Soil Moisture: How to Deal with Excess and Lack

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Soil Moisture

Soil moisture for your plants and garden can get out of balance. Let’s look at a few ways to control both excess moisture and a lack thereof.

If you live in an area like Western North Carolina, you know we’ve had far too much rain lately. Other areas often get hit by spring flooding, snowmelt, hurricanes, summer storms, and more. On the other end of the spectrum, some areas are very dry, experiencing little, if any, rain.

So what do you do? We’ll look at both issues and what you can do about them.

Controlling excess soil moisture

Too much moisture can lead to a number of problems. It can create leaching of nutrients, root rot, fungal problems, and lack of growth.

If you over water you can easily correct the problem by not watering as much. Leave the plants for a few days to let them dry out a bit. Be careful to check them. They can dry out very quickly in the hot sun.

If excess moisture is caused by rain, there are a few things you can do. One is to lift the plants up a bit with a pitchfork. Then add some well-composted mulch underneath. If it’s not possible, dig around the roots and add some mulch there. Perlite can help too. You can also move plants to a container where you can better control the amount of water they receive. If the container has a saucer, be sure to tip the excess water out. Root rot and fungal problems can happen quickly. And don’t forget about mosquitoes. They love standing water. (Read more on how to keep bugs away naturally – and – a recipe for homemade natural insect repellant.)

Soil Moisture 1

You can also combat moisture problems by planting on a rise – even a small one – and planting where the sun hits in the morning. Powdery mildew can appear when damp conditions linger. Morning sun can help burn off excess surface moisture that creates problems, and planting on a rise allows water to run off easily. Simply create a slight dip in the top near the trunk or stem so that you can retain some water, but not excessive amounts.

Controlling a lack of soil moisture

So what do you do if you have the opposite problem? One solution is the aforementioned technique – plant on a rise with a slight dip near the stem or trunk. This will help to capture and retain moisture. But then, if there is little rain or water, you’ll want to keep the plants out of the hot morning sun and plant where the late afternoon sun hits. Later in the afternoon, the sun’s rays aren’t as strong, so the plant can better use the dew from the night into the morning. Planting on the north side of a structure will help too. Shade of any kind will help keep moisture in, but you don’t want too much shade. Too much and you’ll get no flowers or fruit on tomatoes and peppers. Be sure you know the proper shade and sun tolerances for your plants before planting.

Mulch will also help. Mulch, well-composted and aged, will help maintain moisture levels in the soil both in-ground and in containers. I prefer a pine bark mulch. It helps to keep the pH between 5.5 to 6.5, where most of my plants are happiest. It also helps to break up the native clay found around here. Waterlogging can be a problem with clay, but so can drying out. Pine bark mulch can help in both instances. (Look around for free or cheap sources of mulch from places like tree service companies, freecycle, or Craig’s List.)

Another solution is to use a polymer crystal. These are often sold as Soil Moist or something similar. Made of sodium polyacrylamide or sodium polyacrylate, these solid crystals become gelatin-like when exposed to water. They hold water for the plant when it is wet, and when it starts to dry, they give up their moisture for the plants to use. While it is not a totally natural item, they derive it from a natural source, and eventually, it breaks down to sodium later in its life. They last for many months, being dehydrated and re-hydrated many times. A single teaspoon of crystals will make over a quart when activated. When it comes to being all-natural, use what you’re comfortable with, remember that everyone is in a different phase of their DIY learning curve.

The easiest way to deal with any moisture problem is to plant those plants that are native or naturalized to the area. A rain garden, with plants such as irises, will dry out between rains and fill in when there’s too much water. Many coreopsis and rudbeckia plants will do well here in my area. As will coneflowers, Liatris, and even my favorite, Jerusalem Artichokes. These are in the sunflower family and don’t mind being wet or dry. Periskovia or Russian Sage is another that will tolerate most anything. And of course, my many mint varieties will too.

If you’re unsure of what to plant, research the specifics of each plant. Go online or visit a garden center. Either one will be happy to help you choose plants that will tolerate either too much moisture or not enough. You can also purchase a soil moisture meter to help discover and regulate the amount of moisture your plants need.

Tip: perhaps you will enjoy making homemade shampoo for your next DIY project?

What are some of the successful solutions you’ve implemented to control soil moisture for your plants? Share with the community below!


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. K Draper says

    You may want to try some biochar which is a bit more earth friendly than perlite and tends to be alkaline which can help in acidic soils. It adds long lasting carbon to the soil as well. This chart spells out some of the differences:

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Thanks K! I just did an article on biochar for DIYNatural last time. I love the idea more and more. I charred a few things last week and it’s already being worked into my soil. I’m really excited to see it take effect!

  2. Jennifer Burrows says

    I find that veggies like a higher PH than you mentioned so I prefer to use straw for mulch. If you are in an area that rains a lot, look into straw bale gardening since keeping them wet is the only downfall. May be perfect for you!