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I am repotting my houseplants. When I took an areca palm out of the pot, I noticed that its roots are planted in what looks like loam. I can't identify it well, but it is very different from the normal houseplant earth I use. It is greyish-yellow, grainy and dense. It doesn't crumble at all, it smears.

I inherited the plant years ago from a neighbour who moved, and I have no idea whether it has been planted in this soil on purpose, or whether somebody without a clue has planted it in any old soil years ago. Is this good for the plant? Should I leave the roots in it and just put some new earth around as usual, or should I try to remove most of it and plant it in soft earth?

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Is the plant healthy and growing? If so then leave it alone. You can top dress with a soil less mix or just add some on top. If you are potting it to a larger size then put some new soil in the bottom of the pot.

Although tropical plant growers use soil less mix because it is consistent and weed free a clay or loam based mix will do just fine and may have more longevity.

Some of the longest lived tropical plants I cared for were planted in a rock hard clay mix. After twenty years they were still going strong. A soil less mix does not last that long in my experience and needs to be refreshed.

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