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Smelly houseplant soil can be unpleasant. It can be caused by a number of different reasons, but luckily, it’s quite simple to fix!
WHAT TO DO NOW
Excess water in the pot - Watering a plant too often can lead to water gathering in the pot and soil. This is the most common reason why soil starts to smell. The smell itself isn’t harmful to your plants, but overwatering can lead to further problems such as root rot, so if you think that your plant is getting too much water, it may be a good idea to keep an eye on its overall health too and reduce watering if needed.
To get rid of the smell, we recommend this:
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
If you like, you can also gently remove all the wet soil and repot it with new, fresh soil (remember to register this repotting task in Planta to get the care schedule updated). This may not 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. However, note that repotting can be a stressful process for your plant. One of the gentler ways of removing old soil is by rinsing them in water.
Next time you water, make sure that no water is left in the pot or on the tray for longer than about an hour. Depending on the size of the pot, it can be helpful to tip it up at a 45 degree angle to get as much water to drain out as possible. This is also a good practice in general to keep your plants healthy.
The smell of fertilizers - If you open the fertilizer and smell it, does it smell the same as the soil? Some fertilizers— especially organic ones don't smell like a flower meadow. This might be the cause of the smelly soil!
If the smell really bothers you, and doesn’t seem to be caused by a different issue, we would recommend trying a different brand of fertilizer. Generally speaking mineral fertilizers are often totally odor free while fertilisers of organic origin range from "slight odor" to "downright stinky." Some smell a bit less than others, but it's a personal preference, so you can try searching for one that fits your needs.
The smell of the soil most likely is not bad for your plant, but it can be an annoyance. You can always try repotting the plant with new soil in a pot with has very good drainage - this usually does the trick when nothing else seems to be the reason.
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, then you can scrape this off.
WILL ANY HARM BE DONE TO MY PLANT BECAUSE OF THIS? The smell itself shouldn’t have any direct effect on your plant, but if your plant’s soil has been overly wet for too long, it may be at risk of developing root rot. When you remove the plant from its pot, check that the roots aren’t mushy. Rotting roots can give off a foul smell. If the roots themselves smell and are dark and mushy, then unfortunately this probably means that your plant must be saved quickly (if it's not already beyond saving).