Gardening > Good Gardeners Know Their Soil!

Good Gardeners Know Their Soil!


Soil and Grass
© Caramaria

Whatever you choose to grow in your garden, whether you favour vegetables, shrubs, fruits or flowers, the most basic necessity is a suitable soil condition for the plants you wish to grow. Soil is the result of millions of years of chemical and physical action on rocks; it is made up from tiny particles of rock broken down by heat, cold, wind, water and acid. Soil also contains a great deal of organic matter in the form of decayed and decaying vegetable and animal waste. Air and water become incorporated in the mix as do worms, bacteria, fungi, algae and insects. The result being your back garden!

Soil is divided up into five main types: clay, silt, sand, chalk and peat. All these types have their own advantages and disadvantages and they dictate the sort of plants that will thrive and those that will do less well. Not all soils fall into these exact categories, many are mixtures of types. For example, a mixed soil is called a loam; a medium loam would be a soil made up of 50% silt and 50% sand. A soil which contains a large proportion of clay tends to be heavy whereas a high sand content lightens the soil.

Clay: A clay soil tends to be cold, sticky when wet and as hard a iron when it drys out. Water does not run through a clay soil easily. Digging over roughly in the autumn, leaving a good surface area exposed to frost and adding plenty of bulky organic material can help to improve the condition and drainage of a clay soil. The addition of a carefully calculated amount of lime and some course grit can also be useful.

Silt: Like clay, a silt soil has very poor drainage and again it is a good idea to turn it over in the autumn and to dig in organic matter along with some course grit. When a soil has poor drainage qualities it should never be trodden on when wet.

Sand: A sand soil is easy to dig and is quick to warm up but water drains from it very easily and takes valuable nutrients with it. Therefore a sandy soil needs to have plenty of organic matter dug into it and some recommend plenty of fertiliser as well although not everyone would agree with that sentiment. Mulching a sandy soil can help it to retain moisture and growing a green manure over the winter for digging in in the spring is a good way of adding nutrients and organic matter.

Chalk: Chalk soil is alkaline and there are quite a few plants that will not grow well in it. As with sandy soil water runs quickly through a chalk soil taking nutrients with it. An over-wintering green manure for digging in in spring and an acid mulch (grass, compost, manure or peat) during the growing season can both help to improve this type of soil.

Peat: Peat of course is an excellent soil type and it should not need the addition of any organic matter. It is prone to be an acid soil however and so the careful addition of lime may be necessary to restore its ph balance. Some peat areas are naturally boggy and so need to be drained whereas once drained, careful watering is needed in hot weather to prevent the soil drying out completely.

Whatever the nature of the soil in your garden, the aim is always to create a rich, easily dug soil that is bursting with nutrients. It should be capable of holding enough water to satisfy the plants yet drain well enough to not become a quagmire when it rains. All soils, except peat, benefit from the addition of compost or manure. With the passage of time, this should help to increase the amount of top soil in the plot, dramatically improve the drainage and result in a lovely, crumbly tilth which is full or worms, air and which retains the correct amount of moisture. Most importantly a healthy soil results in healthy, bumper crops of fruit, vegetables and flowers. To put it simply, if you look after the soil, the soil will hopefully look after the plants.