The efficacy of inoculation of single pure bacterial cultures into complex microbiomes, for example, in order to achieve increased pollutant degradation rates in contaminated material (that is, bioaugmentation), has been frustrated by insufficient knowledge on the behaviour of the inoculated bacteria under the specific abiotic and biotic boundary conditions. Here we present a comprehensive analysis of genome-wide gene expression of the bacterium Sphingomonas wittichii RW1 in contaminated non-sterile sand, compared with regular suspended batch growth in liquid culture. RW1 is a well-known bacterium capable of mineralizing dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans. We tested the reactions of the cells both during the immediate transition phase from liquid culture to sand with or without dibenzofuran, as well as during growth and stationary phase in sand. Cells during transition show stationary phase characteristics, evidence for stress and for nutrient scavenging, and adjust their primary metabolism if they were not precultured on the same contaminant as found in the soil. Cells growing and surviving in sand degrade dibenzofuran but display a very different transcriptome signature as in liquid or in liquid culture exposed to chemicals inducing drought stress, and we obtain evidence for numerous 'soil-specific' expressed genes. Studies focusing on inoculation efficacy should test behaviour under conditions as closely as possible mimicking the intended microbiome conditions.