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How to Improve Garden Soil

Published by monica on Sunday, April 21, 2013

Photo credit by Bukowsky18

Before you undertake planting anything, consider the composition of your soil. The soil provides the essential nutrients, water and support that assist in helping plants thrive and grow.

Soil properties are affected by drainage, aeration, temperature and the soil’s water holding capacity. Basic types of soil include sand, clay and silt. Therefore, the composition of the soil can be a mixture of sand, silt and clay. In the right amounts, this makes up the ideal soil or loam.

Sand has good drainage and aeration and warms rapidly even in cooler temperatures, while clay has none of these qualities. Soil is made up of four elements. These components comprise liquid, organic matter, air in the soil and rocks or minerals. The ratio of these individual elements that make up the soil can affect plant growth. Therefore, an ideal soil composition is made up of 40% minerals or solid materials, 10% organic matter, and 25% each of water and air.

Given the above information, you can better learn how to improve soil content and enhance the growth of your plants as well. Adding a compost of organic matter to the soil will also supplement the activity of earthworms as well as bacterial growth. Before you do so however, it’s a good idea to test the pH of your soil in order to determine alkalinity or acidity.

If the soil is alkaline, its pH will be 7 to 14. Acidic soil has a pH level of 1-7 while a pH of 7 is neutral. If the pH level is lower or more acidic in nature, then more calcium, magnesium, sulfur, nitrogen and phosphorous are needed for plants to thrive. On the other hand, if the pH is high or more alkaline, then phosphorous, manganese, iron, copper, zinc and boron need to be added. The goal then is to maintain a soil pH of 6 to 7 for optimum plant growth.

You can obtain most pH test kits at nurseries or your soil can be tested by your community’s agricultural extension office. Take samples from various areas of your garden to give you a good idea as to the overall health of your soil.

If you need to reduce acidity, typically adding lime or wood ash should be helpful. If your soil is alkaline then adding peat moss, mulch or sulfur should ameliorate any problems along this line. Gradually altering the composition of the soil is a slow process and normally takes several years to facilitate.

Although working towards a neutral pH is normally the goal, several plants will grow well in soils that are more acid in nature. Such plants include rhododendrons, heathers and azaleas.

Conversely, plants that prosper in alkaline soil compositions include anemones, carnations and lilacs.

Generally, as stated, the soil is made up of one component or more of sand, silt or clay which denotes how loamy it will be.

Typically sandy soil can benefit by adding a compost or manure to it. Clay soil is helped when an organic compost and leaf mold are included in the mix.

A loamy soil is the best soil condition for maintaining healthy plants. Therefore, once your soil has achieved this level of quality it’s imperative that it be maintained by adding organic material on a routine basis.

Organic matter then assists in improving the texture of the soil. It serves to bind sand and breaks up compacted soil like clay. Humus is the component that gives dirt a spongier feel and allows for better drainage and aeration. Feeding the soil with organic matter increases the proliferation of plants and increases earthworm activity as well.

You can feed your soil to improve it in a number of ways. For instance, add grass clippings into your soil. Plant the clippings down about 6 inches for the best effect. In addition, leaf mold or fall leaves are good nutrition for the soil. Weeds can be tilled into the soil provided they’re free of seeds. Add the detritus of crops such as squash, tomatoes and corn as long as they were healthy when you harvested them. Pine needles are good to add to alkaline soil as they’re more acidic. Incorporate kitchen wastes into the land. Save potato peels, apple cores, banana peels, grapefruit rinds, lettuce leaves and coffee grounds as compost for the garden.

Manure is a beneficial amendment for improving the composition of the soil. Sawdust is also a good supplement if combined with nitrogen to speed decomposition.

Testing the pH of your soil as well as applying organic matter and the proper supplements over time will improve your soil and greatly enhance plant growth. It's the best way to keep your garden eco friendly or "green."

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