Refreshing Container Soil

By Sharon Naylor

February 18, 2011 4 min read

A beautiful container plant is shiny, strong and healthy, with flawless leaves and a sturdy stem -- the picture of plant health. The foundation of any healthy container plant is the soil in which it grows, soil that's rich with nutrients and kept moist and free of debris.

If your existing container plants -- including small potted flowers and ferns indoors and container-bound evergreens, strawberry pots and other outdoor plants -- don't have that freshly planted, rich soil color, you may worry about your plant's performance. And you may believe it's time to change out your pots' soil for an entirely fresh, nutrient-packed replanting of your greenery, flowers, kitchen herbs and other plants.

But repotting all of your container plants can be a time-consuming, expensive undertaking. The repotting of one large container plant can cost more than $30 in supplies, and repotting a half-dozen indoor plants can cost an additional $25 to $45. After all, organic soils and organic plant food do cost more than non-organic varieties. And repotting is not only costly but also perhaps not even necessary at this time.

"Nine times out of 10, your soil is perfectly fine," says landscape and interior designer Tim Ghiselli. "So it's most cost-efficient to use what you have and freshen it up a little bit."

Ghiselli suggests the following steps for refreshing your container soil:

--Carefully lift your plant and its surrounding soil out of your planter, and look at the soil. "Especially in larger planters, you may get a clogged hole where water got stuck in a section, resulting in moss or mold," Ghiselli says. "Remove those bad sections from the soil, and then use your fingers to gently pull loose outer soil from the root base of your plant into a large gardening bowl."

--For indoor plants, pour into the bowl a small amount of fresh potting soil, and use your fingers to blend the old and new soils together.

--For outdoor planters, never use 100 percent potting soil to refresh your planter soil. Ghiselli says, "Always use a mixture of topsoil, peat and compost for outdoor planters to give them the nutrients their plants need."

--"Don't put compost in your indoor planters, thinking you're adding nutrients," Ghiselli says. "Compost is too heavy, and it can smell bad."

--After you give your new soil mixture a nice blending with your hands, Ghiselli says, you can add a Miracle-Gro pellet or another organic plant food additive according to package directions.

With your refreshed soil ready to go, an important, often-forgotten step comes next. Prepare your planter for the repotting. Wipe it clean inside with a damp cloth, and make sure the drainage hole is open and wide. Next, place in the bottom of your pot a handful, no more than 2 inches high, of clean river stones or clean broken pieces of terra cotta. These items placed in the depths of the planter, by virtue of the spaces between them, encourage water drainage, keeping the roots of the plant at peak performance.

Next, add a small amount of your refreshed planter soil, and return your plant carefully to its planter. Add more refreshed soil, and give your plant a good watering for its first drink in its new home.

What about soil pH levels? "You can buy an inexpensive soil pH tester at your local garden supply store," Ghiselli says. "Or you can bring a sample of your soil to your local town hall. Many town halls will test it for you." So will many garden centers, and then their gardening experts will tell you the ideal pH-balancing products for your plants' needs, as well as answer your questions about specific types of plants' soil, water and sun requirements. A little TLC for your indoor and outdoor plants allows them to enhance your lifestyle for a long time to come.

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