The subject of garden soil is just not as glamorous or fun as going out and shopping for new plants for your yard. But just like building a home on a bad foundation, poor soil will lead to disastrous gardening. We have all had the heartbreaking experience of buying colorful looking plants only to bring them home, plant them, and watch them struggle for survival. And we had such high hopes.
So what is healthy soil? Why should we care? AboutGardening.com has an interesting way of “talking dirt.” Focus on the Big Four: texture, structure, pH and organic matter. Soil textures are sand, silt, clay and sandy loam. Sandy loam is considered the ideal garden soil because it mixes the three basic textures.
Soil structure is the way your soil clumps together. Just squeeze a handful of damp soil from your yard into a ball in your hand. If your poke the ball lightly and it breaks apart, it is probably sand. If you poke and poke and nothing happens, you have mostly clay.
Good soil is crumbly. The roots of those new little plants you bought can easily work their way through it, air can pass through it and water can drain through it. Soil structure can be improved by adding organic matter like manure or compost. This will, in turn, bring earthworms and other insects that will just love to work to help you aerate your improving soil. You can also improve soil texture by regular spraying of dilute fish emulsion or seaweed. You can also till, but tilling too often can over crumble soil and kill the insects living there.
Soil pH is the level of acidity or alkalinity in your soil. Neutral is 7.0. If you have plants that are not growing vigorously, they possibly don’t like your pH level. These plants won’t be able to use the nutrients in the soil, no matter how much you feed them. Our local Extension Agency can get you a test kit for pH.
Organic matter helps your garden in so many ways. We are so fastidious sometimes that we pick up any dead or decaying plants from our yards before they can feed the soil. Do what the “big boy” gardeners do and start a compost area. Collect grass clippings leaves, vegetable peels, sawdust, straw and paper and other plant material. Let the pile age until it begins to decay and looks like rich soil with a dark and crumbly texture. Add this black gold into bad soil and watch your plants get happy.
Building good soil is an ongoing process.
Joette is an avid gardener and prides herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. To share your gardening news with Joette, call (409) 832-1400 or fax her at (409) 832-6222. Her e-mail is joreger [at] msn [dot] com.