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Choosing soil cover for indoor plants

I thought it would be helpful to talk about top dressing indoor plants – why to do it, and what to use as soil cover.

You’ve probably seen houseplants with various materials scattered on the surface of their potting soil (like the amazing succulents above). Perhaps you’ve wondered why it’s there and what it does.

An attractive top dressing can really make an indoor plant look more ‘polished’ and add a little extra decorative flourish. 

But soil cover isn’t just handy for decoration. It’s useful for plant maintenance too, helping to retain moisture in the soil and prevent pests from taking hold, among other things.

Top reasons to use soil cover indoors

Locks in moisture

The main benefit of covering indoor plants’ soil is moisture retention. Just like a mulch in the garden, a layer of soil cover around the base of an indoor plant minimises evaporation.

It shades soil from too much direct sun to help keep the temperature down. And for plants in draughty areas, it also limits the soil’s exposure to wind which can move moisture away from the surface. 

Soil cover is especially useful if your plant is in a terracotta pot. As these pots are naturally porous, they tend to lose water more readily than plastic and other pot materials.

Reduces pests – and mess

Another excellent use for soil cover is deterring pests like springtails or fungus gnats, who like burrowing into moist soil to lay their eggs.

Though adult gnats are harmless, if large numbers of their larvae are present in soil they can feed on roots and damage plants. Soil cover prevents the problem by keeping gnats out.

A protective blanket of soil toppers also acts as a shield to reduce splashback and mess when watering. Every little helps!

There are plenty of organic and non-organic pot toppers to choose from. Organic toppers are made from materials that will eventually biodegrade, becoming part of (and adding nutrients to) your plant’s soil. 

These will need replacing in time, unlike the many non-organic options available which will remain permanently in place. Here are some ideas for what to put on top of potted plants.

5 great indoor plant soil covers

Bark chippings

Great for adding an organic, ‘forest floor’ finishing touch to your plants. Naturally, these make a perfect choice for ferns and other woodland style houseplants. 

As they’re nice and lightweight, they won’t weigh too heavily on your potting soil. This makes them well suited to plants that like loose, open soil with plenty of oxygen and water reaching their roots. 

Because they’re made from wood, bark chips will slowly break down over time. Eventually, they’ll become incorporated into your plant’s potting soil, adding extra nutrients and organic matter to improve soil fertility and structure.

Pebbles

A scattering of smooth tumbled pebbles makes for really sophisticated soil cover. They are heavier than most other pot toppers, however, and can compress the soil, so they’re not suitable for all plant types. Best for cacti, succulents, and other shallow-rooted plants. 

It’s important to bear in mind that pebbles are a choking hazard. So if you have pets and/or children, it’s probably best to avoid using them unless your plants are well out of reach.

Moss

Whether springy and fresh or preserved and dried, a mat of moss laid on top of soil gives plants a wild, woodsy feel. 

Of all the soil cover options, natural moss holds the most water. Ideal for moisture-loving indoor plants, but on the flip side, not great for plants that prefer to dry out between waterings. Avoid using on any plants that don’t take well to overwatering. 

Crushed glass

Glass mulch is fantastic for adding a little wow factor. Shards of colourful glass scattered on an indoor plant’s soil will catch any light in the room, adding sparkle and shimmer. 

Perhaps not the most subtle, naturalistic option but for razzle dazzle it can’t be beaten. A perfect choice for showier plants that command attention.

Crushed seashells

This is one of my absolute favourite soil toppers for indoor plants. I love anything with a nautical feel, and I think seashells give plants a really rustic natural look.

They’re stylish and contemporary, relatively lightweight, and if you choose wisely they’re a super sustainable option too. 

Shell On Earth, for example, is made in the UK from waste whelk shells generated by a small seafood processing business. If you’re not in the UK, there are bound to be similar products local to you.

These are just a few suggestions, but there are plenty more. I’d love to hear about your novel ideas for indoor plant soil cover. If you use something I haven’t mentioned here, please do let me know. Inspiration always appreciated!

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