One of the most important factors to grow a good container garden is the potting soil. If your potting soil is not absorbing enough water, your plants will be in trouble. I’ve done some research on what can cause such an issue and how you can resolve it.

Your potting soil is not absorbing water because it’s become it has dried out and become hydrophobic. This happens because you have not watered it frequent enough. Another reason could be because the plant is root bound where the roots have grown larger than the available space.

Keep reading to learn more about why your potting soil may have ended up in this situation and what you can do so it can get back its moisture-retaining capacity.

Why is My Potting Soil Not Absorbing Water?

To discover why your potting soil is not absorbing water, you will likely have to complete a basic process of elimination- slowly but surely ruling out various root causes by testing out the different solutions and examining any success in addressing the issues head-on.

As mentioned above, there can be several reasons that your soil is not absorbing water. Consider the following:

1. The plant is root bound

When a plant becomes root bound, this means that it is too large for the container that it is in. The plant’s roots are vast meaning that they will suck up the water that you generously pour into the pot. This means that there will not be enough water for the soil to absorb.

To resolve this issue, you need to replant your plant in an appropriately-sized pot, or you can choose to carefully trim down your plant. Either option will work, but your plant will not be able to continue growing in its current situation considering the soil will never be able to take the water in.

2. You did not use enough water

Whether you are new at working with plants, or this is something that is a bit more familiar to you, you can make the mistake of adding too little water to the potting soil in the first place. Then, of course, your soil will appear to be dry.

If you believe that this might be the case, then try adding a bit more water being mindful not to flood the container. Additionally, you do not want to overwater your plants as this can lead to root rot and flooded plants. Simply add small portions more regularly until you notice a difference in the potting soil absorbing water (or not- meaning you can move to your next solution).

3. You forgot to add enough water

Not only is not adding enough water when you are trying to water your plants an issue but forgetting to water your plants is almost inevitable. After all, we all lead busy lives, and there might be a few days where our brains are not entirely geared towards our house plants (no matter how much we admire them).

If you forget to add enough water to your plants, then you will notice that your potting soil appears dry. Perhaps you can consider tracking when you watered your plants on a calendar in your home- especially if you have many plants that require different amounts of watering throughout the week.

holy basil wilting
My holy basil plant that was wilting due to underwatering

4. The peat in the potting soil has dried out

If you forgot to water your plants (or, let’s say, you have a big life event come up that causes you to be unavailable to your beloved plant friends), then the peat in the potting soil will likely dry out. Unfortunately, when this occurs, it is very difficult for this peat to begin absorbing water again.

Because of this, you can choose to replace the soil entirely (especially if it has been a while since you forgot to water your plants but they are still somehow living). Or, you could consider working in the moisture in another way like building a trough or melting ice cubes on top of the soil allowing for slower absorption.

When testing out your various solutions through the process of elimination, it is important to consider the unique circumstances that led up to your potting soil no longer absorbing water. These are sure to be telltale signs of why you are having to work so hard to keep your plant’s soil full of moisture.

How Do You Fix Soil that Doesn’t Absorb Water?

So you might have identified why your potting soil is not absorbing water, but what should you do about it? There are several solutions that you can consider. These will help to fix a myriad of issues that could be causing your potting soil not to absorb water for one reason or another.

To fix soil that does not absorb water, consider the following:

1. Use a wetting agent (surfactant)

Using a wetting agent, or surfactant, it is possible that you will be able to revive the potting soil that has unfortunately gone dry. But, this could take a bit of work.

To do this, add a few drops of the wetting agent per gallon of water (or other measurement specified on the label). Then, pour this mixture over the center of the container. Be sure not to pour it near the edges as this can lead to the water automatically running over or the dried out soil being unable to fully absorb this either.

You can buy wetting agents or surfactants at most locations that sell plants including home good stores, nurseries, etc. Another option is to use a homemade alternative like liquid dish detergent in small amounts. If it takes a while to notice any results, you can repeat this step as frequently as necessary.

2. Soak the soil in a watertight container

If you have the option to remove the soil from the container without harming the plants (or you can soak the entire container including the plant without harming it), you can soak the soil in a watertight container.

This works best when you can remove the soil entirely, as you will be able to revive it and work with your hands in the soil without harming the plants. You might find that this can take a while if the soil is very dry and the peat has been permitted to dry out (such as if you forgot to water your plant).

Once the soil begins to absorb the water, allow it to sit for a little while longer. Then, when you begin to notice that almost all of the water has been absorbed, you can work with the soil as you would when kneading bread dough, slowly breaking up any clumps that remained behind and ensuring evenly distributed moisture.

3. Add organic compound or compost

If you are able to separate your plants from the mixture, or you are confident that the material will not harm your plant, then you can add organic compound or compost to the potting soil to help enrich it.

You will want to be careful in how you complete this option, as it requires delicate maneuvering if you are placing the mixture next to your plants. Either way, you can choose a compound like manure that is naturally moist, or you can use your garden compost. Continue adding in small amounts until your soil appears to be absorbing moisture again.

4. Use a slow absorption method with the soil

Dig a small hole in the middle of your soil and pour water into this. In this way, the water will be forced to be absorbed into the center of the container rather than draining automatically to the sides of the container.

Another method you can consider is placing ice cubes on top of the potting soil. As they melt, the water will slowly drain into the potting soil allowing for slower absorption and the possibility of reviving your potting soil to its absorption glory.

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