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Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, some soil in your garden will get too wet and become stagnant. I’ve had this happen to many potted plants such as my Kaffir lime tree, as well as my worm bin. Because of this, I wanted to know the best ways to dry out the waterlogged soil. So, I did some research to find out more.
To dry out garden soil quickly, it’s best to provide it with more sunlight, ventilation, drainage, or use absorbents such as newspaper. If those don’t help, try repotting the plant for better drainage and adding organic drying matter like sand or perlite. Generally, wait for the soil to dry before watering it again.
So, while these are a few of the ways you can dry out the soil, what are some more details, and how long does it take for soggy soil to be fixed? Let’s take a closer look.
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Can Soggy Soil Be Fixed?
Soggy soil can be fixed by first increasing its drainage. You can do this by elevating the soil such as planting on a mound or raised bed. For potted plants, try drilling more holes into the pot. If that doesn’t help, the plant will likely need repotting. Use well-draining soil amendments such as sand and perlite.
Generally, you can fix waterlogged or soggy soil, but it is essential to understand when and how to intervene.
If your plant has soil with good drainage, the excess water will naturally flow out of the soil or pot. The problem occurs when the soil remains soggy over time, which often results from poor drainage and continuous overwatering.
Waterlogged soil can lead to several issues such as promoting bacteria, mold, and other fungal spores. For example, it’s fairly common for a plant’s overwatered roots to be affected by root rot (a fungal disease) caused by trapped water.
Here are 7 of the best ways to reverse and prevent soggy soil from happening in the first place.
7 Quick Ways to Dry Garden Soil
I get it, wet soil can be super frustrating. It’s usually difficult to get rid of the excess water, and repotting can be a bit of a process, especially if you have a big plant. Also, it can be messy and can even cause more issues such as transplant shock. For these reasons, it’s best to save repotting as a last resort.
Instead, try performing these 7 tips first.
1. Check the Pot for Drainage
When dealing with overwatered soil, the first and most important thing to do is to check whether the pot has the proper drainage.
Typically, you can check this by watering the pot and seeing if water runs smoothly out of the bottom. If little to no water flows out of the bottom, odds are that the soil is blocked and is retaining too much water.
For pots with blocked or collapsed soil, the other options on this list won’t be much help since the water is being held from the bottom. Solutions such as increasing sunlight and ventilation usually just help the top of the soil.
In this case, you have a couple options:
- Drill more holes into the bottom of the pot
- Repot with fresh soil
While we generally don’t want to repot a plant unless we have to, if the pot isn’t draining, and adding more holes doesn’t help, we don’t have much of a choice.
In this case, the best thing to do is to repot your plant with fresh soil and to prevent this issue from moving forward, you can amend the soil with sand or perlite in the mix. After adding the fresh soil into the pot, test the water flow and make sure the new pot is draining well (you can even test this before transplanting your plant).
If you’d like more information about how to mix your own potting soil at home, you can check out my recent post that covers homemade citrus potting soil (much of the information applies to other potted plants as well).
For soil that isn’t collapsed or blocked, these next tips would likely work nicely for you.
2. Remove Stagnant Water Around the Plant
After checking for drainage, the next thing you should check for is if any of the water can be simply poured out.
When I first started my worm bin, I used too much water and it started to smell a little swampy. However, I saw that when I tipped the bin to one side and scooted the soil aside, the water began to pool. I simply dumped this water, effectively removing about 50% or more of the water. Because of this, drying out the rest of the soil became much easier!
So, if you’re seeing a pool of water build-up, try removing it without disturbing the plant if possible.
3. Assess the Type of Soil You Have
This wouldn’t be a useful post if we didn’t also talk about the type of soil we’re using.
For the best drainage, use soil that’s rich and loose. If you have clay soil, consider amending it with sand or compost to break up some of the larger, water-retaining clumps. Many plants also like slightly sandy and acidic soils with a pH of 6.0-7.0.
This is a big reason why using garden soil for potted plants isn’t the best idea. Many outdoor soils are made of clay, which tends to clump and retain or block too much water from reaching other parts of the soil.
When in doubt, buy a good quality, organic potting soil and don’t pack it down. Keep the soil loose and over time, watering the plant will condense the soil slightly. Looser soils also help the roots grow instead of getting blocked by tough soils.
4. Place in a Sunnier Location
One of the best ways to dry out wet soil is to move it to a sunnier location. This also helps kill any mold and pests living on the surface of the soil. For example, we sometimes get fungal gnats where we live and they thrive on wet soil.
If you’re just working with wet gardening soil (without a plant), and you’re looking at a good way to dry it out, place it outside in layers of 1-2 inches. The sun and wind will dry out the soil quickly, usually taking 24-72 hours. This is a great and natural way to do it, and I’ve done it recently when I had potting soil that was too wet (I used my microgreen trays that are about 2 inches deep).
On the other hand, if you’re looking at drying out soil with a plant in it, you can increase its sunlight by:
- pruning overhead branches
- facing them in a southern direction for maximum sunlight
- relocating them to a sunnier location
While having shade overhead can be good for some plants (some shade from the afternoon hot sun saved my tomato and cucumber plants), other times it can be too much and lead to the soil not draining. In this case, consider removing objects that cast shadows on them. This can include tree branches or other removable structures.
By providing your plant with extra sunlight, you’ll also likely need to increase the frequency you water it. Naturally, the hot sun can dry out leaves and soil if left unchecked.
You should know that plants have a method to combat their leaves from getting too dry. With a process called transpiration, their roots use the water in the soil to send moisture to its leaves, effectively cooling them. However, this is not completely effective on its own as an extremely hot day can overwhelm the plant.
Because of this, it’s best to combine an increase in sunlight with mulching.
Mulch the Soil to Protect It from the Hot Sun
Once your soil is a bit drier, you might notice that the sun is doing too good of a job. In hot climates, the sun can dry out the soil and plants in a matter of 1-2 DAYS! I’ve lived in Florida, California, and Texas, and can definitely attest to this.
Fortunately, there are ways to both combat the hot sun from baking the soil as well as prevent the soil from getting waterlogged.
Mulching drastically helps the soil by retaining water and protecting it from the sun. It also does this while allowing the soil to breathe.
You can use mulches in both outdoor and indoor gardening soil. Some good mulches to consider are leaves, straw, and pine needles.
If you have plants that are more sensitive to strong sunlight, or you live in an area that gets really hot, you may want to not only mulch but keep some shade to provide relief for your plants.
Even 1-2 hours of shade during the hottest part of the day proved extremely useful in my garden (namely, for my tomatoes and cucumbers, but also herbs and some flowers).
5. Increase Ventilation
Aside from the sun, another part of nature that indoor plants often don’t have is proper ventilation, also known as the wind.
The wind is often an ignored part of gardening, but it helps increase pollination, toughen the roots, and of course—moves water vapor away from the soil. This helps prevent issues such as stagnant water and mold from developing.
If you have houseplants, a good way to increase its ventilation is to use a small fan at a low speed.
After I drained much of the water from my worm bin, I used two small, USB fans to dry it out. It took about 2 days and I shuffled the soil twice to make sure it was drying evenly (of course, I didn’t dry it completely since the worms need it a little moist).
Keep an eye on your plant to make sure it’s not falling over from the wind or getting too dry. To help with this, place it at least 3 feet away.
Other ways to increase the ventilation of indoor plants include:
- Moving the plant outdoors
- Placing it near an open window
Placing waterlogged plants outside can benefit from the sun and wind. However, check on the plant daily to make sure it can survive the elements. You can move it back inside once the soil has dried a bit.
If your indoor temperature is extremely different from the outdoor temperature, it’s best if you acclimated the plant to the weather slowly. Over a week or two, gradually increase or decrease the plant’s surrounding temperature until it gets to be that of the outside temperature.
6. Use Paper to Absorb the Excess Water
Using materials such as newspaper, paper bags, or used paper towels can help absorb the water in the soil. While it doesn’t get rid of the water like most of the other methods in this post, it’s a good way to isolate it from the rest of the soil.
As a cover for my worm bin’s soil, I use paper bags from Whole Foods. I notice that the paper absorbs a lot of the water vapor rising from the soil. This not only keeps the soil from getting stagnant, but it helps keep it cool.
While waiting for the water vapor to build up can take some time, and usually works best for the water sitting on top of the soil, this method is still an effective approach to drying out soil—especially when combined with other methods.
As the paper continues to absorb the water vapor, you can change them for new ones.
You can also dab the wet soil with paper towels to remove a good amount of the water (remember to compost them afterward!).
With most of these methods, and especially this one, wait until the soil is dry before watering it again. Don’t add fuel to the fire.
7. Create Air Pockets Around the Plant
It may be surprising, but roots need some level of aeration to breathe and function properly.
For example, a big reason why worms are so beneficial for the garden is not just the nutrients they provide, but their tunneling provides aeration and water penetration in the soil. This is why potted plants typically have issues with stagnant water and outdoor plants don’t.
A good tip to increase aeration without repotting the soil is by tilting your plant on one side and then the other.
This movement will cause it to separate from the pot’s surfaces, allowing air to flow around the root ball. The air pockets you’ll have created are essential for bringing fresh oxygen to the root system.
Keep in mind that air pockets can sometimes encourage mold to grow, so keep an eye on your plant’s soil for a few days after trying this method.
How Long Does It Take Soil to Dry?
Waterlogged soil typically takes about 2-3 days to dry thoroughly, once the issue is treated. Some methods such as using the sun and wind can be faster than some others. If your soil hasn’t dried by then, it’s likely too saturated with water and can benefit from repotting or amending with sand or perlite.
Depending on the method picked, such as moving your plant to a sunnier location, it can generally take 2-3 days to dry. Usually, the soil should be completely dry within a week (if that’s your goal).
However, remember that if your plant has been damaged and dealing with root rot or other diseases, the methods above might not be enough to save it. With my kaffir lime tree, repotting was enough to cure it of root rot, but this might not be the case for other waterlogged plants.
Can You Dry Soil with a Hairdryer?
Hairdryers can dry out soil as long as you have it on the lowest setting and on “cool”. For best results, keep it about 3 feet away from the soil, especially if there’s a plant in it. However, hairdryers aren’t the best or most efficient way to dry out wet soil. Instead, consider using a small fan on a low setting.
A hairdryer might work just as well as a fan to dry out the plant’s soil. However, if the airflow is too strong (or hot), you can end up damaging the plant.
To prevent this, make sure you are using the hairdryer at its lowest setting.
On the other hand, using a fan creates a less concentrated airflow and doesn’t have to be held. They’re also generally more efficient in terms of electricity than hairdryers as they don’t need as much power.
Once you’ve addressed the wet soil, if you’d like some expert tips on watering houseplants, you can check out the video below by Summer Rayne Oakes.