How To Aerate Houseplant Soil?

Did you know that as well as water and sunshine, plants do also need to breathe? They do this through their leaves, but it is also important that you know how to aerate houseplant soil.

Keeping the plants able to move their roots through the soil is essential plant maintenance; if yours don’t have enough air then read on for our tips.

How To Aerate Houseplant Soil

how to aerate houseplant soil

Aerating houseplant soil is much easier than you might imagine, and in most cases you won’t have to completely repot your plant.

Aerating the soil simply means adding more means for the air to get into the soil, and this generally means making small holes in the soil.

You can use a variety of implements to aerate your soil – no, you don’t have to go out and buy some expensive gadget!

Chopsticks, a metal straw, a bamboo cane, a pencil – basically anything that is long enough to get past the surface, and thin enough to get into the soil, is ideal for aerating.

You don’t want to use anything that is too sharp, like a knife, scissors or a skewer, as this can damage those precious roots.

It is definitely worth cleaning the aerator between plants if you are doing more than one, to avoid spreading potential disease.

Gently insert your chosen aerator into the surface of the soil, not too deep, and rotate it in small circles.

Repeat every couple of inches, until you have covered the entire surface of the plant’s soil.

If you feel resistance or the soft sound of roots breaking, don’t panic too much – just don’t get too aggressive with it!

After aerating, water the plant well, and enjoy how the water now drains right to where it’s meant to be going!

Here’s a good video, showing you the best and easiest ways to aerate your houseplant soil:

Do Houseplants Need Aeration?

In the wild, all the soil is constantly aerated by the weather, and by small burrowing insects who dig around in the soil.

In a potted environment, chances are you have no insects to snuffle about in your soil and shift it about, so it has to come from other places – this means you!

Aerating the soil means that the plant’s roots can breathe – this is just about as important as making sure the leaves get plenty of air.

Without enough air getting to the roots, they can start to rot – this pretty much means death for your plant.

Aerating is easiest in dry, crumbly soil, so if your houseplants are in a heavy clay substrate then they will need more aeration than others.

You can tell if your houseplants need a bit of air in the soil by checking the following things:

  • Does the soil look dry, compacted and a little like hard clay or cement?
  • Does the water form in puddles on the surface long after you have watered your plant?
  • Does the soil contract towards the middle of the pot, leaving a gap between the soil and the pot?

If the answer to any of these is yes, it’s time to get your aerating tools out!

What Happens When There Is No Air In Soil?

When a plant has no air in the soil surrounding its roots, it’s like you trying to drink a glass of water whilst holding your breath. You can’t do it, can you?

If there is no oxygen diffusing into the roots, your plants will suffer stunted growth and even slowly suffocate and die.

Also, anaerobic conditions encourage the growth of micro organisms which can release toxins that will damage your plant.

I can’t think of a better reason to start aerating your soil right now! In fact, I might just pop off and check my own plants.

Thankfully, getting air into the soil of your houseplants is not too difficult, and you don’t even have to remember to do it too often!

What Causes Poor Soil Aeration?

There are actually quite a few reasons for poor soil aeration, and luckily there are ways that you can fix it.

  • Overwatering. This will not only drown the roots but it prevents any oxygen reaching the roots of the plant at all.
  • Lack of aerating materials. Many modern day potting mix contains things like coconut coir and peat moss, to give the soil some air, but if you’ve just scooped yours from the garden then chances are it won’t be naturally aerated.
  • Lack of insect activity. In the garden, soil is constantly aerated by little insects sifting through the soil – but we don’t really like insects on our houseplants!
  • Environmental pressures. Does the cat sometimes make a bed on the soil? Does your toddler pat it down like a sandpit? Compressing the soil in any way can cause poor aeration.
  • Old potting mix. This stuff doesn’t last forever! If your plant has been in the same soil for years, it should be changed to bring in new nutrients
  • Mineral build up. Tied in with the above, adding fertilizer to soil for years causes a build up of the minerals the plant doesn’t need, and these can cause blockages in the soil.

It’s quite easy to sort out problems with badly aerated soil, as you can see. Just remember to get to the problem before your poor plant gasps its last!

Which Type Of Soil Holds The Most Air?

If you live in a clay soil areas, you are out of luck – the type of soil that holds the most air is sand.

Not your typical sandpit sand, mind you, but soil that contains a high percentage of the coarse or fine sand.

This is actually great news, because it means that you can improve your own soil to ensure it holds more air!

All you need to do is mix a few scoops of sand – you can buy this from garden centers, or even from builder’s merchants – and mix it in with your soil. Voila, aerated soil!

Here’s a little article telling you more about the different types of soil there are.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, keeping your plants surrounded by air is almost as important at the root end as it is at the foliage end!

Now that you have some great ideas on how to aerate houseplant soil, you can give your green babies the best possible home.

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