indicate it was bad or spoilt. As you read above, various other factors come into play. It is a good idea to rehydrate potting soil regularly. But using the same soil repeatedly eventually deprives it of its nutrients.

How long does potting soil last?
Used and new potting soil have different lifespans, and you will know their life has ended by noticing a substantial drop in quality. Used potting soil lasts anywhere between a year and two, whereas potting soil sitting unused should be discarded after a maximum of six months.

What To Do When Your Potting Soil Becomes Very Dry?
If the hydrophobic nature of the soil is the leading cause of the dryness, try submerging the entire pot in a bucket or tub of water. This will eliminate air trapped in between the soil. Place the pot in a shallow water container and let it soak gradually for an hour or two.

How do you determine what would suit your potting soil best?
A place with ample shade, a constant airflow, a good amount of rainwater when there is a downpour, and plenty of sunlight that is not harsh for the plant’s growth is what your potting soil needs to stay moist. Also, consider fertilizers and moisturizers to boost your potting soil.

Conclusion on why potting soil gets so hard.

Hopefully, all stated above will help you solve your potting soil. Remember, before doing anything, try to look into the ingredients of the potting soil, especially when it is storebought and try to fix it from there.

Just like everything in your garden and even in life, it takes a little trial and error to get things perfect for your garden. The tips above will hopefully help you save money from buying new potting soil.

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