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Gardener's Guide to Improving the Soil

It is never too early or too late to start correcting the soil if it needs to be fixed and if you garden or want to grow flowers. If the soil is poor quality, it can be hard to have a good garden or flower bed.

One of the biggest keys to successfully growing plants, especially in flower beds and gardens, is to start with good soil that is properly prepared. Unfortunately, not all soil is in great shape, to begin with. Thankfully, most soil can be improved and one of the best times to do it is when it is being prepared.

Sandy soil

Among the most common difficulties soils can have is that they can be either too sandy or clayey.

In the case of soil that is too sandy, the soil particles are normally large. Sandy soil is great for allowing good water drainage as long as the soil isn’t too shallow. The problem is that they can drain so well that plant roots don’t have much of a chance to get enough water before the soil dries out. In addition to this, these soils can also be low in nutrients because they may have been leached out. Sand has a tendency of not holding onto nutrients.

The easiest way to correct sandy soil is probably to dig finished compost into the dirt. At the same time, rocks and other debris can be removed, leaving the soil prepared and ready for planting. The compost normally retains water and gives growing plants plenty of nutrients, thus improving the soil. Even digging in some sphagnum moss or peat moss can be helpful, but compost is better because it has a better blend of nutrients.

Clay soil

Particles of clay tend to be much smaller than sand. The dirt is sometimes high in nutrients, however, it packs down easily and usually doesn’t drain very well. When clay soil gets wet and compacted, then dries out, it often has the consistency of cement. This can make it difficult for plants to grow because the roots can struggle to force their way through the soil and because the roots often don’t get enough moisture.

What is as bad, once clay soil becomes saturated, it can take a lot of time for water to drain away. This can mean that the plant roots end up sitting in water, which leads to rotting. This is the opposite problem of lack of moisture, but it is due to the same cause.

Interestingly, improvement is made the same way as with sandy soil; with finished compost dug into the dirt. This gives the soil larger particles and more airflow so water can reach the roots while allowing the excess to drain away. It can also boost the nutritive value of the ground the plants will grow in.

Depth of preparation

Some plants have shallow root systems, however many have a deeper root structure. When tilling the soil, it can be worthwhile to prepare the ground to a depth of one and a half to two feet in depth, at least. It is a good idea to remove any rocks, tree roots or other debris at this time. If the soil is so rocky that this can’t be done with a reasonable amount of effort, a raised bed or hay bale bed can be put in by simply adding sifted soil on top of the existing ground or by using hay bales that have been allowed to begin to decay.

A raised bed can be enclosed with boards, bricks, or similar if it is desired, however, this is often not an absolutely necessary step. While rotted compost or manure can be added to the soil when it is added, it is mostly the sifting and addition of compost that is responsible for soil improvement.

Sifting the soil

As mentioned above, sifting can be used to remove objects that aren’t optimal to have for plant growth, like rocks. Since the main problem debris is larger than a quarter inch, 1/4 inch hardware cloth can be stretched over a four-sided wooden frame and the soil can be dumped on it for screening. It is usually easier work if at least two people are doing the sifting, however, this is a great method for finding and removing weed roots while improving the soil.

High nitrogen additions

Many soils might have low nitrogen content. Once the soil has been dug up, it is pretty simple to add nitrogen. Stale coffee, coffee grounds, and old tea can all be sprinkled over the soil to increase the nitrogen content, even if a person doesn’t have access to compost or can’t purchase any. It normally isn’t necessary to add nitrogen fertilizers.

Also, though fish shouldn’t be added to a compost pile, fish and fish scraps can be boiled in water and the resultant fish juice can be sprinkled on the soil to increase nitrogen immediately, as well as trace compounds that might also be lacking in the dirt. This is especially great for fishermen who also like growing plants, as they often have a ready supply of the fish and fish parts. The fishy aroma usually goes away within a few days, as is soaks down into the dirt.

Eggshells

A person can save their eggshells, rinse them, allow them to dry and add the crushed shells to the soil. It isn’t necessary to dig them in, though it can be more efficient to do so. The shells furnish calcium to the soil, helping the plants that are or will be growing there. The soil becomes richer without purchasing anything different than what might be going into the trash. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are all heavy calcium consumers and calcium isn’t transported in soil, which means that once the calcium becomes depleted, it stays that way until calcium is added.

Make compost

Finished compost has been mentioned a couple of times. It is actually a practical and money-saving project to compost for projects to enhance and improve the soil. Done properly, it doesn’t stink, it doesn’t necessarily require an outside pile or heap and it takes care of items that might otherwise need to be hauled away to the garbage anyway, causing more household expense.

Best of all, even side dressing or mulching with compost can improve the soil around plants. Mother nature has been using this method to make better soil before humans were even a thought.

Preparing the soil and improving it is a common necessity in yards, lawns, and gardens. It doesn’t need to be expensive, though effort is commonly expended for the best results. The preparation and improvement is practical because it is often not at all extravagant. The result, though, can be fantastic.

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Written by Rex Trulove

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