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What To Add To Soil To Hold Water: 5 Things we do that work

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Keeping soil moist can be a task sometimes; if you find that even frequent watering is not enough, you should add water retention amendments. However, this is easier than it sounds. 

Soil is one of the most essential parts of a garden, but it’s also one of the most fragile. Healthy soil comprises of organic matter, microbiological organisms, inorganic mineral particles, plant nutrients, and water. 

When any of these components are missing, the soil will no longer function as a healthy growing medium.

Soil will be able to hold more water when soil amendments such as perlite and vermiculite are mixed in. Organic material, such as coconut coir, peat moss, or compost, will help soil absorb and retain enough moisture for plants to use during drought conditions.

If you want some help with what to add to the soil to hold water, then you are in the right place. 

We have experienced dry soil from different conditions that have led to multiple of our plants dying. 

Over the years, we have found the remedy in preparing the soil so it can withstand whatever nature has to offer, and we will share them here.

What to Do When Soil Dries Out Too Fast?

When the soil dries out too fast, plants will eventually suffer and die. 

You can take several corrective measures to ensure both garden soil and soil in potted plants remain moist for longer periods.

Here are some of the first things you can do to keep soil moist:

1. Add Organic Matter

Preparing Soil to hold more moisture

Decomposed organic matter such as wood has an affinity for absorbing and holding moisture. 

This is because it reduces compaction by introducing microbiological organisms that continuously borrow through its structure.

The minute air pockets help in storing water whenever it needs it without having it drain out freely.

Organic matter such as compost, manure or peat moss are examples of organic amendments for dry soil and will totally change the structure aiding in better water retention.

2. Add Mulch

Loose mulch

Mulch covers the soil’s surface and protects it from sealing and crusting by raindrop impact, thereby enhancing rainwater infiltration and reducing runoff. 

Mulch also protects the soil from the sun’s direct heat, which directly reduces the evaporation rates and the loss of moisture.

In addition, mulch also helps in controlling weeds.

3. Use Wind Breaks


For garden soil, trees and larger plants can act as a windbreak that slows the natural wind flow, preventing soil erosion and quick water evaporation.

Planting larger vegetables such as eggplants, corn, and ochre upwind can drastically reduce the wind flow over garden soil. 

Climbing plants on trellis also work well in breaking the conventional wind flow.

For potted plants, simply relocating the plant to a less windy area would prevent water loss and dry soil.

4. Remove Weeds

removing weeds

Remove weeds that have been living on top of the soil for too long. The roots of these weeds will suck up any available water and prevent it from reaching other parts of the soil. We will expand on this further in this post.

5. Test Your Soil


Do a soil test. You can usually do this yourself at home by taking a few samples from different parts of your yard and seeing what they look like under a microscope. 

This will tell you which nutrients need replenishing and which ones have already been used up. 

It will also give you an idea of whether or not your soil has been adequately cultivated or has been contaminated by chemicals or other substances.

Also, using a soil moisture meter can help you gauge how much water the soil has and when it needs watering.

To test the moisture and pH of the soil you can use the cost-effective Trazon Soil 3-in-1 Meter. It not only tests for pH but also moisture content and light intensity. You can find it by clicking here!

Trazon Soil pH Meter 3-in-1 Soil Tester Moisture

What Causes Soil to Dry out?

Drying out of the soil is a common problem in the spring. There are a lot of common causes of soil drying out. As plants grow and produce leaves, they draw moisture from the ground. 

Plants need water to function, but if they don’t have enough water, they won’t be able to survive. When this happens, plants will die, and their roots will dry out.

Frost and cold in winter and heat in summer have the same effects on the soil: they draw water out of it. Both cold and heat dry out the soil.

The clay particles are compressed as the soil dries out, causing aggregate formation and strengthening. 

In addition, plant roots multiply the organic material in the soil and leave behind root canals.

Excessive drainage means that excess water in the soil profile is carried away, allowing the soil to dry out.

See our detailed post on what causes soil to dry out quickly.

What to Add to Soil to Retain Moisture?

Dry, dusty soil is a result of a lack of watering. Not only that, but it can also indicate that the soil cannot store enough water and deliver it to the roots of your plants. 

To retain moisture in the soil, amend the top 6-12 inches (15-30 cm). 

For this purpose, organic materials that have a high water holding capacity are cultivated or mixed in.

By adding the following things to the soil, you can retain the moisture of the soil:


Vermiculite is a heat-retaining mineral that helps the soil retain moisture and nutrients. It is a natural substance that comes from volcanic rock.

Vermiculite can be added to any type of soil as long as it can be mixed with water. It has many uses in gardening and landscaping.

Adding vermiculite to the soil will help to retain moisture. This helps plants grow better, especially if they are under stress from drought conditions or other factors.

Perlite can also do a good job as vermiculite, and there are debates on some forums social forums on which work best.


Uncovered soils lose more water to solar radiation than covered surfaces. When the soil is covered with a reflective layer of mulch, it loses less amount of water through evaporation. 

A layer of mulch has even more benefits for moles than just preventing dehydration. It holds loose and sandy soil together and supplies it (depending on the type of mulch) with nutrients.

For mulching, you can use many ecological by-products that accumulate in the garden anyway:

  1. Leaves of cabbage, carrots, radishes, kohlrabi, or flower cuttings
  2. Grass and hay from mowing the lawn
  3. Seedless weed
  4. bark humus
  5. Branch and shrub pruning
  6. unprinted cardboard
  7. Animal dander for certain bedding plants

Worm Castings

Worm castings are a natural soil amendment that can be added to your garden. They are a byproduct of worm composting, which occurs when earthworms feed on organic material, breaking it down and then turning it into rich fertilizer.

The castings contain essential nutrients and minerals, but they also retain moisture through their ability to absorb water from the soil. 

That makes them perfect for retaining moisture in the soil, which helps plants grow strong roots and withstand drought conditions.

Adding worm castings to your garden can help improve the health of your plants and increase yield, so you’ll have more food to share with friends and family!

Soil Wetting Agents

Soil wetting agents increase soil surface tension, preventing it from pulling away from the roots of plants. 

This increases the amount of water in the soil, which allows plants to absorb more water and grow healthier.

The most commonly used soil wetting agents are hydrophilic chemicals, which are water-loving in nature. 

Hydrophilic chemicals have a high affinity for water, so they can bind with water molecules to form droplets. 

These droplets act as nuclei around which other molecules aggregate to form larger particles that retain more moisture than single molecules do. 


In the case of exceptionally light and dry soil, add organic material such as mature compost into your garden soil at least once a year (spring), preferably a second time in autumn. 

The conversion process in the soil then releases valuable vitamins, enzymes, and organic acids and thus supports the formation of the hummus.

See our detailed article on using compost on top of soil.

Aged Animal Manures

Add aged animal manures to your soil to retain moisture. The manure will decompose and release nutrients into the soil.

When adding aged animal manures to your soil, pay attention to:

  1. Fill in any holes or gaps in your garden bed with a compostable material such as newspaper or cardboard.
  2. Add aged animal manures to the center of the bed so that it is evenly distributed throughout the entire area.
  3. Pile up organic materials around the sides of the bed so that they don’t sit in water and rot away from the center of your garden bed.

How Removing Weeds Can Help Soil Retain Moisture

If you want to retain the soil’s moisture, the best thing to do is eliminate the weeds. 

This can be done in several ways, and your choice depends on the type of weed and how much time you have available.

If you have a small area that is only infested with a few weeds and it’s not worth the time to get rid of them, then consider using an herbicide. 

These are typically much more effective than hand pulling or cutting them out by hand. 

Herbicides work by killing off the roots of weeds by poison absorption, which kills the plant from within.

Many different types of herbicides are available for sale at garden centers and home improvement stores. 

Some are more effective than others, so it’s essential to read labels carefully before purchasing one for use on your property. 

If you’re unsure which would be best for your situation, contact your local extension office or agricultural extension agent for advice on which type would work best in your area.

Consider How and When You Irrigate

The soil is the primary source of water for plants. It is essential to consider how and when you irrigate the soil will help retain its moisture.

Sometimes, it can be done by hand or with a hose. In others, it may be automated using a sprinkler system or drip irrigation.

Irrigating your garden in a timely manner is especially important during the summer months when plants are actively growing and need water. 

Watering the soil routinely ensures that all parts of the plant have access to adequate amounts of moisture to stay healthy and strong throughout their growth cycle.

How much and how often you irrigate your garden depends largely on its size and nature and what kind of soil it’s made of. 

For example, if you have a large garden with clay-based soil that needs frequent watering, you’ll probably want to irrigate every day or twice a day, depending on the weather conditions. 

If your garden has sandy soil with low water retention capability and doesn’t require frequent watering, then you might only need to water it once or twice per week instead of daily watering.

The Takeaway:

When looking for ways to hold water in the soil, there are a variety of materials you can use. From rocks to sand and even organic matter, all of these materials can help your garden. 

Soil amendments such as compost, worm castings, peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite can be added to both garden soil and soil in potted plants to help retain moisture.

Mulching and preventing direct sunlight from hitting the soil can provide shade, cool the soil, and prevent water evaporation.

Lastly, excessive wind flow can also cause unwanted water evaporation from plants and soil. 

Providing a wind break and moving the plant will prevent water loss by the wind.

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