October 19, 2022

The Nitty Gritty of Soil

By Andrea Davine
The Nitty Gritty of Soil
There’s not much to say about soil. Or is there? It’s the home for almost half of our houseplant’s body, and where your botanical pal gets a large portion of its nutrients from. One huge part of plant care is nurturing a healthy root system for your plants. A healthy root system makes for a healthy plant! But it’s not just about picking out the prettiest soil packaging and crossing your fingers. In the same way a forest floor isn’t just soil, neither should your pot be! There are plenty of additives (or “conditioners”) that can be added to soil in order to make it much more hospitable for your plants, and the ratios can be adjusted based on the type of plant you’re working with.

A quick disclaimer: This is very entry level. You should be fine keeping most plants alive with these tips but we won’t be touching on micronutrients, pH levels, etc.

Sand and perlite: These are additives that are
usually quite easy to find and do wonders for any soil that needs more drainage. These additives aerate your soil, preventing it from getting compacted and no longer taking in water. This then allows water to freely pass through your pot, soaking your roots without turning the soil into a dense and suffocating sponge. Go hard on these in soils for desert plants. Less so for tropicals - consider dropping the sand entirely and going easy on any perlite.

Bark: Bark is a unique one in that it allows for increased drainage but still hangs onto moisture. Perfect for your plants that don’t want to be touching too much soil (Looking at you, orchids!), but don’t want the dryness that comes with perlite or sand. Avoid in drier mixes but add to your tropicals, and have it form the base of mixes for your epiphytes.

Peat: Peat is a fabulous way of increasing the moisture in your mix. Ideal for water-loving plants or tropicals, as well as anything you might be worried about getting too dry. Careful not to get too heavy handed with this stuff though, as you can end up with a mix that’s very nutrient deficient and can loop back around and dry out too quickly. Avoid adding to drier mixes!

Sphagnum moss: This one would be a special case, reserved for propagation or mixes with almost no soil in them. Mix sphagnum moss with some bark for a lovely orchid/epiphyte mix, otherwise maybe give this one a miss.

This quick list should have you covered on most of your usual suspects. Gardening is both art and science, so have a play with your soils and don't be afraid to get a little dirty!