What Causes Soil to Become Hydrophobic and How to Fix it?

What Causes Soil to Become Hydrophobic and How to Fix it?

What Causes Soil to Become Hydrophobic and How to Fix it?

It isn’t uncommon for soil to become hydrophobic, depending on where you live. It is often the hot climate or mild winters coupled with sparse rainfall which can cause havoc with the soil. Generally, the hydrophobic nature of any soil boils down to the waxy residue which builds upon the surface, resulting in it repelling water instead of usually absorbing it.

Sandy soil and dried potting mix will become hydrophobic. Hydrophobic soil is easily recognizable by its inability to absorb water, which often appears as though the water is beading off it. If you see that water is pooling or running off it, causing the soil underneath it to remain dry, you’re dealing with hydrophobic soil.

Fortunately, it isn’t hard to fix hydrophobic soil. We’ll cover a few common methods used to make your soil water-loving again (hydrophilic)!

Using Wetting Agents

While many people may use a wetting agent as a quick fix, but it isn’t necessarily a long-term fix. Wetting agents mainly work by removing the waxy coating and cracking through the surface tension in the water, making it easier to penetrate the soil.

You can find commercial wetting agents at most garden centers, or you can make your own using agar powder. You can also use detergent, which works to break the surface tension in the water,
similar to how a wetting agent works. However, detergents aren’t necessarily the best choice for your plants’ health and may not be environmentally friendly.

Compost Tea

It is made using worm castings and finished compost. However, there are many ways to make it. The optimal method is putting it in a pillowcase or a burlap bag and then allowing it to settle. After two days, fill a can of water and put it on the soil. If it’s left too long, it will start giving out an awful smell due to the anaerobic bacteria, but it is also bad for the soil. You can get better results by using an aerator or bubbler since it helps oxygenate the tea, supporting the buildup of aerobic life.

Some gardeners may recommend adding molasses which also supports bacterial life in the tea and soil. Another great additive is a fish emulsion, which is a byproduct of the fishing industry and great for supporting beneficial bacteria. When combined with kelp, it helps strengthen the roots of your plants.

Improve the Soil

A much better and long-term solution is to improve the soil by adding some organic matter to it, then mulch over the top to help prevent the soil from drying. Rotted organic matter also introduces
microorganisms to the soil, which breaks down the waxy residue, improving the soil’s biology.

We would, however, caution you against excessive use of pine bark or eucalypt woodchip mulches since they may carry fungi that negatively impact the soil. Many gardeners believe that varying the mulch used between pine bark, mushroom compost, tea tree, sugarcane mulches, and lawn clippings help add a broader range of microbes to aerate and condition the soil.

Hydrophobic Potted Plant Soil

You can hydrate potted plant soil by simply placing the pot into a body of water so that it covers the pot entirely. Then add half-strength fertilizer (liquid) to the water, which will help inject nutrients into the soil. You will notice some initial bubbling, but that’s normal. Keep the soil in there for around 20 minutes before removing it.

Occasionally, potted plants require repotting; make sure to add fresh potting mix when repotting to help boost moisture and add more nutrients to the soil.

Conclusion for What Causes Soil to Become Hydrophobic and How to Fix it:

Some people may be alarmed by the discovery of hydrophobic soil in their backyards. However, it is natural for soil to become hydrophobic during the hot summer months, and fortunately, fixing it isn’t all that difficult. If you’re interested in learning more about Hydrophobic Soil, click here to read more.


Are you in need of any soil, peat moss, compost, garden mix, or any other soil-related products in or around the Edmonton Area? You can view our inventory by clicking right here.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog where we address more soil-related questions.