If you are a dedicated plant lover who wants to improve your horticultural skills, then you should know that learning about soil quality improvement can help you get the best results. To achieve your goals, you not only need to understand the differences between types of soils and their characteristics but also the role of proper soil saturation when we're talking about optimal plant health. It can be a tricky thing at first, but finding out how to enrich poor soil can greatly benefit the health of your greenery. Whether you have an established bed or one that is just establishing, adding nutrients to the soil is essential. Wonder why it's worth it? Read out the article below!
Types of Soil
Before jumping into everything, the first steps in differentiating the soils are:
- to identify what types are available out there;
- find out which one you have or can purchase;
- and consider carefully which plant the particular type is suitable for.
The different types of soil you can usually find are:
This soil is the hardest one to cultivate. You will easily recognize it by watching its form when it is wet or dry: if it is wet, it kinda looks like heavy mud; if it is dry, it is hard as a rock. It doesn’t allow much drainage to happen; in fact, it stores a lot of water in between the waterings. Because it is hard to use most of the time, the warm weather will always be your partner in crime with clay - use it to your advantage. It can be very nourishing for the plants, but you will need some good drainage to make the most use of it.
Use it for: mostly shrubs and spring vegetables because they are more likely to handle it during spring. Trees that can grow fruit can also handle clay soil.
Sandy soil is easy to drain since it dries pretty quickly with the first sign of warmth. It is fairly light, and you usually have to combine it with dried ocean seaweed (kelp meal) or organic fertilization mixes, so it can hold some minerals. The downfall to this soil type is that the longer you water it, the quicker it loses the nutrients it can transport to the plants.
Use it for: Root crops (potatoes, carrots), lettuce, zucchinis, corn. Flowering plants like roses, hibiscus, tulips, and peonies love sandy soil as well.
The go-to soil for everything. It is rich, fluffy, soft, and the easiest one to work with. The only thing you will need is good drainage, and you are ready! It tends to hold a lot of moisture, but it can be easily managed.
Use it for: all plants. No exceptions, it works well with everything!
Now that we’ve seen the main differences let’s see how we can improve each soil one by one.
How Soil Helps Plants
In nature, the plant and the soil have a symbiotic relationship. Trees, shrubs, and herbs protect the soil, and the soil protects them.
Soil is the main source for a plant to receive the necessary nutrients and its primary support as one doesn’t exist without the other. It also acts as a bridge between the water, the air circulation, and the root network underneath.
Soil Enrichment Guides
Ideally, the right type of soil needs to have a balanced mix of organic matter, sand, clay, and silt, and sufficient amounts of water and air. In most cases, this is a long shot. No one ever has the perfect soil ready right in front of them, and it is not there waiting for you. You have to take into consideration the plant requirements and how you can provide nutrients to the current soil type all the time your greenery is growing.
Clay Soil Improvement
While it is fantastic as a source of the right minerals, clay soils have the difficulty of not supporting the plant roots in the best way possible. If you want to improve the clay soil, you will need to:
- Enrich it every 6 months with organic material
- Use tree barks, dead leaves, and branches so you can maintain the right moisture
- Check it every year at least once to see if you can add any compost if necessary
Extra tip: clay soils are at their best during early fall or spring.
How to improve Sandy Soil
Sandy soils have the habit of not staying well put together, mostly because they have no organic matter in them or clay. If you want to improve this type, you will need to:
- Enrich it yearly with organic material 2-3 times during winter and right before the growing season.
- Use tree barks, dead leaves, and branches so you can maintain the right moisture.
- Make sure you have at least 5-7 inches (13-18cm) of compost so that the nutrients can be absorbed successfully by the plants.
Extra tip: sandy soils will need the continuous addition of the compost/organic matter since it is mostly known for losing the moisture the plants need. So adding compost here won’t be a one-time job.
Steps to Improve Silty Soil
For many of us, it is the ideal type of soil. It is a lot denser than the other two, and it can get really clumped over time, leading to poor drainage. If you want to improve silty soil, you will need to:
- Resist the urge to step on it regularly or maintain any equipment on it
- Aerate it regularly while adding compost to soil, especially before the growing seasons
- Rotate the crops from time to time
- Add dead leaves and small branches for mulching
Extra tip: feel free to add either clay or sand (or even both) to the soil. Just make sure to use compost before mixing it with other types. This will help you modify and enrich silty soil smoothly with no disruption.
How to Improve Lawn Soil
It might seem too good to be true, but the lawn soil doesn’t need a lot to stay healthy and vibrant. In most cases, the lush lawn can be maintained by:
- Keeping the air passages open and free by aerating frequently
- Avoid stepping on it unless you have to
- Fertilize frequently with slow-release fertilizers
- Mowing it high and keeping it around 2-3 inches (5-7cm)
Extra tip: avoid using pesticides. Over time, you will notice that it is getting thinner and thinner every day.
What to Add to Poor Soil?
As a first step, you will need to remove any unnecessary weeds and debris. When forking, the best addition you could possibly have is worms. If you don’t want to dedicate too much time to the aeration, you can just let them create a nice, well-supported basis for the lawn to grow. If you want to upscale the growth, the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers will kickstart everything. You can also use ingredients that are found in the kitchen: banana peels, eggshells, coffee, Epsom salt, etc. Use chalk and wood ashes as well. These everyday ingredients are often underestimated, but they are doing a great job at preparing the soil while keeping the moisture safe.
Preparing & Amending Garden Soil
If you’re going to start from the top, forget the fertilizers for one second. All you need to do is to fill the garden bed with top-quality fresh soil and line it up evenly with compost. Depending on how high you want the flower bed to be, try to keep the balance in the right ratio, and don’t be afraid to “overdo” it; compost is something that can never go to waste. Slow-release fertilizers will do wonders in the beginning since they set the bar high.
Keep in mind that if you don’t put too much thought into the soil, your use is only okay for a short period of time. You are allowed to be a little bit “carefree”, but only if you are just laying it all down on the garden bed, especially if you don’t expect any crops. If you take care of a lush lawn or beautiful crops, though, it is best to prepare the soil beforehand. In this way, you won’t have to spend extra time amending the soil right before the growing seasons. An enriched soil basis will allow you to just perform small finishing touches every now and then without the fuss.
How to Amend Soil Around Existing Plants
If your garden bed is already established and the plants are growing just fine, at some point, they will need an extra boost, especially before and after the growing seasons. These periods of time overall tend to leave the soil somewhat stiff, clumpy, and overall depleted. In this case, all you need to do is:
- Fork the existing soil carefully around the plants, not just on the surface level.
- Remove any unnecessary weeds.
- Apply an extra layer of compost closely to one inch (3cm). You can make two inches (5cm) if you want to.
- Top it off with a slow release or all-purpose fertilizer.
Note: to check if the soil is ready or not after this process, check if any water comes out when you squeeze it. You might need to wait for a few days before you proceed with further planting.
How to Add Nutrients to Soil?
You can first start by forking the soil and then using ingredients found in all kitchens, like banana peels, egg shells, Epsom salt, and coffee. Once you give it a little time, you can begin adding extra compost and fresh fluffy soil (coconut coir mix is the best).
How to Make Top Soil?
You can start by creating the nutrient base with the fertilizer of your choice and then line it up with minerals like zinc, iron, sulfur etc. Organic matter can be added next (dead leaves, branches, old plants). You will also need to check the acidity level with a pH meter. The right levels of acidity are around 5.8 to 6.5, but it's better to check for each plant individually. Lastly, you will need to loosen it up a bit by aerating it so that you can add some moisture.
How to Improve Garden Soil Over the Winter?
You will need to withhold yourself from disturbing the soil first. You can still use fallen leaves and branches as organic matter and use as much compost as you like to keep it boosted and ready for the spring.
How to Fix Dry Soil?
Dry soil is usually treating by adding slow-release fertilizers or organic matter in combination with compost. This will offer moisture and an organized structure.