How Do You Know If Potting Soil Is Bad? (Answered)

How can you determine if your potting soil has gone bad? In this informative blog post, we answer this crucial question and provide insight on identifying signs of poor-quality potting soil. Learn about the factors that can negatively impact potting soil and how they affect your plants’ health.

Furthermore, explore related topics such as refreshing old potting soil and testing the pH of potting soil. By understanding how to recognize bad potting soil, you’ll be better prepared to maintain a healthy and productive garden.

Signs of bad potting soil include a foul odor, mold growth, and the presence of pests or insects.
Bad potting soil can harm your plants by inhibiting their growth, spreading diseases, and attracting pests.
Potting soil can last up to two years, but its lifespan may vary depending on storage conditions and whether it has been opened or used before.
Old potting soil can be reused, but it may need to be amended with fresh nutrients and organic matter to improve its quality.
Disposing of bad potting soil can be done by sealing it in a bag and throwing it in the trash, or by composting it if it is not contaminated.

Don’t miss out—learn more about identifying bad potting soil today!

Dry Chunkiness

If your potting soil is dry and crumbly, it may be a sign that the bag has been sitting around for too long. 

If this is the case, we recommend using another bag of potting soil instead. You can also try watering down the bad bag of potting soil in order to make it more malleable; however, this might lead to you having more water than necessary for your plants’ needs.

If you have already mixed up your bad potting soil with other materials (like compost), then there is nothing left to do but wait!

“While garden soil and potting soil may seem similar, there are important differences between them that can affect the health of your plants. To learn more about the distinctions between garden soil and potting soil, check out our article on Are Garden Soil and Potting Soil the Same?.”

Wet Clumpiness

If your potting soil is so wet that it clumps together, it’s probably bad. If you squeeze some of the soil in your hand and it stays together like a ball, then you should get rid of it as soon as possible.

If your potting soil is damp but not wet, then congratulations! You have good potting soil on your hands (or in your bag). 

A healthy amount of water will help keep plants hydrated without drowning them or allowing fungus to grow unchecked.

Lumpy, Atrophy

The first sign that you may have a problem with your potting soil is when it’s lumpy. This usually happens when the soil has been sitting in the pot for too long and has dried out, creating clumps around the plant’s roots. 

If your plant is still alive and growing, then you can simply add more water to loosen up these lumps. However, if your plant appears dead or dying (and especially if there are obvious signs of mold), then it may be best to replace your entire bag of potting soil with new one.

“Eggshells are a natural and beneficial addition to garden soil, as they can provide important nutrients for plants. For more information on the benefits of using eggshells in garden soil, check out our article on Are Eggshells Good for Your Garden Soil?.”

Low Moisture

If you notice that your plants are wilting and drooping, it may be time to check your potting soil. Wilting is a sign of low moisture in the soil.

If your potting soil feels dry to the touch, then it’s time to water your plants more often. Make sure you are using a good quality potting soil that drains well so the roots of the plant have access to water when they need it most (especially during hot weather).

High Moisture

If your potting soil feels wet, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it should be slightly damp when you first receive it (unless you’re using the kind that has already absorbed water).

Soil should be damp enough to stick together but not so wet that it can’t hold its shape when squeezed between your fingers. 

If it is still too damp after 24 hours or so, place the pots outdoors where they’ll receive plenty of sunlight and air circulation. This will help them dry out faster.

If you’re concerned with root rot in any of your plants and they’ve been kept indoors for several weeks without any sunlight or fresh air (or even if they’ve just come inside), 

then place them in direct sun for 15 minutes at least once per day until they are no longer soaking wet all over their surface area (you might want to do this while watering so you can check their moisture levels).

“Testing the pH of potting soil is an important step in ensuring the health of your plants, as it can affect their ability to absorb nutrients. To learn more about how to test the pH of potting soil, check out our article on How Do You Test the pH of Potting Soil?.”

Smell Bad

One of the most obvious signs that your potting soil is bad is if it smells bad. Some of the most common smells are ammonia, sulfur, rotten eggs and sewage. 

While these are all unpleasant odors in their own right, they’re not necessarily indicative of a bad potting soil. 

In fact, sometimes fertilizers can produce these smells as part of their process and it’s still safe to use them for gardening purposes.

To tell whether or not your potting soil has gone bad in terms of smell:

  • Smell the bag
  • Smell some fresh potting soil from another bag (or even from a container at a store). Does yours smell exactly the same? If so—congrats! Yours isn’t going to harm anyone or anything when used properly!

Color Change

Color change is usually a sign of a chemical imbalance, which can be caused by several factors. 

For example, if you’re using potting soil that isn’t completely balanced for the plant you want to grow, it may not have all the necessary nutrients for it to thrive. 

This can cause yellowing leaves and stunted growth. If this is what’s happening with your plants, consider adding some sort of fertilizer or supplement to bring them back into balance.

Other signs of a chemical imbalance include white spots on leaves (known as chlorosis), which indicate magnesium deficiency and dark spots on leaves (known as necrosis), which indicate an iron deficiency. 

The good news is that these deficiencies are easy to fix: simply add 1 teaspoon per gallon of water until symptoms go away or correct any other issues in your growing environment that might be contributing to them.

“Choosing the right potting soil for your plants is key to their success and growth. To learn more about the best potting soil for different types of plants, check out our article on What is the Best Pot Soil?

Moldy Soil

If you notice moldy-looking spots on the top of your potting soil, it’s time to toss that stuff out. Moldy potting soil can be harmful to plants due to its ability to cause root rot, which can lead to death. 

In addition, because mold is so difficult for humans to remove from roots, removing it may end up damaging your plant’s root system.

How do you prevent this? First of all, make sure that when you’re bagging up your potting mix at home depot or wherever else it came from (this is key), you store them in a dry place away from any moisture sources like windowsills or showers. 

If there are already some shady spots on the bag when you get home with it—and if they haven’t been stored correctly—then take those bags back immediately and exchange them for ones that have been stored correctly!

After that is done though? It’s time for some preventative care: always check your entire order before filling up containers with potting soil; if anything looks even slightly off then report it immediately! 

Also be aware of any new brands or products coming onto your market; if something seems too good (or bad) then don’t let them get into circulation until research has been done first!

Bugs and Insects

Bugs and insects are a clear sign that something is wrong with your potting soil. If you notice bugs or insect larvae in your potting soil, it’s likely that there are pests present in the surrounding area. 

This could mean that your plants have been affected by a disease and might need to be removed from the garden or destroyed if they’re diseased beyond recovery.

The most common pests found in garden soil include slugs, snails, earthworms, millipedes and centipedes (which can damage seedlings), earwigs (which feed on roots), aphids (which damage leaves), mealybugs (which attack roots) and other insects such as potato beetles.

Nutrient Deficient

If you see yellow or brown leaves, it could be a sign of a nutrient deficiency. Potted plants need fertilizer to grow, so if your plant is looking sickly and isn’t growing well, it may mean that its soil is deficient in nutrients.

The problem can be remedied by adding fertilizer to the soil. There are several types of fertilizers out there, but I recommend using a liquid fertilizer rather than one made from granules. 

This is because it’s easier for roots to absorb liquid nutrients than solid ones and will help keep them healthy as they grow larger over time!

“Regularly replacing potting soil is important to ensure the health and vitality of your plants. To learn more about how often you should replace your potting soil, check out our article on How Often Should You Replace Your Potting Soil?.”

Deformed Plant Growth

You may notice that the growth of your plants is stunted, deformed, distorted, malformed or asymmetrical. 

You might also see discoloration in the leaves or flowers of your plant. This can be a sign that the soil has gone bad.


It’s important to remember that your soil is not just something that grows plants in it, but also a natural resource.

You should treat your soil with care and respect. If you notice any of these symptoms in your potting soil, then it may be time to replace it before the damage becomes irreparable.

Further Reading

Does Potting Soil Go Bad?: This article discusses how potting soil can go bad and what signs to look for to determine if your potting soil has expired.

How to Tell If Potting Soil Is Bad: This article provides tips for identifying bad potting soil and how to avoid using it for your plants.


What are the signs of bad potting soil?

Some signs of bad potting soil include a foul odor, mold growth, and the presence of pests or insects.

Can bad potting soil harm my plants?

Yes, bad potting soil can harm your plants by inhibiting their growth, spreading diseases, and attracting pests.

How long does potting soil last?

Potting soil can last up to two years, but its lifespan may vary depending on storage conditions and whether it has been opened or used before.

Can I reuse old potting soil?

Yes, old potting soil can be reused, but it may need to be amended with fresh nutrients and organic matter to improve its quality.

How do I dispose of bad potting soil?

Bad potting soil can be disposed of in the trash, but it should be placed in a sealed bag to prevent the spread of any pests or diseases. Alternatively, it can be composted if it is not contaminated.