Q. How can I improve the soil?

A. Successful plant growth in our gardens is reliant on the soil it grows in.  Soil condition is often overlooked and can make or break the efforts of the gardener in creating a thriving landscape. Unfortunatly, in many neighborhoods the rich topsoil is removed before the homes are built and the poor soil from the basement excavation is used to fill in around the home.

Clay, sand and loam are the three main types of soil.  The particle size of the soil is what determines the classification of soil.  Clay is made up of very small particles.  When compacted, these particles are so tight that very little air or water can penetrate into the soil. Some clay in the soil is good because it will retain moisture and hold nutrients better.  The nutrients in the soil bind to the clay more than sand so less is leached into the ground water. Sand is just the opposite; the soil particles are large, creating a lot of air space. Nutrients are leached through the sand quickly requiring frequent applications of fertilizer.  The texture of the sand allows water to drain though quickly.  Loam is a mixture of large and small size particles containing more organic matter.

Organic matter is the remains of decaying plant material.  Composts are rich in organic matter.  Adding compost to your planting beds and tilling it into the top 6 inches of the soil is the best way of improving the tosoil.  Compost can be purchased in bulk and can be delivered to your home or you can create your own compost pile in your yard from yard and plant waste.  Other natural soil conditioners include bark products, peat moss, manure, and coco shells. Composted pine bark is a soil conditioner that can be purchased in bags or bulk.  Pine bark can range in size, depending on how it is screened, from 1/8th inch to 1 inch.  Pine bark can also lower the soil ph.  In our area the soil is usually too alkaline and needs to be lowered slightly.

When added to poor topsoil, organic matter will bind the soil particles together allowing clay soil to crumble and sandy soil to hold moisture.  With an improved loam soil you will find your plants will grow healthier, stronger and require less watering.  Soil rich with organic matter provides nutrients to the bacteria, earthworms and microorganisms living in the soil.  These will then provide the nutrients that the plant can absorb.

The results you see above ground start with the soil below.  Without the proper topsoil plants usually will grow poorly.  Whenever you buy new plants to add to your landscape don’t forget amend the soil.  A good rule of thumb is to mix one-third organic matter such as compost, peat or composted manure with two thirds of the loose soil that came out of the hole when planting.

Filed Under: Landscape Articles

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