What to do if your plant’s soil smells

What to do if your plant’s soil smells

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Why does the soil smell?

Unpleasant odors from your plant's soil can be bothersome and can be caused by various factors. Overwatering is a common culprit, as it can lead to water accumulation in the pot and soil. Additionally, certain fertilizers, especially organic ones, may not have a pleasant scent, contributing to the smelly soil issue.

overwatered smelly plant

What to do now

Excess water in the pot

  • Pour out any excess water and gently remove the plant from the pot - be careful with the roots

  • Place your plant on paper or a towel and let it dry for a while before putting the plant back into the pot

  • You can also remove all the wet soil and repot it with new, fresh soil. This may not always be necessary, but can be a good way to ‘reset’ your plant if the soil is particularly wet and doesn’t seem to be drying out. Note that repotting can be a stressful process for your plant

  • If you think that your plant is getting too frequent water, it may be a good idea to keep an eye on its overall health too and reduce watering if needed

  • Next time you water, make sure that no water is left in the pot or on the tray for longer than about an hour

The smell of fertilizers

  • If you open the fertilizer and smell it, does it smell the same as the soil?

  • If the smell bothers you, and doesn’t seem to be caused by a different issue, we would recommend trying a different brand of fertilizer.

  • Mineral fertilizers are often odor free while fertilisers of organic origin range from "slight odor" to "downright stinky"

Common questions

Could this be a symptom of something else?

Although the most common reason for a smell in the soil is due to it being overly wet, many soils also naturally contain various fungi that can give off a smell. These are typically harmless to your plants, so it’s nothing to worry about. However, if you want you can allow the soil to air out a bit in order to combat this. By mixing up the soil and exposing it to better airflow, you should be able to lessen the smell. If you do see visible mold on the soil surface, scrape it off.

Will any harm be done to my plant because of this?

The smell itself typically doesn't directly harm your plant. However, if the soil has been excessively wet for an extended period, there's a risk of root rot. When you take the plant out of its pot, inspect the roots for mushiness. Foul odors might indicate rotting roots. If the roots are both smelly and dark/mushy, your plant may be in a challenging state and may not be recoverable.