The Importance Of Soil Aeration
Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought about aerating your Pilea plant.
No? We didn’t think so!
In our quest to become better plant parents, we’re often looking for information about the four most important factors that contribute to houseplant wellbeing: soil, water, light, and fertilizer. But don’t you think something is missing? Think about your own life. We wouldn’t be alive without oxygen, right? It’s the same thing for plants - they need oxygen to survive.
One topic that we don’t often think about is soil aeration. This refers to creating space in your potting medium where oxygen can reach the roots of your Pilea. It’s such a simple step; it only takes a few seconds and requires minimum equipment.
Here’s why you should add soil aeration to your houseplant care routine!
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Why do my houseplants need soil aeration?
Soil aeration is important because the roots of your Pilea take in oxygen and release CO2. When the supply of oxygen in your potting soil is low, your plant’s growth will slow down due to the accumulation of CO2 around the roots. Hampering access to oxygen at the root level also leads to low absorption of water and nutrients.
In the wild, insects, worms, and micro-organisms will take care of soil aeration as they crawl in and out of the soil and allow the oxygen to circulate. However, we grow our indoor plants in an artificial environment - confined to a pot and often planted in sterilized potting soil without any traces of worms. When we remove the little critters from the plant’s ecosystem, their tasks fall on us. So we need to take on the task of manually aerating our Pileas and improving the soil structure of our plants.
How should I aerate the soil of my Pilea?
You don’t need any special equipment to aerate the soil of your plant. You can repurpose items you have around the house.
We like to use chopsticks for the taller pots or popsicle sticks for the small pots. If you can’t find either of those things, a pencil will do in a pinch. Just make sure that you don’t use sharp items such as knives of skewers which might damage the root structure and leave it exposed to pathogens.
Gently insert the chopstick into the surface of the soil, and loosen up the soil a little bit using slight circular motions. Repeat this a few times around the surface of the potting soil.
You may hear the sound of roots cracking and you may encounter some resistance. That’s ok. As long as you don’t do it too often or too vigorously, you won’t cause any damage to your Pilea.
When should I aerate the soil?
If you notice that your Pilea’s soil has compacted and that water stays on the surface of the soil longer than usual, then that’s a sign you need to aerate the soil.
Ideally, you should aerate the soil before you water your houseplants. Aeration will help the water distribute evenly and it will dislodge clumps of soil that have stuck together and solidified. You don’t need to aerate every single time you water your plants (you don’t want to disturb the roots that often), but you should make it a habit to aerate at least once a month.
To help you get into the habit of aerating your Pilea, you could set a reminder for the first few months. You'll soon start to notice the difference and you’ll become more attuned to this need that your plant has.
What happens if I don’t aerate the soil in my Pilea?
Your Pilea roots need water as well as air. They don't like large air pockets, but there needs to be some space for the roots to breathe as they absorb water, nutrients, and oxygen from the potting soil.
A lack of airflow in the soil might make your Pilea more susceptible to root rot because the compacted soil won’t allow the water to drain thoroughly. If your soil is compacted, it will be hard for your Pilea to access and absorb nutrients, so even fertilizing it won’t do much for the plant’s health.
However, if you notice that you’ve used up all the troubleshooting tricks in your book, and your Pilea is still turning yellow and its leaves are dropping, the soil may have become too settled and it might be time to repot it.
Is there anything else I can do to improve soil aeration?
Glad you asked! We have four more tips that will help you increase soil aeration.
1. Repot your Pilea once a year.
When you repot, don’t press down the soil in an attempt to fit more in there. More soil is not always better. Instead, gently shake the pot during the repotting process to allow the soil to settle and create small pockets of air. It’s ok to take a break from the manual aeration of the soil right after you’ve repotted your Pilea. However, even if the plant starts with well-aerated soil, after a couple of months the soil will become dense and compacted again.
2. Make sure your potting soil contains perlite.
If it doesn’t, you should amend the soil with perlite. You can buy it separately online or from garden centers.
3. Be mindful of artificial compaction.
This is another way of saying, “Don’t put any weight on your soil.” In other words, don’t let your cat sleep on top of your flower pot and don’t add any heavy decorations to your planter.
4. Flush your Pilea once a month
One of the best ways to get fresh oxygen into your containers is to flush your Pilea. That means watering it in one go and saturating it fairly quickly. This creates a downward movement of water that sucks air in from the surface as the water trickles through the soil.
Soil aeration is an excellent plant care tip to have up your sleeve whether you’re a newbie or a houseplant pro!