How to fix hydrophobic soil is a question that all plant parents might have encountered, as it is a common problem. It happens when the soil has completely dried out and has become water-repellent from an excessively long period of time without water.

Fixing Your Hydrophobic Soil

Fortunately, this problem can easily be solved and treated using several tried and tested methods. Read on to discover all the things you need to know when dealing with this problem, from understanding why it is happening to common solutions on how to fix it.

Why Does Hydrophobic Soil Happen?

When soil has been left out to dry for too long, it can develop a waxy organic material that attaches to the soil particles and causes them to reject water instead of absorbing it, which is called hydrophobic soil. This can occur depending on the weather in your area or your watering frequency.

The first step in fixing hydrophobic soil is to confirm if the problem you are dealing with is indeed one of hydrophobicity or water repellency. Hydrophobic soils are dry and often dusty. Furthermore, it can easily be identified by simply watering the soil.

If the water pools at the surface or looks like it’s just passing through the soil, and a quick check on the soil beneath the surface reveals that it’s still dry, then we have a hydrophobic soil problem. For lawns, localized dry patches are a sign of water resistance. This can be observed at the onset of morning dew in the early morning.

However, there is no need to worry as it is a very common problem and can be seen in almost all soil types. However, sandy soil types, or those with less than 5 percent clay, as well as soils with peat moss, are more prone to develop it. 

How To Improve Water Retention of Hydrophobic Soil

Rehydrating the soil, using soil-wetting agents, and improving the quality of the soil using a number of products can help improve the water retention of hydrophobic soil. The major objective is to restore the soil’s capacity to absorb and retain water. 

You can also add organic matter to the soil, aerate and rehydrate it, or put in wetting agents. When these are done together, they can surely increase the water absorption of the soil.

Solutions To Save Your Soil

Given that water is essential to the health of a plant, the inability of the soil to absorb it will cause fatal problems for any plant. Hence, it is important to solve this crucial issue as soon as possible. Below are tried and tested solutions, including quick fixes and long-term solutions:

– Rehydrating the Soil

Simply pouring water would not be effective, but there are several ways in which the dried-out soil can be rehydrated. This is applicable to potted plants.

  • Submerging the Whole Pot

A drastic solution is to submerge the whole pot in water. To do this, fill a bucket with water and dunk the whole pot in it. You will notice that there will be many bubbles; these are from the roots of the plant. When the bubbling stops, take out the plant and leave it to drain.

  • Bottom Watering

A more gradual way is to do bottom watering. Put enough water in a shallow container and put the pot in it. The goal is to slowly hydrate the soil by allowing it to absorb the water from the bottom up. Depending on the size of the pot, this might take at least an hour for the soil to be completely rehydrated. Be careful not to leave the pot in it for long hours.

  • Trickle Watering

For big pots or containers that are too heavy to lift, you can do trickle watering. It is done by subjecting the affected soil to a continuous but slow flow of water until the soil absorbs it. A water hose with regulated water flow can do the trick.

– Using Soil-wetting Agents

Soil wetting agent is a quick fix for hydrophobic soil but not necessarily a long-term solution. Wetting agents can be considered a temporary remedy to the problem.

A wetting agent is like dish soap for hydrophobic soil because it functions like how dish soap functions on oily dishes. They lower the surface tension on the water and dissolve some of the waxy coatings of the soil particles. By doing this, the water can penetrate the soil and be absorbed.

There are two types of soil-wetting agents: organic and non-organic. A popular natural wetting agent for hydrophobic soil is a solution made from agar or seaweed.

Simply dissolve the agar mixture in warm water until you get a runny, gelatinous consistency. You can add two cups of this solution to nine liters of water, and it will be enough for 6 square meters of soil.

For the commercially available pre-made wetting agents, there are numerous brands to choose from such as Scotts Everydrop Water Maximizer, Revive Organic soil treatment, Duration Soil Surfactant Wetting Agent, SaferGro Natural Wet, Penterra Soil Penetrant and Wetting Agent, Liquid Yucca Extract Organic Wetting Agent, and many more.

 

– Improving the Quality of the Soil

A more permanent solution is to improve the quality of the soil itself. It is done by amending the combination of the affected soil mixture. You can use potting mix in your potting soil to incorporate the list below.

  • Compost

When the soil dries out, all of the living organisms in it naturally die; thus, it is essential to restore the bacterial and fungal life in the soil to improve its ability to absorb water and retain moisture. This process can be done by adding recycled organic matter from kitchen scraps because it is rich in microorganisms that will help give life to the soil.

Compost tea can also be used. There are commercially available ones, or you can create your own. It is composed of compost materials that are packed in a bag and watered in; the drippings, which contain all the nutrients from the compost, are what will be applied to the soil.

  • Fish Emulsion

A good addition to dried-out soil is fish emulsion. It is a product made of fermented fish that helps provide nutrients and boosts good microorganisms. It can also be combined with kelp to help the roots of the plant get stronger.

  • Fresh Gardening Soil and Manure

Fresh garden soil can also be added to the mixture after all the additives and fertilizers have been applied.

Manure is an all-natural fertilizer that contains many nutrients. It is possible to make tea from cow and horse manure with water, then you can utilize it to hydrate the soil. Meanwhile, llama and alpaca manure can be incorporated directly into the soil.

  • Mycorrhiza

A unique fungus that acts as extended plant roots works by penetrating the ground. These fungi are effective in absorbing nutrients and water, which is great for plants in soil that have dried out.

  • Vermiculite

Adding vermiculite can help aerate the soil. It also holds water and nutrients that can be released later. Hence, it is a great addition to resolving the water-repellency problem of soil.

  • Worm Casting

Worm castings, also known as vermicast or vermicompost, are an organic kind of fertilizer. It is made of earthworm poop or manure. As these organisms consume compost, their waste is the best soil enricher. Adding worm casting to dried-up soil will surely help in boosting the nutrients in the soil for micro-organisms to thrive, thus improving the quality of the soil.

FAQs

– How Do You Fix Hydrophobic Soil in Houseplants?

Fixing houseplants with soil that is water repellent can be achieved by aerating the soil, submerging the whole pot in water, bottom watering, trickle watering, using a wetting agent, or adding a layer of compost on top.

– How Do You Fix Hydrophobic Soil in a Lawn?

The quickest way to fix water repellent soil in your lawn is to aerate the soil and put a wetting agent on it that can then be evenly distributed by rain or by watering the lawn.

Solution For Hydrophobic Soil

Conclusion

Soil that becomes hydrophobic is a common scenario, especially during the hot seasons.

If left untreated, this can result in plants dying due to malnutrition and dehydration, so let us recap what we have discussed about this condition:

  • The first step in resolving this problem is understanding the problem and its signs. Soil that is hydrophobic is dry, dusty, and creates a pool of water at the surface when watered down.
  • Improving the water retention of the soil can be done by using several methods. One of these is rehydrating the plant. It can be done by submerging the whole pot, bottom watering, or trickle watering. These methods are applicable to hydrophobic soil in pots.
  • A quick fix, although the effect may be short-term, is using wetting agents. You can simply add this to the water before watering the plant. This is quite effective, as advertised by commercially available wetting agents.
  • A more effective and long-lasting solution is to improve soil quality. It can be done by adding organic matter, fertilizers, vermiculite for aeration, and compost that is rich in microorganisms. This will help break down the waxy coating in the soil and thus help with better water absorption.
  • To further prevent this from happening again, it is a great idea to cover the top layer with mulch or wood chips to help keep the soil moist.

With all the solutions we have discovered, it is now easier to deal with this soil problem. Understanding the reason behind this issue will make it more manageable, aid in preventing it from worsening, and finally eliminate the problem.

References

  •   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrophobic_soil
  •   https://mgsantaclara.ucanr.edu/garden-help/watering-hydrophobic-soil/
  •   https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
  •   https://rodaleinstitute.org/blog/compost-tea-a-how-to-guide/
  •   https://www.almanac.com/content/how-make-compost-tea#:~:text=What%20is%20Compost%20Tea%3F,in%20the%20compost%20before%20brewing.
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