In this guide, we’ll give you some useful tips on how to amend your soil to help your plants thrive and make your garden look its best all year round. Let’s get started!
Not all gardeners are blessed with perfect soil to grow any plant they want and most of us garden in soil that’s nowhere near perfect. The good news is turning poor soil into plant-friendly soil is not that difficult. Your plants will thrive once you understand the science behind amending soil.
Well-prepared soil is the real foundation of a healthy garden. It sustains plants and channels water and air to the roots to facilitate their growth. Plants need good soil full of essential nutrients for healthy growth and harvests and that’s where soil amendments come in.
Soil amending is the process of maintaining healthy soil for plants by adding materials to it and improving its structure. Plants absorb nutrients from the soil as they grow, so to maintain a healthy soil, you have to add those nutrients back to the soil before or after planting. The ideal time to perform the amending of the soil is right before planting seeds and after harvesting.
Building a Healthy Soil for Your Garden
Gardening is not just about planting a seed in the ground. Improving the soil in your garden can make a huge difference in your gardening success or failure. Soil is composed of organic matter, weathered rock, water, and air but the real magic comes from worms, insects, and microbes which live in the soil when it’s healthy.
Organic soil amendments can help beneficial soil organisms flourish and improve moisture retention. Organic amendments originate from previously living things. Some examples are compost, manure, grass clippings, biosolids and sawdust. Inorganic amendments, on the other hand, do not originate from previously living things. Instead, they are things that have been manufactured, such as chunks of tires, vermiculite, pea gravel, and sand.
Organic amendments will help with the aeration of the soil, and the ability of water to infiltrate the soil. They will also improve the soil’s holding capacity for nutrients and water. Always choose the amendments based on what your soil needs and their functions.
Types of Soil Amendments
The soil amendments can be plant-based, animal-based or mineral-based.
- Plant-Based Amendments
Plant-based soil amendments increase the level of organisms within the soil. They also enhance the soil’s texture. They should be applied 9-months before the harvest or two weeks before planting seeds.
- Animal-Based Amendments
Plant-based amendments are used to enhance the overall texture of the soil. They also improve fertility of the plants planted in the soil. Use herbicide-free amendments to reduce the risk of soil contamination.
- Mineral-Based Amendments
These are used to reduce mineral deficiencies in the soil. Mineral-based amendments are hard to break down and can be overapplied to get the desired results.
Things You’ll Need for Soil Amending
Make sure to use the right digging tools and materials depending on the size of your garden and soil texture. Here are things you’ll need:
- Gardening gloves to protect your hands
- Shovel with a rounded edge
- Tiller for breaking up large soil clumps and mixing soil amendments and compost
- Trowel for removing unwanted weeds
- Spade for digging new beds and borders
- Organic Material
- Lime or Sulfur
Tips to Effectively Amend the Soil
- Evaluate Your Soil Quality
The first step is to know your soil quality to know if there’s room for improvement to correct the deficiency. For soil analysis, examine your plant’s health and look for any unusual symptoms. If your plants are growing well, there’s no need to touch the soil, but if they look yellowish or sickly, testing your soil is a good idea because it’s difficult to find on your own what your soil might need. You can get your soil tested from any nursery to get detailed information on soil’s texture, pH, and nutritional composition. They will also give your recommendations on which soil amendment you should use along with quantity.
- Adjust the pH Level
Your plants can not pull up nutrients properly if the acid or alkaline levels are not in the ideal range. A lower number means the soil is more acidic. A higher number indicates the soil is more alkaline. For example, a pH level higher than 7.7 indicates high alkalinity. The most preferable pH levels for plants range between 6.0 and 7.5. Overly acidic soil will benefit from adding ashes, lime or chicken manure. Overly alkaline soil can be balanced by coffee grounds or elemental sulfur. The pH should be adjusted in stages so the plants don’t get shocked. Gardening experts generally recommend not adding more than 5 pounds of lime or sulfur in 100 square feet of area.
- Amend the Soil Texture
A good soil texture has depth, tilth, abundant nutrients and enables plants to develop a good root system to take up moisture and air. Soil that is too dense (such as clay) causes roots to drown whereas sandy soils drain water too quickly for roots to absorb the liquid. There are several ways to amend the soil texture such as adding organic matter. Below is a list of commonly used organic matter.
Commonly Used Types of Organic Matter
It is formed by the fermentation and dampening of animal manure, grass clippings, garden waste, dead leaves, and kitchen scraps like eggshells and vegetable and fruit trimmings. Compost adds microorganisms and essential nutrients to the soil and makes an excellent amendment for the garden. Besides improving the texture of the soil, it also balances the pH of the soil and allows plants to enjoy a steady supply of nutrients. The amount of compost can vary depending on the quality of soil and requirements of your plants.
Manure is one of the best all-in-one garden amendment and fertilizer that can be easily obtained from stables and local farms. It contains livestock feces and bedding which are decomposed until they become dark, flaky, and odorless. Apply the manure dew a few weeks before the seeding. Make a 2 to 4 inch thick layer, dig it softly and cover with mulch.
- Peat Moss
Peat moss consists of mainly decomposed plant waste that accumulates in the swamps. It is usually used to loosen the soil and improve the water retention capacity of sandy soils. However, it provides very few nutrients to plants because it breaks down very slowly. However, it dries out quickly which makes a crust that stops water from soaking through, so it must be used sparingly.
- Grass Clippings
Grass clippings can be left in a plant bed to slowly decompose. Just make sure the grass wasn’t treated with herbicides or pesticides and that the grass does not contain seeds.
- Black Earth
Black earth comes from peat bogs and is an advanced decomposition stage of peat moss also called black peat. It is acidic in nature and doesn’t have sufficient nutrients.
Add Essential Nutrients
Just like humans, plants also need specific nutrients to survive and grow properly. If your plants are not growing well despite composting and mulching, it might mean the problem is the soil’s nutritional deficiency. Plants usually need 17 various nutrients at varying ratios to maintain good health. The three key nutrients which are required by all plants include nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, which are found in most fertilizers. These three are called primary nutrients as they’re responsible for seed development, root formation, and prevention from diseases.