Call it soil, dirt or terra firma, your soil is the most important thing in your garden.
For our concern, we will focus on improving the top six to eight inches of known as the “Planting Area”.
Plants depend on soil to anchor roots, supply water and store nutrients. It houses beneficial microbes and keeps soil-borne pathogens in place. It is up to us to help nature make the most of our soil.
There are three tests you can do yourself to help determine what kind of soil structure makes up your garden. Knowing your soil structure is the first step in building a healthy garden. Check for color, texture and drainage.
What can color tell you about the soil in your garden? The darker brown the color is the higher the organic content. Organic matter acts like a sponge by holding onto air and water. Red and yellow hues indicate clay. Clay is high in nutrients, but very dense. Gray tint is a sign of subsoil indicating the poorest growing conditions.
Next perform a texture test. Rub a sample of moist-to-wet soil between your fingers. How does it feel? Is it gritty? Smooth? Sticky? Now compress a handful into a ball. Tap the ball. Observe what happens.
Gritty texture indicates a higher concentration of sand, while sticky soil is mostly clay. If your ball easily breaks apart, it was mostly sand and silt. If it stays intact, it is is mostly clay.
Equally important is how well your soil drains. Dig a hole about 10 inches deep and fill it with water. The next day, fill the hole again and see how long it takes to drain. It should not take more than eight hours to drain.
Adding organic matter can greatly improve poor structure. Organic matter in the form of compost, manure, leaf mold (partially decomposed leaves) or cover crops (green manure) will remedy many types of soils.
Add well composted manure or mature compost in spring, you are off to a good start. Organic matter need only be worked into the planting area. This is where most feeder roots lie. Be careful how you till your garden. Over tilling or tilling wet soil can compact the it and can ruin soil structure.
The next step is to do a soil test. The chemical makeup of the soil also influences how plants develop. Test readings not only tell you where your soil pH level falls; but also how to correct it. This test will also tell you which nutrients your soil lacks. By improving soil structure and doing a test, you can look forward to having your most productive growing season ever!
Next week we will walk through how best to conduct a commercial soil test and what the results mean for you and your garden.
Have a gardening question? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org subject garden question and I will answer it in the next Garden Sense column.
Thanks and Happy Gardening!
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