Hydrophobic soil is a growing concern due to the impacts of climate change, wildfires, and other natural disasters. Hot weather and inconsistent rainfall can cause this issue, where a waxy residue coats soil particles and prevents water absorption. This is often seen in sandy soils, dried out potting mix, and soils with unrotted organic matter. To identify hydrophobic soil, observe its water retention after watering. If water runs off the surface without penetrating the soil or if poor drainage is observed, the soil is likely hydrophobic. Thankfully, it is relatively easy to improve this soil and make it more water-absorbing, or ‘hydrophilic’. Some common methods include: Drainage, Aeration, and organic matter amendment.      

Wetting Agents

Wetting agents are a great quick fix but will not resolve the issue long term. Wetting agents work by breaking down waxy coatings as well as breaking the surface tension in the water making it easier to penetrate the soil. Commercial wetting agents are available at garden centres, or you can make one at home using agar (powdered kelp)*. It is possible to use diluted dishwashing liquid or dish water/laundry water as a soil wetter, the surfactants in the detergent act to break the surface tension in the water in a similar way to wetting agents (use caution when using detergents on your garden, be sure to use environmentally friendly/biodegradable options and check their suitability for use on your specific plant varieties).

Soil Improvement

A better, long-term way to improve your soil is by adding well rotted organic matter, then mulching over the top to help prevent the soil from drying out. This will introduce microorganisms to your soil which will break down the waxy residue and also improve your soil biology. Just be wary of continuously using pine bark or eucalypt wood-chip mulches as these can carry a fungi which negatively impacts soil conditioning. Varying the mulch used on your garden each application not only breaks the fungi cycle but helps to increase the microbiology within your soil as the mulch breaks down. Renowned horticulturalist Jerry Coleby-Williams recommends ‘Succession mulching’ – varying the mulch between mushroom compost, pine bark, composted lawn clippings, tea tree and sugarcane mulches in that order, this will build a wide range of microbes to condition and aerate your soil. More is not always better, care must be taken when using mulches to make sure they aren’t too thick and don’t form a crust on top of your garden which will negatively affect the ability for water to reach the soil. We suggest a mulch thickness of between 3 and 5cm.

How to Improve Pot Plant

You can hydrate potplant soil by placing the pot into a tub of water so that the water covers the entire pot. Add half-strength liquid fertiliser to the water, this will add nutrients back into the soil. You should notice bubbles coming to the surface, soak the pot for at least 10-20 minutes. Pot Plants also require repotting occasionally, add new potting mix when repotting to boost moisture levels and provide fresh nutrients. The use of water crystals or peat can be beneficial to boost the water holding capacity of pot plant soil.

Garden bed design

Flat garden beds are more likely to hold water than sloped garden beds when watered, giving irrigation a better chance to eventually soak in. If you can’t make your garden beds flat then use furrows (trenches) in your garden bed, these will slow the water and help focus the water to stay near your plants rather than running off causing water loss and erosion.

*Soil Wetter Recipe:

Earth-Care technology provides an all-in-one solution for everyday growers and the commercial farmers. The handcrafted natural blend is designed to enhance the biodiversity of the soil ecosystem and to also empower the root system. Earth-Care technology uses no chemicals whatsoever and uses all natural ingredients including Alfalfa Meal, Blood Meal, Bone Meal, Feather Meal, Emulsion, Kelp Meal and other natural ingredients.

  • Certified 100% organic plant nutrition, no harsh ingredients
  • Control of root knots/root eating nematodes
  • Fun and easy to apply pelletized fertilizer, just throw and go
  • Quickly greens, and starter fertilizer, Promotes a Lush and Green Lawn.
  • 100% Natural hand crafted blend.
  • Promote bigger root mass and better plant performance.
  • Provides essential nutrients for a healthy plant – 5% Nitrogen, 6% Phosphorus, 6% Potassium
  • Slow release formula lasts up to 6 weeks between applications.
  • Contains abundant beneficial soil microbes & mycorrhizae.
  • Water absorbing pellets designed to hold water and to keep soil moist.
  • No GMO’s, safer organic fertilizer option.
  • OIM organic certified.