Aerating the Soil of Your Plants
In case it isn’t apparent, one of our favorite benefits to owning houseplants is that they produce oxygen and clean the air. However, did you know that your plant may be gasping for breath?
Your houseplant “breathes'' oxygen contained in their soil, which means aeration should be a regular part of your plant care routine! Why? What is it? And how do you do it?
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Plant Care Tip: Why You Need to be Aerating the Soil of Your Houseplants
There are no natural houseplants; plants grow outdoors, where their soil is regularly aerated by countless bugs, worms, and micro-organisms. These creatures break up the dirt, providing oxygen to the plant’s roots. Why is that so important?
Most people are familiar with photosynthesis: plants turn light into sugar. But what about “respiration”? Respiration is the process in which a plant produces energy with sugars (produced during photosynthesis), water, carbon dioxide, and oxygen. No aeration = no respiration = no energy.
A plant suffering from low levels of oxygen in its soil will have slowed nutrient and water absorption. Symptoms include slow growth, yellowing, faded coloration, and root rot.
Why Your Soil Loses Oxygen
Potting mix and container type are both to blame. The main ingredient in traditional potting mix is peat moss, which quickly decomposes and compacts around your plant’s rooty. Additionally, the majority of containers are “water-retaining” (examples include ceramic, plastic, and metal), which essentially means they keep the oxygen out! Without some assistance from you, these two factors will eventually spell disaster for your houseplant.
What is Aeration?
Basically, you take nature into your own hands. Since there (thankfully) aren’t any bugs to push the dirt of your houseplant around, you have to manually push oxygen into your plant’s soil (that’s aeration!). Doing so will help it produce the energy it needs to thrive.
How to Aerate Your Plant’s Soil
Thankfully, this process is simple. There are no specialized houseplant tools to aerate your plant’s soil. In fact, you can repurpose many household items for the task.
What to use: A sturdy straw, chopstick, popsicle stick, unsharpened pencil.
What not to use: Sharp objects (such as a knife, plant stake, or skewer).
The purpose of aeration is to gently move your plant’s soil to infuse more oxygen, harming as few roots as possible. You are not vigorously stabbing, which is why you should avoid sharp objects.
Select your tool.
Gently poke your tool into the soil, as deep as it will go.
While still at the bottom, move your tool in circular motions.
Remove your tool.
Water your plant.
Will Aerating my plant damage its roots?
Your plant’s root system consists of small and large roots. An army of tiny roots is responsible for the majority of your plant’s nutrient absorption. And, as quick growers, your plant will soon replace any you “run over.” Ultimately, aerating your plant will help all your houseplant’s roots absorb nutrients more efficiently, so the benefits outweigh the dangers.
However, the reason you gently poke is to ensure that you do not run over your plant’s chunkier, central root system. These bigger roots stabilize your plant and are slower to recover when cut.
When to Aerate
Aerate your plant’s soil once a month when it’s time to water your houseplants. Watering your plant after aerating is a vital step for transporting fresh oxygen to your entire root system.
You should definitely aerate your plant’s soil when you can tell that it’s compacted. What two tell-tale signs?
Water sits on the soil’s surface for prolonged periods.
You haven’t repotted in over a year.
Other Methods of Aeration
There are other ways to maintain the oxygen levels in your plant’s soil!
A Yearly Soil Refresh
As noted, the peat moss in your potting mix will eventually decompose and compact, suffocating your plant. What’s a potting mix’s average life expectancy? One year. Even if your plant hasn’t outgrown its container, it will benefit from fresh soil every 12 months (Spring is usually ideal).
Depending on your plant’s species, soil additives are a great way to boost your soil’s aeration and temporarily prevent compaction. Examples of additives include orchid bark, perlite, coarse sand, vermiculite, and agricultural charcoal.
For instance, adding an extra handful of perlite to a traditional potting mix can extend its “life” to 18 months. If your plant has moisture requirements such as “evenly moist soil” or “well-draining soil,” extra perlite is an excellent option for you.
Choosing the Right Pot
Moisture-wicking containers, such as Terra Cotta, will help maintain your plant’s aeration. Remember, clay pots are not suitable for all plant types, so do your research.
If you choose to use a “moisture retaining” pot (such as ceramic, cement, plastic, or metal), here are a few reminders that will help with aeration:
Choose a container with sufficient drainage: at least one large hole per gallon of soil.
Avoid planting directly in containers that have thick walls.
Avoid Artificial Compaction
What is it? Placing heavy objects on your soil’s surface will cause it to compact more quickly. Don’t place bulky decorations on your plant’s topsoil and keep pets from laying on the soil’s surface.
Looking for tips on how to keep your pets away? Spraying the soil’s surface and pot with citrus water will be unappealing to both dogs and cats.
A fast, drenching overhead watering will work to clean your soil of toxins and excess salts and force oxygen into the soil’s innermost layers.
By adding aeration to your monthly houseplant care routine, you’ll be able to prolong your soil’s lifespan and (most importantly) keep your plant thriving!