Garden Soil contains minerals, organic matter, air and water. Mineral soils alone are not recommended for container plants because the ground becomes very dense and saturated in pots, limiting the air space needed for plant roots.
Know Your Soil Type
Before planting, dig out a tablespoon of soil and pay attention to its texture. Is it dense and heavy, and does it stick together when wet? Or is it lose and fluid, like play sand? Maybe it’s somewhere in between, feels a bit sticky but breaks up easily like a freshly baked cookie.
All soils are a mixture of mineral atoms, mainly clay, sand and silt. They often contain more particles of one type than others. It does not make them a bad growing medium but will affect their density, drainage rate, and ability to retain nutrients.
There are Trade-Offs with Every Type of Soil. Here’s a Quick Overview:
- Clay soils make up of tiny, dense particles that contain large amounts of wetness and nutrients. However, stone soil also drains slowly and can harden and compact as it dries.
- On the other hand, Sandy soils contain large particles that water can easily pass through and important nutrients.
- Deposits contain small particles that build up on top of each other, preventing drainage and air circulation.
- Loam – ideal soil for most plants; it contains a balance of three mineral particles and is rich in humus (what remains after the decomposition of organic matter).
Adding organic material is the best method to make the soil loamier and improve its structure. Another option is to build an elevated bed and fill it with a well-balanced potting mix. Or take a simple approach and grow plants that do well in your soil type, such as choosing drought-tolerant plants for sandy soils. You can plant successfully in any soil, as long as the plant’s roots use to the conditions.
Check Soil pH
The pH of your mud is one of the most vital issues in defining its fertility. If your ground is too alkaline (pH above 7.5) or too acidic (pH below 5.5), nutrient availability for your plants can be greatly affected.
Although most plants tolerate a wide range of pH levels, they prefer slightly acidic soils (pH 6 to 7) because vital nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium too magnesium dissolve easily in this environment. In overly acidic or alkaline soils, your plants may get too many nutrients and not enough others.
How to Check Soil pH? Here are Two Options:
- Do-it-yourself soil testing kit. You can buy instant-read soil test equipment or an electronic tester (like this one on Amazon) to get results faster.
- Professional Soil Testing: But if you are starting a new garden, it is recommended that you have your soil tested by a professional. Soil samples will send to a laboratory to analyze the soil’s pH and nutrient content and its ability to retain nutrients.
Be sure to take soil samples from diverse places in your garden, as pH can vary greatly, even in a small backyard. If your pH readings are low (acidic), you can fix this by adding lime to the soil. If it is too high, add powdered sulfur or aluminium sulfate. Another option is to choose plants that do well at your soil’s natural pH levels, such as acid-loving rhododendrons or azaleas.
Modify with Organic Materials
Any soil can improve by adding organic matter.
Here are three general solutions:
- Composted Yard Waste
- Dead Leaves
In sandy soils, organic matter improves the water and nutrient retention capacity. In clay soils, it releases minerals that become sticky when the ground is wet and hard when thirsty. And in all muds, it provides a rich source of slow-release nutrients for your plants, as well as food for beneficial soil organisms. Over time, well-fertilized soil will provide most of the nutrients your plants need, reducing the need for fertilizers.
Most soil fertilizers work best if you apply them in the fall, so they break down well before you plant the next spring, says organic gardener Elizabeth Stell, author of Great Soil Secrets. To bring carbon-based matter down to root level, use a garden branch to blend the solid into the top 4 to 6 edges of mud. You can change the ground in gardens that typically contain annuals or biennials each season. Perennial gardens should amend before planting to prevent damage to plant roots. Many perennials need to dig up every few years to divide, providing a good opportunity to work with other organic matter.
Seek the Help of Microorganisms
Do not consider the earth as earth. Think of it as a microscopic world, teeming with a myriad of organisms that bring your garden to life. These organisms in your soil ecosystem, including earthworms, insects, fungi, and a host of beneficial bacteria, act as Mother Nature’s recycling team, turning leaf litter and plant remains into readily available nutrients. They also help expose the soil and convert organic matter into humus.
“To get the help of microorganisms, create favourable conditions. Since these are the conditions that promote optimal plant growth, you are doing your garden a double favour,” says Stell. To encourage life in the soil, he recommends keeping the ground evenly moist and well-aerated and minimizing the use of pesticides. “A lot of them are toxic to soil life as well as the insects you’re trying to control,” she says. Also, avoid using fast-acting concentrated fertilizers that can harm earthworms and other soil organisms. Instead, use less potent organic fertilizers and slow-release formulas.
Mulch with Care
Mulching allows you to add living matter to the soil without disturbing plant roots because you spread it over the shallow and let it crumble naturally.
Mulch also helps:
- Retain Moisture
- Suppresses the Growth of Weeds
- Keep the Ground Cooler in Summer
- Improve Soil Aeration
But mulching also has its downsides, especially if you’re using the wrong type of mulching material and applying it too thick. It can change the chemical arrangement of the soil and wash out harmful trace elements from plants. It can also create persistently wet conditions that lead to fungal diseases of plant roots, especially in moist soil and humid climates.
Various organic materials can use to make effective mulch. However, mulches are unmatched when it comes to their impact on the biological activity of the soil and the rate of soil breakdown. For more information on the pros and cons of mulching and the best types of mulch to use in landscaping, see How to Mulch and Avoid Mistakes.
The opinions of gardeners are very ambiguous about the benefits of tillage. Many people convince that turning and loosening the soil each year creates favourable conditions for their plants, as it mixes with organic matter and improves drainage. Others say that ploughing is a waste of time and can do more harm than good, and they are often right.
Soil cultivation has several disadvantages. You can encourage weed growth by bringing dormant seeds to the surface and exposing them to the sun. You can disrupt the useful digging activity of earthworms – the best free labour you can get to loosen and aerate the soil. It can also affect the activities of important soil microorganisms. Despite these shortcomings, tillage is still a viable option if you need to work with organic matter and nutrients in sticky clay soil or a heavily packed new bed. After the initial deep tillage, you can often let nature improve the soil structure.