Watering a garden with a hose
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Navigating Hydrophobic Soils

During a long dry summer, extremely dry soil becomes increasingly common in the garden. It can get so dry that the soil actually repels water instead of absorbing it, which makes any watering we do unavailable to our plants. 

When soils are left dry for a period of time, the soil particles change in ways that make them unable to hold on to water. You may have noticed this when you go to water houseplants for the first time in a while – the water runs straight through and into the saucer below. Or maybe in your garden, the water pools on the surface for some time and none of the water is actually absorbed into the soil below.

This is because water looks for other water to bond with in the soil. When the soil is super dry, the water we apply is sent like a pinball bouncing off both mineral and organic matter, repelled by the lack of moisture. 

Identify Hydrophobic Soils

  • Dry, caked, cracking, dusty.
  • Water pools on top or runs straight through.
  • After watering, the soil under the first centimeter remains dry.

How to Fix It

Slow, steady watering.

  • Apply the water directly to soil instead of spraying from above.
  • Leave a hose running on low in an area and gradually move it around dry areas.
  • Use a gentle spray nozzle with a hose in a back and forth motion, making passes back and forth over the soil, pausing if the water puddles.
  • Stir water in using a hand tool or a rake.
  • Dig down to look at and feel the soil, and see if the water is sinking in

Apply compost.

  • Using compost helps to add organic matter, which can help retain moisture.
  • Make sure the compost is moist or water it in.

Wait it out.

  • Prevent sun exposure as possible with mulch, and wait for rain.


  • Consistent watering practices.
  • Monitor organic content of soil.