Soil is one of the most critical components in growing a plant or designing your garden. Good soil is packed with nutrients and minerals which can nourish plants and help them grow instead of stunting them. Good soil can provide a sustainable home for the seed and nurture it into a fully grown plant or crop. Before we delve into what makes soil good, let’s understand a little more about the ground’s different layers.
The layer in which plants grow is only 6 to 8 inches deep. It is filled with microorganisms, decomposed plants, animals, and withered rocks and minerals from old soil. This top layer of the earth should be rich with nutrients that help plants and vegetation to grow.
Water and air are also vital for a plant’s survival in the soil. Air and water are essential for making the soil sustainable and providing elements such as oxygen and nitrogen that are important for plant growth.
The soil’s top layer is where the magic happens, and this is why it is also the most vulnerable layer and should be carefully handled with organic matter.
This article will guide you on how to achieve the best soil for your plants and crops. There are two critical elements of soil that I will explain in this article. These elements will determine if the ground is good or bad and how you can improve it accordingly.
The soil texture refers to the amalgamation of silt, clay, sand, and their volume in the soil’s subsequent layer. The proportion of silt, clay, and sand determines if the soil can be home to the plant and could allow it to grow properly.
The texture of the soil impacts its health and tilth, along with the plant’s overall longevity. If the soil texture is off, it won’t be a good a medium for the plant, and the vegetable or flower seed will suffer for not having the right water-holding capacity or nutrients to cultivate.
Why is the quantity of sand, clay, and silt important for soil texture? The soil texture you see and feel is the outcome of these elements. The mass of three particles affects the pore space available, which would give space to air and water molecules to set in.
Let’s dive deeper into the science behind these particles to avoid bad soil in the future.
Soil texture can be typically divided into three options, medium soil (loamy), fine soil (clayey), and coarse soil (sandy). Clay is the finest of the three options, having the smallest particles. Sand has the largest particles, giving a granular texture.
Good soil must have almost equal proportions of these three particles. You can use slightly loamier or medium soil because it maintains a good balance between air and water. Loamy soils have a certain penetrative texture that allows cultivation to be more accessible.
Bad soil can be identified by its very fine or sandy texture. A soil enriched with sand particles can become dry very quickly and balances fertilization with difficulty. On the other extreme, clayey or silt-like soils make absorption and spread difficult for water particles, impacting the plants’ growth.
They have a slow rate of water retention and become compact easily. This compaction is not necessarily a good thing since it can destroy the microbes and microorganisms in the soil and limit the roots’ growth and expansion.
If clay soils are modified with the right matter and organic substances, they can be one of the most productive and fertile grounds for growing vegetation and gardening.
The structure is essentially the arrangement of the particles that make up the soil: sand, clay, silt, and other organic elements present in the soil’s top layer of the soil. To understand the structure of good soil better, let’s familiarize ourselves with some vocabulary.
Cluster: A cluster is a collection or clump of soil particles in a singular unit. A cluster is deemed as one single soil particle in gardening or farming terms. Due to sandy soil’s granular texture, a sandy cluster is very weak and not suitable for holding soil formation. On the other hand, soil structure is better since the clay and organic clusters in the soil act as binding agents.
Why is soil structure important?
The soil’s structure is vital for the proper growth and nourishment of the plant or crop. The form is responsible for the pores’ availability and a plant’s accessibility to air and water—the soil’s structure and arrangement also determines fertilization of soil and density of roots.
A good-quality soil has a crumbling texture. It has small pores that allow water from the surface to enter and be retained, letting the rest drain easily and giving access to air. Circulation and regulation of air are highly critical, so small pores in soil are beneficial and considered the best for gardening.
Soil conditioners enhance soil texture and structure. They make the soil moist and improve its aeration, drainage, and tilth; organic soil conditioners are the best for your crop’s health and growth.
Standard organic soil conditioners include peat moss, wood chips, animal manures, compost, and green manure. Using these ingredients, a farmer can turn bad sandy soil into sustainable, productive loamy soil.
Tips to turn bad soil into good soil
1. Use Living Organisms
Top-quality soil is the perfect home for bacteria, fungi, earthworms, and other small insects. These organisms are vital for plant growth as they breakdown soil minerals into vitamins, nutrients, and elements that eliminate the chances of diseases.
As a gardener, you must be aware of these organisms’ presence and create an atmosphere that welcomes these creatures. To do this, you must provide a stable food source, oxygen via good aeration, and, most notably, water.
2. Maintaining pH Level
Healthy soil can turn bad instantly if the soil becomes acidic or alkaline. You need to regulate the soil’s pH levels. It should not escalate or become dangerously lower than the neutral pH level of 7.0.
If the pH level is not maintained properly, the soil’s organic matter can rot and ruin your vegetation or flowers.
Most plants cannot thrive in an environment with varying pH levels. Hence, take care when choosing the substances you use for treating your soil, such as herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, etc. These materials may contain chemicals that can impact your soil’s pH levels.
Fixing Acidic Soil
If the soil’s pH level is below 6.5, you must do something as soon as possible to save your plants from wilting. Only a few plants, like azaleas and blueberries, can grow in acidic soil.
The best way to fix acidic soil is to add powdered limestone. The following are the different types of limestones that you can use.
Plain Limestone: It will provide calcium carbonate, which is an alkali that will neutralize the acid. Plain limestone does not contain magnesium.
Oyster Shells: The shells are rich in lime and other minerals as well.
Dolomitic Limestone: This type of limestone will also add magnesium to the soil and raise the pH level. It takes a few months to neutralize the acidity. Hence, be patient and apply it to your soil in the autumn or fall season.
Wood Ash: Not only does wood ash improve and fix the pH levels faster than limestone, but it also contains potassium and other elements to enhance the soil.
Fixing Alkaline Soil
If the soil’s pH level is more significant than 6.8 or 7.0, you need to do something about it. Acidifying your soil is a simple task. You need limited materials such as ground sulfur for this job.
You can also introduce naturally acidic compounds, such as pine needles, sawdust, or oak leaves. Sandy soil will require 1 pound of sulfur for every 100 square feet, loamy soil will require 1.5 to 2 pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet, and a clay-heavy soil will require 2 pounds of sulfur per 100 square feet.
3. Improving Sandy soil
As described previously, sandy soils have large pores and are not suitable for water retention. Hence, if your soil has a sand-like texture, follow these guidelines and observe the difference yourself.
- Start by obtaining organic compost or manure, take 3-4 inches of this matter, and spread it to the soil’s top layer, which will be no more than 6 inches deep.
- Next, you must mulch around the plants, vegetation, and your crops with leaves, hay, or straw.
- Ensure you maintain this new organic matter and keep adding at least 2 inches of natural compost on the top layer of the soil annually or seasonally.
- An additional tip to prevent bad soil from emerging again is to grow some cover crops in the off-season. This will allow your garden or land to have extra mulch and keep the soil fertilized throughout the year.
4. Improving Clay Soil
Clay soils are good for the soil, but excess amounts of clay particles can turn your soil bad. Clay soils are wet, sticky, and do not have pores with space for water or air penetration.
Hence, avoid having waterlogged soil texture and microorganisms from dying or leaving the soil ground.
Keep in mind that clay is filled with healthy minerals. We need to expose the seeds to these nutrients and make the soil ready and fertile. Here are some steps you can follow:
- Start the process by working 2 to 3 inches of organic matter or compost into the soil’s top layer (4-6 inches).
- Keep adding a one-inch layer of these organic substances annually.
- It is preferable if you add the organic compost in the autumn or fall season; this will help to prevent the soil from being waterlogged.
- Try using permanent raised beds to enhance the drainage system and inhibit compaction of the area.
- Avoid spading and tilling of your field or garden since it can make the soil clumpy and unbearable.
5. Improving Silty Soil
Silty soils have uneven particles such as weathered out rocks, which makes the soil’s texture dense and makes the drainage system poor. However, they can be more fertile than the other two soils if treated properly. Here’s how you can enhance silty soils and make good use of their fertility:
- Add only 1 inch of organic compost every year to the top 4 inches of the soil.
- Avoid walking in the garden unnecessarily and tilling the area. This could hurt the compaction of the soil.
- It is recommended to have raised beds to help with the drainage.
You may like the following gardening articles:
- What Garden Plants Need Lime
- How to Remove Groundhogs from Your Garden
- How to Control Weeds in an Organic Vegetable Garden
- Top 8 Best Soil for Tomatoes
- How to hydroponics – a how to guide to soil free gardening
- Best Soil for Growing Plants
- How to Improve Soil for Gardening
- Everything to Know About Topsoil for Gardening
- How to Add Calcium to Soil: How Do I Add Calcium to my Garden?
Turning bad soil into good takes time and can be a long, arduous process. Use these tips diligently, and add organic matter to your soil. Be consistent in treating your garden or field with care, and you will get the best positive outcome.
I am Elsa, love gardening. I spent lots of time with plants, flowers, it gives me lots of happiness.
I am sharing all the practical tips on how to grow various plants, flower plants, vegetables in the garden. Read more about me.