Soil Pulling Away from Plant Pot: Causes and Solutions


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If you’ve noticed that your soil is beginning to pull away from the sides of your plant pots, it might be because your soil is too dry. Soil has a tendency to become dry faster in certain areas than others, causing it to crack or break off the sides of plant pots.

Soil will pull away from the sides of a plant pot if it becomes too dry. As the soil loses moisture the particles draw closer together causing the soil to shrink and pull away from the pot. Applying wetting agents and poking holes into the soil are quick fixes but repotting with a better potting mix is a more permanent solution.

In this article, we are going to identify why soil would tend to pull away from the sides of a plant pot, the solutions, and how to prevent this from happening.

What Causes Soil to Pull Away from the Sides of a Plant Pot

The main issue I had with the container planter I put together was that my soil kept pulling away from the sides of the container as it got drier. 

It didn’t pull away completely and dry up but pulled away enough to hinder the growth of my plant and show obvious gaps between soil and container wall. 

This is a problem because your plant isn’t receiving enough water, and your planting area might look more like a disaster zone than a living thing.

Soil is a very important part of any garden and it’s one thing that many people don’t think about when they’re planting. It’s often assumed that soil will stay in place, but this isn’t always the case. 

The reason for this is because soil can be loose or compacted depending on what type of soil you are using to fill your pot.

I use this Miracle-Gro Potting Mix from amazon, which ensures my plants stay healthy long after repotting. You can find it by clicking here.

The Soil has become Hydrophobic

Additionally, when conditions are dry, a waxy residue forms on soil particles, causing soils to become hydrophobic or water repellent. 

Hydrophobic soil is a soil whose particles repel water. The layer of hydrophobicity is commonly found at or a few centimeters below the surface, parallel to the soil profile. This layer can vary in thickness and abundance and is typically covered by a layer of ash or burned soil. Wikipedia

Generally, if the soil has not been watered for a while then it will have the tendency to repel water. 

This is why sometimes when soil is watered the water can just sit on top of the surface rather than be absorbed within the soil.

Lack of Watering

Some soils can also absorb water and as the water dries out due to drought conditions or lack of watering the soil particles would tend to pull closer together causing it to shrink.

This shrinkage can lead to the level of soil in the pot to drop as well as causing it to pull away from the sides of the pot.

Soil has too much Clay

Clay soils are known to have properties such as shrinking and pulling away from the pot and there might be a good chance that the soil in the pot has a high percentage of clay. 

As stated previously, the particles become moist when watered which fills the space between them. 

Over time, the water dries out causing the soil particles to pull closer together, shrinking and pulling from the sides of the pot.

How to Loosen Soil in Pots (Quick Fix)

  1. Using a chopstick gently poke into the soil to create some openings for the water to penetrate
  1. Gently pour water over the soil 
  1. Allow the water to soak into the soil
  2. Using the chopstick, continue loosening the soil. It will become easier to loosen as the water is absorbed within the soil.

How to fix dry soil that pulls away from the pot

1. Using wetting agents

There are many products available, in liquid or granular form, and the active ingredient in most of them is a synthetic surfactant.

Nonionic surfactants lower the surface tension of water and are adsorbed by soil materials. Surfactants can be used to increase infiltration rates of water- repellent soils.

This means when added to the soil, it would allow the soil to readily absorb and distribute water throughout the soil structure.

2. Using Organic soil amendments

Compost, animal manure, and peat moss not only improve the soil’s moisture retention but also promote microbial activity within the soil that helps water flow through the soil. 

If you’re dealing with heavy clay soil, use a mixture of sand and organic material to reduce waterlogging.

Organic amendments include sphagnum peat, wood chips, grass clippings, straw, compost, manure, biosolids, sawdust, and wood ash.

In addition, the use of organics with soil will increase microbial growth. When there are microbes moving around in the soil. 

This movement increases aeration and water holding capacity within the soil which prevents dry and shrinking soil that would ten to pull away from the plant pot.

3. Using Inorganic soil Amendments

Perlite and vermiculite are two very popular soil amendments that can be easily obtained at any local agro shop.

Perlite and Vermiculite are very different by nature although they are both added to soil to enhance aeration. 

Perlite gives the soil a more porous characteristic because it does not hold a lot of water, whereas Vermiculite holds water and nutrients and releases it in a slow and controlled manner which is better for plants.

When used together they will help increase water retention and aeration within potting soil giving your plant the most optimal growing conditions.

4. Water Regularly

Creating a regular watering schedule can significantly decrease the occurrence of dry soil which will ten to pull away from the sides of the plant pot.

Most potted plants required watering at least once every two days. The watering schedule can change depending on external environmental conditions such as wind flow, temperature, and humidity.

I have found that this Miracle Grow Potting Mix is a very cost-effective soil that solved most of my soil-related problems. You find it by clicking here.

Yellow miracle grow potting mix

Try Bottom Watering

Bottom watering keeps the soil moist consistently, enabling the plant to get enough water. That way, you can prevent the plant from overwatering. 

This is because as the water is soaked into the soil from the bottom up it distributes uniformly via capillary movement upwards through the roots.

It also saves you time if you are a busy person because you won’t water them frequently. Besides, bottom watering helps your plants to develop healthier and stronger roots. 

This is because the roots grow down toward the water source. Bottom watering is a healthy way to water your plants, preventing you from splashing water on the leaves. 

Prevention tips for future pots

  1. Repot plants once every year or two. This will depend on the growth of the plant and the container that it is in.
  2. Use Soil amendments when repotting
  3. Refrain from using soil with a high amount of clay
  4. Create a watering schedule
  5. Consider Bottom watering
  6. Using a good soil mix

    To create your own perfect soil mix, thoroughly blend 1 part peat or coir, 1 part perlite or vermiculite, one-half part composted bark, and one-half part worm castings

Related articles you may find helpful –
Potting soil drying out fast
Sinking Soil in potted plants
How long should soil stay wet after watering
Bottom watering Vs Top Watering

The Takeaway

The best way to prevent soil from pulling away from the pot is to repot a plant with the addition of soil amendments such as perlite and vermiculite. 

Some quick fixes would include poking holes into the soil for water to be absorbed and also applying surfactants used on soil are used to break the surface tension of water so that it will wet the soil more evenly.

Additionally, the key to preventing any soil from drying out and pulling from the pot is regular and scheduled watering.

JayLea

JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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