To get the most out of your edible and ornamental plants, you may need to have potting soil that is fertile and can retain moisture.
But what do you do once the growing season has gone and you still have potting soil left in the bag?
If that’s the case, then you may be wondering.
Does potting soil go bad? Potting soil has finite self-life and gives the best result when used within six months. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use it after that. As long as potting soil isn’t soaked in water or has fungus or insects growing inside it, you can use it without much problem.
Generally, you should replace potting soil annually. But with proper care and adding extra minerals and compost, you can make it last two to three years before you need to replace it.
In this post, we have covered the most commonly asked questions about potting soils and some common misconceptions.
If you want to revive the potting soil, you’ll love several tips, techniques, and strategies covered later in the article.
Let’s get started.
Does potting soil go bad?
A healthy garden needs a lot of care and costs money. Potting soil contains a mix of organic and inorganic materials and, if not appropriately cared for, goes bad. However, it has a long shelf life, and with proper care, it can last for several years.
Potting soil contains a large concentration of peat moss that has low self-life. Manufacturers use peat moss in the potting mix as it retains water and nutrients well. That helps with the growth of newly planted seeds and plants.
Peat moss is also cheaper than other ingredients and has vibrant color and texture. The addition of fertilizer and other nutrients in potting soil helps seeds to grow and encourages germination.
It works great on a newer plant and typically lasts a season before peat moss starts to decompose. You have to replace it with more organically amended soil to replant.
A potting soil that has been stored correctly and remained dry can be used after 2 to 3 years, but open and moisture-ridden potting soil shouldn’t be used.
How can you tell the potting mix has gone bad?
If you’re buying a potting mix from the garden stores, then it usually has an expiration date mentioned on the packaging. But if you can’t find the expiration date or it has worn out, then there are other ways you can tell if it’s still good to use.
Here are a few ways you can determine if the potting mix has gone bad.
Check the mix for mold
A potting soil that hasn’t been appropriately stored or left in the open has a higher moisture level. The high moisture level causes the mold and fungus to start growing in the organic matter used in the potting mix.
If you have a potting mix in your storage and see the white substance growing on it, it’s more likely mycelium. Mycelium grows in the potting mix when it’s exposed directly to the water and higher moisture.
If the growth hasn’t been significant, you can reduce the mold by drying the peat moss in the sunlight and providing good air circulation.
You can leave it in sunlight and dry area for two to three days and test if mold has gone. If it’s still there, it will be better to dispose of potting soil and not use it. You don’t want healthy plants to get infected by molds and fungi.
Small insects and pests growing in the potting mix
Small insects and pests are usually confirmed signs that potting mix has gone bad. You may find fungus gnats growing and thriving in the potting mix. They lay their eggs in the soil and destroy the nutrients from the mix.
Potting mix smells awful
The stinky smell from the potting mix is a good indicator that it has gone bad. There can be several reasons for this: too much moisture, generation of fungi, and lack of aeration. Without proper airflow around the potting mix, the material becomes stagnant and unhealthy.
What happens if you use an expired potting mix?
Old potting soils lack the necessary nutrients to help and grow a thriving plant. But the side effect can be more than merely hindering the growth of the plant.
Plants are robust and can withstand some harsh growing conditions. A low concentration of bad potting soil may not affect the overall health of the plant. Still, a higher level can slow plant growth or permanently damage them.
Here are some side effects of using an expired potting mix.
Slow plant growth: Expired potting mix can’t provide the required nutrients to the plant. This reduces growth, and the plant may not bloom or produce flowers. Even if it does, the foliage may become very weak and give you a sick look.
Higher salt accumulation: If you’re using home water to water your plants, they contain a high concentration of minerals and salt. The potting mix’s poor quality causes these minerals and salts to get trapped in the soil that builds up over the root.
The higher salt concentration at the bottom of the pot rots the roots and hampers the plant’s health.
Low Soil Porosity: Potting soil contains several ingredients that keep it fluffy and improve the mix’s airflow. As it spoils, the porosity of the mix decreases and hinders the water from spreading uniformly inside the mix.
The water eventually flows to the bottom in a higher concentration and causes the root of plants to rot.
Compact Soil: The use of peat moss in the soil degrades over time and hardens the soil over time. This reduces the flow of air and nutrients to the plant roots that affect the health of plants.
How can you make a potting mix last longer?
If you want your home plants to thrive, you need to provide it with a nutrient-rich growing environment where they can get enough sunlight, water, and air.
The potting mix’s quality affects the water and air that a plant can get, especially to its root. As we talked about earlier, the expired potting soil becomes depleted and doesn’t hold nutrients and water properly.
But you don’t have to use all the potting mix in a single setting. With proper storage and care, you can rejuvenate it and use it on your plants.
Here are some ways to revive the potting mix.
Spread the soil
Use a large tarp and spread the potting mix on it. Using a garden rake, spread it evenly on the tarp and break up any clumps or remove rocks or debris from the mix.
If there is moisture in the soil, leave it in the sunlight for a couple of hours to dry naturally. Spreading it evenly on the tarp help improve the airflow in the soil.
Add organic compost
Adding organic compost in the mix helps replenish the required nutrients in the soil. Add the same amount of fertilizer as the potting mix. You can also mix perlite in it to boost the nutrients in the ground.
Adding minerals such as lime and gypsum to the potting mix with a small amount of slow-release fertilizer help compensate for the lost mineral concentrations due to storage.
Add water if potting soil is too dry
Usually, most potting soil goes bad due to excess moisture. But sometimes the dryness also causes it to go spoiled.
If you find the potting mix to be too dry, then adding some water and mixing helps with the flow of nutrients uniformly in the soil.
Be careful and don’t add too much water to it. Mix the water properly and poke your finger in the soil and test if it’s a bit moist but not drenched in water.
How long can you keep a bag of potting soil?
The useful age of potting soil in a bag depends on the storage condition, and whether the packet has been opened. A potting soil that has remained unopened and in a sealed container can last up to 6 months before it degrades in quality.
If the bag has ripped and the potting soil has a large moisture concentration, it may last only 2 to 3 months. A potting soil that is used and has plants in it should be replaced every year or two.
When you’re not going to use potting soil, store it in a dry, and lidded container to help it last longer. Use a wire or rope to tie up the bag and place it in a storage container that is away from heat and high humidity.
Do you have to replace potting soil every year?
It’s recommended by gardening experts to replace potting soil yearly. It’s often due to potting soil developing fungus spores and pests that hamper the growth of plants. Moreover, the nutrients and quality of the mix degrade over time.
You can always amend the potting soil and revive it by adding extra minerals and organic compost. With proper care, you don’t need to replace it every year but can be replaced in two to three years.
Whether you’re a beginner or experienced gardener, you may need the right tools and supplies to grow a healthy and beautiful garden. You can check out our top gardening resources page to find everything you need to help create a beautiful lush green garden.
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