Does Potting Soil Go Bad? Causes, Solutions & an Alternative

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Does potting soil go bad?

The quick answer is yes

Old potting soil loses value over time as its ingredients, like peat moss, decompose.

But don’t worry, you can easily revive your old potting soil back to health.

In this article, we’ll discuss how potting soil goes bad, three related FAQs, and what happens if you use old soil. We’ll also cover how to revive the soil and give you an eco-friendly alternative to conventional peat-based potting soil.

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Let’s go!

Does Potting Soil Go Bad?

Yes. Your potting soil might go bad if it has been kept for too long or hasn’t been stored properly.

Why?

Most potting soils contain peat moss and other organic ingredients that decompose over time. This causes the soil to lose its aeration and water retention capacities, making it detrimental for any potted plant.

You can determine if your potting soil has gone bad by checking for:  

1. Compaction

Compaction refers to soil that’s heavy or tightly packed. It’s a common problem in old soil or mixes containing peat moss.

Since peat moss is viable for only 1-2 years, the soil gets dense when it decomposes with the other organic material.

2. Foul Odor

A foul, rotten eggs odor indicates that your potting soil bag has gone bad.

This bad smell results from anaerobic bacteria that grow in old, damp, and compacted soil. 

3. Mold

Your soil is bad if it has mold growing on it. This usually happens when you store moist soil in closed bags for a long time, especially during warm weather.  

Avoid using this expired potting mix since it could cause root rot in container plants.

4. Insects

The presence of insects, like fungus gnats, indicates that the soil isn’t viable for plants. 

Why?

Fungus gnats feed on decomposing organic matter in the soil, depleting nutrients and damaging plant roots. As a result, the soil won’t be suitable for plant growth. 

3 Frequently Asked Questions on Potting Soil

Here are the answers to three potting soil queries:  

1. What is Potting Soil Made of?

Not all potting soils contain the same ingredients since they have different purposes. For example, outdoor potting soils need to retain moisture longer, while indoor soils should drain water quickly. 

Generally, potting soils for container gardening include:

  • Perlite: A volcanic glass material that increases soil aeration, water retention, and drainage.
  • Bark: Shredded pine bark to improve moisture retention and aeration.
  • Vermiculite: A mineral that improves soil nutrient content and water retention.
  • Peat Moss (Sphagnum Peat Moss): A fibrous material containing nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus for plant growth. 

However, these ingredients aren’t completely beneficial for your soil or the environment. 

For starters, both vermiculite and perlite require energy-intensive mining and processing, making them unsustainable materials. Perlite can also cause excessive water drainage in the soil.  

Moving on to peat moss, it isn’t as nutrient-rich as compost and creates compacted soil on decomposition — which limits your plant’s growth. 

More importantly, peatlands represent 44% of global soil carbon stock — they store more carbon than other types of vegetation in the world combined. 

So when we harvest peat moss, we release billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change

That’s why gardeners should stop using peat and go for peat-free soil instead. In fact, the sale of peat moss will be banned in the UK by 2024 due to its environmental impact.

But what about using coconut coir instead of peat?

Coconut coir or coco coir is considered an ‘organic’ peat alternative.  

However, its production involves chemical processing of the coir and massive water consumption, and transportation — making coco coir unsustainable.

So it’s better to use potting soils that are actually beneficial for the environment.

An eco-friendly soil mix, like Rosy's Potting Mix, contains ingredients like:

  • Compost or Vermicompost: Adds nutrition and beneficial microbes for plant growth.
  • Beneficial microbes like mycorrhizal fungi: Improves nutrient availability for plants.
  • Biochar: An organic peat and perlite alternative that improves soil structure and water retention.

2. What are the Characteristics of Good Potting Soil?

Here are the traits of good potting soil:

  • Lightweight: The best soil has a low density and facilitates soil aeration. 
  • Good drainage: Soil for container gardening should drain water easily, holding just enough to accommodate the plant’s needs.
  • Nutrient-rich: Potting soils should contain the essential nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.) for an outdoor or indoor plant.
  • Rich in helpful microbes: It should have beneficial soil microbes that help increase nutrient availability for container plants.  

3. How Long Can You Store Potting Soil?

Opened bags of new potting soil can retain quality for around 6 to 12 months. For unopened and unused potting soil, you can store it for about a year or two before it goes bad.

Usually, potting soil lasts longer when stored in a dry and cool container. 

So you can either store unused potting soil bags in a dry and cool space or the potting soil itself (if the bag is opened) in an airtight container. 

What Happens if You Use Old Potting Soil?

Using an old potting mix will lead to: 

  • Reduced Plant Growth: An expired potting mix contains fewer nutrients than fresh potting soil. This leads to stunted plant growth, weakening of leaves, and delayed flower and fruit development.
  • Lowered Soil Porosity: Old garden soil has reduced soil porosity, aeration, and water drainage. Moreover, soil compaction hardens garden soil, suffocates plant roots, and reduces nutrient accessibility.
  • Salt accumulation: Since old potting mixes have poor drainage, salts from mineral water and fertilizer deposits get trapped within the soil. This can stress the plants and even burn their roots.

How to Revive Old Potting Soil

Here’s how you can nurse your old potting mix back to health:

1. Blend with Fresh Soil

You can replenish old potting soil by mixing it with fresh soil. 

Simply create a 50-50 mix of old and fresh potting soil to use for your potted plant.

While you can create your own fresh soil mix, it’ll be time-consuming and might not give the best results. You should also avoid peat-based potting soils as it’s bad for the environment.  

Instead, you could use a biochar potting mix like Rosy.

Rosy 

Rosy offers a clean and ready-to-use Potting Mix that doesn’t contain any added synthetic fertilizers or peat moss.

Instead, it has pre-activated biochar, airy and balanced compost, and beneficial microbes that help conserve water, promote plant growth and fight pests. 

You can either add this organic mix to your old soil or directly to your pots

And voila! Your garden will thrive in no time.

2. Mix in More Nutrients

Can’t get your hands on fresh potting soil?

No worries!

Just add some organic matter, like potting compost, to replenish the old soil with additional nutrients. You can add 20%-50% compost to about 80%-50% old potting soil.

3. Compost the Soil

If you don’t want to use the old soil, you can compost it. 

Adding old potting soil to your compost pile will help hasten the breakdown of organic material and keep insects away from the pile. 

The old soil should account for just 10% of the total compost material. And once composting is complete, you can use the mix to nourish your plants. 

Note: Some materials like perlite (if they’re present in the old soil mix) won’t decompose in the compost.

4. Add Water

For old and dry soil that isn’t compacted, add water to a pot of soil and let it drain out from the bottom. This will leach out the mineral and fertilizer deposits in the soil. 

Note: Don’t make the pot soaking wet — it can cause soil compaction and root rot.

Wrapping Up

Old potting soil can go bad for various reasons.  

Fortunately, you can use the tips we covered here to rejuvenate old soil and make it safe for your potted plants. 

And if you’re looking for sustainable ways to support your plants, you should switch to an eco-friendly alternative like Rosy’s Earth-Positive Biochar Potting Mix.

Why not try a bag of Rosy’s Potting Mix and bring back life to your soil?


Indoor Potting Mix | 2 Pack

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