Soil is the foundation of our gardens! To have healthy plants, we must have healthy soil. But what is healthy soil, you ask? We’re glad you did! Soil needs to have the right texture and structure, proper nutrients and moisture, and don’t forget oxygen. It also needs to drain well and allow room for roots to grow. And remember, soil is alive with a healthy balance of microorganisms, which we want to keep balanced!
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with so many things to consider, but having a better understanding of what soil is, we are better equipped to determine what soil types we have and what adjustments may be needed to help our plants grow to their potential! Let us start with what soil is made from.
Soil’s key ingredients are soil particles, water, air, and organic matter. Soil particles are stone or rock that have been broken down into smaller particles, such as sand, silt, and clay. While the size of these particles, along with water, air, and organic matter determine the overall texture of our soil, the combination and arrangement of these particles make up the soil structure and determines our soil types. The fertility of our soil is determined by its nutrient content from organic matter, which is any material derived from plants and animals in varying stages of decomposition. Let’s take a closer look at some of those soil particles.
Soil Particles & Types
Sand soil particles are larger in size. They are easy to work, drain quickly, heat up fast and are high in oxygen. However, due to their quick drainage they also retain less moisture and nutrients, and dry out quickly. Soils with more sand particles are called sandy soils.
Clay particles are fine soil particles that cling together, especially when wet, making them harder to work. While they retain moisture and nutrients well, they can become waterlogged and too compact for proper drainage and air flow. Here in our corner of Pennsylvania, we tend to have more clay particles in our soil, giving us clay soils. If you find yourself with soil that has more clay or sand particles, it’s best to amend your soil!
While there are different methods we can perform to amend our soil we’re only going to touch on one, which is compost. Compost is organic matter that is ready to be used again. As a soil amendment compost improves the soil’s overall properties. For instance, in sandy soils, compost helps the sand particles bind together to hold moisture, and in clay soils it helps loosen the clay particles for better drainage and air flow. No matter what soil type we have, adding compost will not only help make our soil more fertile, but it will also improve its structure and texture, giving it the proper drainage, air flow, and room our plants need to grow. It also helps those microorganisms stay balanced!
Spring Soil Preparation
Now that we have a better understanding of what our soils consist of and some factors they need to become healthy, let’s roll up our sleeves and get that soil prepared!
Clean up - Remove any old vegetation and new growth from your existing garden beds. Old vegetation can house pests and diseases, while new weeds and grass can use the nutrients our plants need!
Dig in - Loosen the soil. As soon as the soil can be worked, turn it over anywhere from 6 to 12 inches deep.
Feed it - Add compost! If you don’t have a compost pile, the quickest way to add compost to your garden is to purchase soil amendments. Here at the greenhouse, we supply a wonderful organic compost from the Coast of Maine. Adding compost to our gardens is one of the easiest ways to feed our plants and soil. When should you add compost? While fall is the preferred time for most gardeners, as long as you have mature compost you can add it almost anytime. The size of your gardens and existing soil type will determine how much compost you’ll need, but whatever the required amount, be sure to incorporate it into your existing soil.
Remember, our soil is the foundation for our plants' growth. Starting our gardens with healthy soil, gives us the opportunity to grow healthy plants and reduces our chances of encountering problems. Getting and keeping healthy soil is the most important thing we can do for our plants!
See you down the road!