Photo found on Flickr, courtesy of Bukowsky18.
The most effective gardeners realize that soil is not inert or changeless. Soil is a living mass that changes season to season. It might be best to think of your garden soil as a living entity filled with billions of organisms that affect the quality of its product—your garden.
Improving garden soil has much to do with regular maintenance and understanding your soil’s particular requirements. The following text is filled with suggestions to help you maintain the optimum health of your soil from year to year.
Fertilizer and plant food is all well and good, but it is essentially fruitless without healthy garden soil. Organic matter, minerals, water, and air are the components of soil. At any given time some or all of these elements need to be supported by the gardener.
The composition of your soil’s organic matter is a combination of living, decaying, and dead plants and animals. Living organisms include bacteria, worms, fungi, plant roots, etc…As these elements decay, they eventually become humus—the nutrient-rich matter that nourishes the soil.
Soil minerals include sand, clay, silt, and loam. Some soils might contain pebbles or rocks which can affect the soil’s productivity. The soil’s minerals affect levels of air and water throughout. A healthy water level is essential for plant growth. Soils with poor drainage can leave the area saturated.
On the other hand, a diminished water supply results in wilting. Similarly, healthy levels of air gases also keep garden soil productive. If roots do not have optimum levels of oxygen they cannot absorb optimum levels of nutrients or even water.
It is important to periodically test your garden soil. Soil testing allows the gardener to easily assess the condition of the soil and determine which components need support. Checking the pH of your soil is important as certain plants and vegetables require a particular pH range to grow.
Depending on its score, you can alter the pH by adding either sulfur or lime to the soil. In some cases, it might be beneficial to have your soil tested in a laboratory if there are severe issues, but generally speaking, if you determine the drainage potential of the soil and understand the bulk of the minerals that make up the soil (is it mostly clay or sand?) you can simply address those elements with soil improvements.
All soil needs to be improved periodically. Often, adjusting a soil’s aeration quality can be achieved by adding sand which also will positively impact drainage. Composting can dramatically enhance the soil by adding nutrients from its decayed plant or animal matter. Composting is one of the best things you can do for your garden and overall environment.
Compost is simply a collection of organic matter from your household—the eggshells, coffee grounds, orange peels, etc…that you save for your soil. Regularly adding these household organic scraps to a well-maintained compost heap will result in loads of humus more quickly produced than Mother Nature could do herself. And humus is the key to healthy soil.
Besides keeping a compost bin you can also provide humus for the soil by adding leaf mold to the soil. Save your autumn leaf piles in black plastic bags. In a year’s time, this organic matter will have transformed into a prime conditioner for your soil. Different leaf types will alter pH levels so be sure to learn how your leaf mold affects the soil and the type of plants you want to grow.
Taking time to understand your soil’s composition is the best way to achieve a beautiful garden and landscape. As your garden’s foundation, the soil needs to be in optimum health before productivity will result. By making simple changes to the soil like adding mineral content or organic matter, you can ensure your soil’s healthy composition from season to season, year to year.
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