As a master gardener, I feel that having some basic understanding about what your plants are growing in will help make you a better gardener and the more successes you’ll have. Have you ever wondered why one plant will do good in one place, but that identical variety dies in another place when it is getting the same amount of water and sunlight? How do I know whether the soil I’m planting in is exactly what I need to be planting in?
What is needed?
To answer these questions it will help to understand first exactly what soil is and its purpose. Soil is first and foremost the main source of water and nutrients to your garden plants. It gives a location for the roots to grow to consume oxygen, nutrients and water and also to anchor the plant.
But what constitutes soil?
Soil consists of roughly 50% minerals and organic matter in varying stages of decomposition. Another 50% is water and air that is in the distance between the minerals and organic matter. You need that distance because nothing much will grow in compacted soil that’s evidenced by the road your dog leaves in the backyard. Air also aids in the decomposition of organic matter. The quantity of minerals and organic matter varies from one soil to another. Dirt is soil which has no mineral or organic matter. Basically, it’s dead soil.
The proportion of mineral and organic matter is influenced by different factors like the kinds of plants increased, moisture content, drainage and cultivation practices. Different plants will consume different amounts and types of nutrients and water. That’s the reason crop rotation is suggested for veggie gardens so the very same nutrients aren’t depleted by any specific crop and it provides the area time to recuperate. So where you plant tomatoes one time, follow cucumbers or something else another, then back to tomatoes after a couple of plantings.
Cultivating lands over long periods of time generally will cause that dirt to have lower levels of organic matter. Tilling the soil increases the quantity of air in the soil thereby allowing the organic matter to decompose faster.
Soils with good drainage usually have higher organic matter content since there’s more oxygen and other nutrients that plants need and therefore decompose organic matter faster. If your soil has poor drainage, less organic matter will be current. Having your plants in soil that’s oversaturated is as bad as underwatering. When the soil has too much water, the plant can not consume oxygen and suffocates. Too little water and it wilts and dies.
To test your soil’s drainage, in moist soil, dig a hole 3 feet deep and about 8 to 10 inches wide. Fill with water. If the hole is vacant in 12 hours or less, you have good drainage, even if it’s still holding water after 48 hours, the drainage is poor.
What sort of soil you have?
Is it clay, sand, loam or some mix? You can not necessarily tell by the colour. The color can be affected by the colours of the materials that made up the soil, drainage, climate, temperature, types and quantities of minerals from the soil. A dark color that many of us perceive to be useful, quality soil may be dark due to the colour of the organic matter in it or it may have poor drainage.
Texture is another indication of which sort of soil you have. Is it sandy, clayey, sandy loam, or clay loam? In the field feel is determined by what’s known as the ribbon procedure. Gently rub or try to stretch moist to wet soil (not soaked ) between your thumb and forefinger and attempt to form a ribbon. Note how it reacts and feels when you touch it. The proportion of silt, clay and sand determines the kind of soil you have.
It is pretty familiar to most of us, it’s rough, feels rough or reminds you of the shore, and is not sticky. Sandy loam feels gritty, but also slightly tacky. But neither of them should form a ribbon. Sandy soil is easily tilled, drains quickly, holds a great deal of atmosphere and warms up quickly. Great for developing things that grow on the floor or inside such as potatoes and watermelon.
It has very little clay or silt and doesn’t hold together well when moist and you attempt to form a ball. Sandy loam feels gritty but does have enough silt and clay to produce a moist ball. Clay loam should form an extremely short ribbon of approximately 3 cm or less. Clay is quite sticky, stretchy, and forms a ribbon more than 3 cm.
Silty clay loam
It is smooth when dry and becomes slick or sticky when moist. It’s more silt than clay. Clay loam is mostly clay. It’s hard when dry and becomes slick or sticky when moist. Clay has 40 percent or more clay material. It’s very hard when dry and hard to split dry pieces with your fingers. It’s not great for plants, but makes great pottery. Loam contains about equal parts of sand, clay and silt.
The depth is a good idea to know if you plan to plant trees because the deeper your soil goes, the greater chance the tree has since the soil will hold enough water, nutrients and provide the tree more support because of its root system.
To figure out the thickness of your soil, attempt to dig a hole as deep as possible to see where you meet a barrier. The barrier might be stones, gravel, heavy clay or something like cement. The deeper you can go the better. Shallow soil goes down 10″ or less, reasonably shallow 10″ – 20″, reasonably deep 20″ – 39″, deep 39″ – 59″ and quite deep is 59″ or longer. Fruit trees need to have a soil depth of a few feet to perform well.
Some experts suggest obtaining a soil test done if it’s via a service such as a local county extension office or a kit you get in a garden center. Go ahead and do one in case you feel it’s necessary, but remember that these aren’t very accurate; even those done in a laboratory. They also don’t check for all nutrients you might wish to know about. Knowing which sort of soil, the drainage and depth should get you off to a fantastic start.
Ways that you can improve your soil to add nutrients or to increase drainage would be to include things such as shale, vermiculite or perlite to boost water-holding capacity, but those can get pricey. Organic matter is the very best and you can add that in the shape of compost, humus or composted manure. Even bat poo. Or try growing a cover crop such as legumes or grasses, mulching or adding macro- or micro-organisms.
The simplest thing to do is to select plants that will do well with the soil you have. Look into what plants are native to your region and work those into your landscape. Some plants do good with what we’d consider worthless soil and some plants such as having wet feet. So it’s a matter of doing your homework and knowing what you have and knowing what to plant where.