How To Use Chopsticks To Aerate Your Houseplant Soil

Most of us know we have to regularly aerate our lawns for healthier grass, but did you know that your houseplants can also benefit from a bit of air down there, too. Houseplant soil gets compacted over time. Humus, the organic matter in the soil, breaks down, meaning the soil can take in less oxygen than before. This turns it hard and hydrophobic, meaning water pools on the top of the soil instead of soaking in. Grabbing a pair of chopsticks and poking holes in the soil breaks it up, allowing oxygen, water, and nutrients to reach the roots of your plants once again.

Pretty much any old chopsticks will do for this houseplant hack. The idea here is that you're using something long and thin to carefully create vertical channels in your planter. The disposable wooden or bamboo chopsticks you get with your food delivery work great because they're free and compostable. Don't use a chopstick with damaged paint or varnish that could flake off into the soil.

Why this simple trick works

Indoor plant care is arguably more challenging than maintaining an outdoor garden. You have to create the perfect artificial environment for your green-leaved kiddos — even if you have the type of houseplants anyone can keep alive. Soil aeration is a vital part of the plant care ecosystem. Aerated soil holds water better, promotes root growth, and improves nutrient uptake. In nature, burrowing insects and animals, like earthworms and moles, help aerate the soil. To achieve optimal houseplant health, you need to replicate this process artificially.

Grab a chopstick and push it as far down into the planter as possible. Be careful not to poke too many holes or poke holes too close to where the stem of your plant meets the surface of the soil. If you meet resistance before you reach the bottom of the pot, you've likely hit a root. Don't keep going; you don't want to damage the roots. If the soil is too hard to push your chopsticks into, the plant will probably need to be repotted.

Other easy ways to aerate

You can find scientific papers on soil aeration going back to the turn of the 20th century, but it's likely humans have known about the benefits of this method for centuries if not millennia. As such, tricks for breaking up compacted houseplant soil extend far beyond a pair of disposable chopsticks. Starting with a good potting mix is one of the best ways to maintain soil aeration. Whether you buy your soil or make your own, look for sterilized loam soil mixed with sphagnum moss, builders' sand, and either perlite or vermiculite in equal parts. It should feel crumbly in your hands, like course, dry breadcrumbs.

Sometimes, a cramped root ball causes soil compaction. This happens when a plant grows too big for its planter, and the roots have taken all the space, pushing out the soil. The solution to this problem is easy — simply remove the plant and repot it into a planter just slightly bigger than the last — say, 1 or 2 inches in diameter at the most.