Easy hacks to enrich your potting mix using coffee grounds

11 Easy Hacks to Enrich Houseplant Soil

Quality soil is at the core of your houseplant’s health, but you wish there were some hacks to enrich it more easily. This way, you can provide aerating, well-draining, nutrient-rich soil to your houseplant so it can grow and thrive. Do such hacks exist?

What are some easy hacks to enrich houseplant soil? To enrich the soil of your houseplant, try these 11 simple, handy hacks:

  • Use a chopstick for aeration
  • Make cactus soil mix with cat litter
  • Put coffee grounds in the soil for less insects
  • Try eggshells for better pH
  • Test soil pH with vinegar and baking soda
  • Control soil messes with an ice cream scoop
  • Hold onto banana peels and vegetable scraps for healthier soil
  • Keep stove ashes too for soil nutrition
  • Let earthworms make faster compost for you or enrich the soil through castings
  • Create soil moisture with mulch
  • Add more nutrients to the soil with manure  

Can banana peels really lead to healthier houseplant soil? Does cat litter actually have a role in indoor plant soil maintenance? Keep reading, as I’ll expand on the above 11 awesome hacks in much more detail. Whether you’re new to container gardening indoors or you’re a bit more seasoned but looking to save time or effort, you’ll love these hacks!

11 Hacks for Healthier Houseplant Soil

Need Soil Aeration? Try Chopsticks

On those nights when you’re too busy or exhausted from work and just don’t feel like cooking, Chinese food always comes through.

You may wonder why we’re talking about Chinese food on a blog about indoor plants, but there’s a reason.

The next time you get Chinese takeout or even some sushi, hold onto a set or two of chopsticks. They’re an easy means of aerating the soil of our houseplants.

If you’re familiar with indoorplantsforbeginners.com, then you know there are many reasons your soil can become compacted. If too much salt builds up because you fertilize a lot, that can prevent water from traveling freely to the roots.

So too can leaving the same soil in the pot for too long. Over time, the soil consistency changes, becoming harder and more clumped together rather than loose, airy, and separated.

While I do recommend sticking to a regular repotting schedule with your houseplant, you can also use chopsticks for aeration in the interim.

Now, you’re not just dragging the chopsticks through the soil randomly. There’s a technique here. Take your chopsticks and dig them in no more an inch deep into the soil. Then, poke around once or twice. Repeat this until you’ve covered all the soil in the pot.

That’s about all there is to it. The gentle motion triggers the soil into breaking up a bit so water can get deeper. This will keep your roots fed but not waterlogged and your houseplant happy and alive.

Quick tip: if you don’t have any chopsticks handy, a pencil works just as well. Just avoid getting lead into the soil. Poke with the pencil’s eraser side only.

Kitty Litter Provides Soil That Succulents Love

Growing succulents isn’t your average plant experience. Everything about these indoor plants is different, from their firm, full leaves to the fact that you can go long periods without watering them, especially in the colder months.

Another key difference between succulents and other houseplants is the soil they use. When growing cacti and other succulent species, it’s highly recommended that you use a special soil mix formulated specifically for succulents.

Not only can this be inconvenient at times, but it can be expensive if you have to buy regular potting soil for for some of your plants and another type of potting soil specially blended for just your cacti and succulent plants.

To save some money, you can always make your own succulent soil. It calls for a rather unconventional ingredient, though: kitty litter.

Yes, that’s right, the same stuff you use to mask the scent of messes from your feline friend can also work for your houseplants. As a word of caution, you should only trust unused cat litter for this.

It’s also very important to note that when making your own succulent mix, you want the cat litter to be clay-based and unscented.

Take some cat litter and combine it with your standard soil, mixing half and half. You then have a succulent soil that can work as well many of the store-bought variety.

This isn’t necessarily a long term solution but it will hold you over until you can afford specially formulated succulent mix for your cacti and succulent babies.

Using regular potting soil to grow succulents is one of the fastest ways for your succulents to develop root rot. I can’t over state the importance of well draining soil mix when it comes to growing succulents.

Keep Critters at Bay and Lower Soil pH with Old Coffee Grounds

If you’re like most people, then you can’t start your morning without a cup of coffee…or several. Where do you get your cup o’ joe?

If it’s not from a local Starbucks and you make it at home instead, then hold onto those coffee grounds! You can use them for many of your houseplants.

The grounds naturally avert slugs and snails due to their abrasive quality. If you’ve had a problem with critters like these, you can take a few used coffee grounds and wrap them around the perimeter of your houseplant or even the entire indoor garden.

Admittedly, some gardening experts have argued over the effectiveness of warding off pests like slugs and snails with coffee grounds. This option may work for you and it may not, there are a lot of pests that don’t mind coffee grounds.

That said, if using coffee grounds doesn’t work for ridding off your particular pests don’t worry, I have another hack for unwanted pests coming up shortly.

Besides the ability to keep away the bugs you don’t want (possibly), coffee grounds can bring earthworms to your indoor garden. This may sound like a bad thing, but it’s actually anything but. Keep reading to find out why.

You have the option to clean out the coffee grounds or just add them as-is. If you’re growing blueberries, azaleas, or maidenhair fern, then the acidity of the coffee will increase the pH of these houseplants to where it ought to be. Don’t rinse your grounds before using them for these plants.

For every other indoor plant, rinsed coffee grounds can be placed into the top layer of the soil or buried just below the top soil.

No Slugs or Snails with Eggshells

Whether you bake with them or make a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs on the weekend, you’re never without at least a carton of eggs. That’s great, since eggs and your houseplant are BFFs. Or at least, they should be.

The next time you go to crack an egg, hold onto the shells. They don’t have to be perfectly intact; in fact, it’s better if they’re broken up into more manageable pieces. That’s because you’re going to put the shells in the soil of your houseplant.

You can rinse the shells first if you’re worried about transmitting salmonella and then add them. Why do this, you ask? Eggshells contain calcium.

The calcium in the eggshells enriches the soil by rebalancing its pH. As we’re sure you know, pH is a measurement of how alkaline or acidic something is.

Soil that’s alkaline has a pH that exceeds 7.0. If the soil is acidic, its pH can vary from 0.0 to 14.0. Although you might think that acidic soil would have the higher pH, that’s actually soil that’s more alkaline.

Some houseplants, like the ones I talked about above, prefer a more acidic environment to grow. Others don’t do well with high alkalinity, so having a way to control the pH is ideal.

Besides their pH-balancing properties, eggshells can also keep away those unwanted slugs and snails. Both these critters have similar body types, which are long, slimy, and firm yet almost Jell-O like.

The bugs not going to want to risk cutting their fragile bodies on the jagged eggshells, so they’ll find another direction to traverse and head away from your cherished indoor plants.

Here’s another egg-related hack that helps your houseplant. The next time you treat yourself to some hard-boiled eggs, don’t dump the boiled water down the drain of your sink. Keep it instead.

This water’s been seeped in calcium due to the eggshells boiling in it, so using it in lieu of regular water can neutralize your soil’s pH.

I wouldn’t recommend using both eggshells and egg water on your plant, as that might be too much of an alteration to the pH.

Vinegar and Baking Soda Can Test for Soil pH

Speaking of pH, how do you know if your soil is too acidic? There’s a way to test it using two food items you probably already have at home, vinegar and baking soda.

With this test, you’re determining whether your houseplant soil leans more alkaline or acidic. As I explained above, soil that’s alkaline has the higher pH.

Since you can’t visibly tell where your soil falls on the pH scale, you can pour in some vinegar and baking soda to get a better idea.

Don’t add both at the same time. Instead, start with the baking soda and then see what happens. Does the soil begin bubbling? Then it’s more acidic than alkaline. Then add the vinegar. If the soil bubbles with vinegar but it didn’t with baking soda, then it’s more alkaline.

Now, you can’t get an exact pH value with this simple scientific test, but it does work. It all has to do with the ingredients in the vinegar and baking soda and how they react to more acidic or alkaline soil.

You know how to control soil pH, so you can now get on that if you’re not pleased with the condition of your houseplant’s soil.

Use an Ice Cream Scoop When Adding New Soil

You’re pretty good about repotting your houseplant when it’s time. For you, sometimes that means taking your plant out of its current pot and finding it a bigger one. In other instances, the plant just needs some fresh soil and it’s good to go.

If you’re not sure when your houseplant needs a bigger container, I’d suggest reading my article: How Do You Know When a Plant Needs a Bigger Pot?

No matter what kind of repotting you do, you always find that you make a mess when working with soil. Even if you’ve been potting and repotting plants for years. It seems unavoidable.

You may have bought a small shovel or scoop just for adding soil, and you always do your best to go slow and be careful, but when you turn around, there’s clumps of soil all over.  

It doesn’t have to be this way. The next time you’re enriching your houseplant with some fresh soil, skip the scoops and shovels.

Instead, venture into your kitchen, dig through your drawers, and pull out your ice cream scoop. Yes, that’s right, your ice cream scoop.

Obviously, you want to make sure it’s completely clean. Those scoops with the metal handle for containing the ice cream work best, as they will hold the soil in place without it spilling or leaking all over.

Does it maybe take a bit longer working with an ice cream scoop than it would a small shovel? Sure, but you’re also making less of a mess, so there’s less to do after your plant’s pot is replenished with soil.

Make sure you’re not pushing too hard on the soil if you do go the ice cream scoop route. You don’t want to compress the soil to avoid making a mess.

You’ll end up with little soil balls in your pot, and these are already compacted, which is what you want to avoid. Instead, gently but firmly grip the soil by the scoop and swiftly deposit it in the pot.

Always remember to thoroughly wash the ice cream scoop before using it again for desserts or–better yet–buy a second scoop. One for desserts and one for indoor gardening.

Keep Your Kitchen Scraps

Whether you’re prepping breakfast, lunch, or dinner, where do most of the unused bits of food go? In the garbage, right? That’s what most people do. As an indoor gardener, it’s time to start thinking a little differently.

While not all kitchen scraps are useful to your houseplants, a lot of them are. I already talked about how good eggshells are at keeping slugs and snails away.

Besides that, their calcium content keeps your soil pH neutral. I also mentioned the benefits of coffee grounds, which do much of the same as eggshells.

Don’t stop at just collecting eggshells or keeping coffee grounds. Set aside your used banana peels and raw scraps of vegetables as well.

You can cut these scraps into pieces if they’re too big or use them as you get them. Then, plunk them in the soil.

Banana peels, like the banana itself, are a spectacular source of potassium. They also contain amino acids, dietary fiber, and polyunsaturated fats. While plants can’t do much with those, they can make great use of potassium.

Potassium allows plants to regulate their water, a process known as osmoregulation. Also, with potassium, your houseplant can create adenosine triphosphate or ATP via enzymes. The plant takes light energy during photosynthesis and converts it into ATP molecules.

Another usage of potassium during photosynthesis is the regulation of stomata closing or opening. This controls how much carbon dioxide the plant has it photosynthesizes.

What about those veggie scraps? They may have all sorts of nutrients and minerals as well, including potassium and more.

And Those Stove Ashes, Too

Admittedly, your houseplants already look a little strange with their banana peels and vegetable scraps poking out every which way. Well, you’re not done adding scraps to your houseplant yet.

Your wood-burning stove (provided you have one) produces ash that can benefit your plant, too.

If you find that adding ashes to your houseplants can have benefits, I’d suggest reading: Are Cigarette Ashes OK for Houseplants?

This wood ash, even when burnt, doesn’t lose nutrients and minerals that it possessed back when it was still a tree. These include potassium and calcium.

There is a downside to this, though. The alkaline content of wood ash is quite high. If you’re growing a houseplant that does not do well in an alkaline environment, then you’re going to want to use wood ash sparingly, if at all.

If you’re experiencing an issue where your soil is more acidic than alkaline and you’d like to lower it, then know you can always rely on some wood ash for just that purpose. There are indeed quite a few houseplants and indoor flowers that appreciate a good alkaline soil.

The following list of flowers and houseplants can benefit from having some ashes added to their soil.

  • daisies
  • poppies
  • morning glories
  • maidenhair ferns
  • hyacinths
  • geraniums
  • crocuses
  • bluebells
  • irises
  • lilies
  • Boston ivy
  • clematises

Earthworms Are Your Friend

In the previous section where I talked about using coffee grounds to enrich your houseplant soil, I mentioned earthworms. Well, now it’s time to get back to them.

Most of the time, you don’t want critters, pests, and insects anywhere near your indoor garden, but that’s not the case with earthworms. Unlike a lot of bugs, earthworms don’t want to munch on your indoor plant’s leaves or roots. Instead, they enjoy snacking on bacteria and decaying matter.

When they eventually defecate, they release organic matter that’s rife with nutrients like nitrogen. This organic matter also contains enzymes and minerals that are uber healthy for your houseplant’s soil.

If you want, you can put a few earthworms directly into your plant’s pot. They’ll know what to do, and before you know it, the above benefits will begin playing out.

Perhaps you feel a bit iffy about dropping bugs into your houseplant’s environment. That’s understandable. In that case, you can create a little earthworm farm that doesn’t go anywhere near your houseplant. This farm can become a makeshift compost bin.

Remember, earthworms love to eat decaying matter, so they can trigger compost to break down faster. As it decays, the compost has a higher quantity of nutrients.

If you farm your earthworms this way, keep an eye peeled for the castings. This is just another word for earthworm poop that sounds a bit better.

Yes, you can collect the castings alone and put them into your soil. This helps your houseplant along by infusing its soil with nutrients without the need for an actual worm in the pot.

Mulch Holds Onto Moisture

Although mulch is used much more often in outdoor gardens, there’s no reason to skip it if you grow your plants in your home or office. In fact, this little gardening hack can greatly help with improving your soil quality.

While mulch is nutrient-free, what it does do is something quite useful for your houseplant’s longevity. A couple of inches of mulch kicks the soil’s moisture-retaining abilities into action.

Now, when you water your houseplant, the soil holds onto the water longer. This gives you more time between waterings.

This hack may not work as well in warmer climes, so as always, do the fingertip test. Once the soil doesn’t feel moist at all, it’s time for more water.

As for where to put the mulch, pile it around the plant base’s perimeter. This will also have a second benefit, in that the mulch can lower the soil’s temperature.

Cooler soil is often of a better quality, which only enhances your houseplant’s growing potential.

Manure Makes for a Good Fertilizer Alternative

Going from one type of poop (earthworm castings) to another, our last hack for enriched houseplant soil is to use manure. Long before commercial-grade fertilizer was sold on store shelves, people had to rely on manure for providing their plant the nutrients it needed.

Many types of manure can deliver these nutrients, so it just depends on what you can find. Your options include manure from goats, cows, horses, and many other livestock.

Two warnings here. First, if you are going to use manure, then there’s no need to apply a fertilizer as well. That’s overkill. Secondly, the age and quantity of the manure you use matters. If it’s brand new manure, it’s more potent and could cause the houseplant to burn. The same is true if you just heap the stuff on.

When it comes to applying manure to houseplant soil, it’s much better to wait until the manure dries and then apply sparingly. You can always add more if you think your plant needs it.

Waiting until it dries before applying it to your soil also cuts down on the unpleasant smell. And on that note, I’ll leave you with an article I wrote a while back appropriately titled Houseplants That Can Make Your Home Smell Better

Stay Happy, Healthy and Safe!

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