Add organic matter to soil to help it to hold more water. Add compost, aged animal manures, pelleted chicken manure, seaweed solution or fish emulsion. Mix vermiculite through potting soil to help it to hold water or add a wetting agent if your soil is very hydrophobic.
This article will explore the top 10 things you can add to your soil to help it to hold more water.
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Top 10 soil addition to help it hold more water
Here are my top 10 ingredients to add to soil to help it to hold more water, dry out slower and improve plant health.
To improve the water holding capacity of potting soil or ground soil add compost. The organic matter in compost helps to absorb and hold more water keeping your plants’ root moist for longer. Mix through up to 1/3 home-made or bought compost with general potting soil or into your garden beds.
Compost is a mild fertilizer and can also be used as mulch. Layer 2 inches of compost on top of the soil around established trees including fruit trees as well as shrubs and flowers. Cover the compost with a layer of bark or sugar cane mulch to help it to hold even more water.
2. Aged animal manures
Aged animal manures are a fantastic ingredient to add to your soil to help it to hold more water. Aged cow, chicken or goat manure that has been broken down so it resembles soil will help to add organic matter. This can be mixed through your soil and will help to hold water.
3. Organic slow release fertilizer
Adding an organic slow release fertilizer will help the soil to hold water for longer. This fertilizer will help to feed worms and soil bacteria which break it down and mix it through. The worm castings that come from the worms help the soil to hold water for longer.
While this is a longer term process, over time the soil will improve and the bacterial mix. This is perfect for both sandy and clay soils as both benefit from the additional organic matter.
Pelleted chicken manure is my favorite organic slow release fertilizer and can be added to a range of plants including citrus trees, daisies, palm trees, jasmine and vegetables.
4. Seaweed solution
Seaweed solution is the perfect ingredient to water into your soil to help it to hold more water. Seaweed is a root and soil tonic which adds soil bacteria and ingredients to feed them. These work to break down organic matter and release nutrients to plants. The soil will hold water for longer and be improved over time.
Mix through seaweed solution into your watering can and add up to every 4 weeks over spring and fall. These mild seasons are the perfect times to work on improving the water holding capacity of soil.
5. Fish emulsion
Fish emulsion is an organic liquid fertilizer that will help your soil to hold more water. It is made from fish waste products which is broken down and concentrated. Add this to your watering can and water it into the soil.
This is a mild fertilizer that can be mixed with seaweed solution and watered on your soil every 4 weeks in spring and summer.
Vermiculite is a great ingredient to add to your soil and helps it to hold water. Mix it through potting soil before you pot your new plant. Vermiculite is a mineral substance that looks gold in color and can be mixed through your soil.
The water droplets stick to the outside of the vermiculite and are held in the soil for longer.
Mulch is a fantastic ingredient to add to the top of your soil to help it to hold water for longer. Choose a long lasting mulch like bark chips and add them 2-3 inches thick on top of garden soil or pots. For vegetables and fruit, you can use a lighter mulch like straw which break down quicker.
Light mulches can be dug into the soil at the end of the growing season and will help the soil to hold water. Mulch on the surface will help to reduce water evaporation and will keep your plant roots moist for longer.
8. Worm castings
Worm castings are an easy ingredient to add to your vegetable garden, flower beds or even new pots. Mix through a few small spades of worm castings and mix them through. They will add nutrients, soil bacteria and help the sol to hold onto water for longer.
9. Soil wetting agents
Wetting agents are a good way to improve the water holding capacity of very hydrophobic potting soil. Old potting soil can develop a coating which can stop it from absorbing water. In this case, wetting agents which are a ‘soil detergent’ which helps the soil to hold the water rather than it flowing straight through.
If soil in pot plants has become hydrophobic it will not absorb water no matter how much you add. Use a dissolvable wetting agent and mix it through your watering can.
Check out soil wetting agents on Amazon here.
10. Landscaping rocks
For outdoor areas that are in full sun or need protection landscaping rocks can be a good way to protect the soil and dry weather plants. Succulents and cactus will love a covering of landscaping rocks which drain well but still hold in water. Landscaping rocks can also help to reduce water run off in heavy rain which can damage soils.
Extra tips to stop your soil drying out
Soak your pot in a bucket of water
For very dry pot plants, soaking them in a bucket of water with a dash of seaweed solution can help to rehydrate them. Leave them in the bucket for around 10 minute and then take it out. Let the pot drain out and this will help to fully hydrate the soil.
Regular watering of potted plants and garden beds can help prevent the soil from drying out and making it hard to wet again. Allowing soil to dry out in the top 2 inches is fine, but water the plant regularly to prevent it getting dry all the way through.
What to add to soil to hold more water | Summary
Add a range of organic matter to soil to help sandy and clay soil to hold more water. Mix through compost, worm castings, aged manures and water in well with seaweed solution. For very dry pots a wetting agent might be needed to rehydrate the soil.
Water plants regularly and add mulch to prevent them from drying out too much and the soi becoming hydrophobic.
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.