Have you ever planted a garden only to have it fail and not know why? You’ve wracked your brain thinking that it’s in the right spot. It gets 6-8 hours of light. You have proper watering habits, but yet, somehow, everything you planted has either died or just not done well.
Knowing your soil is a very important aspect of gardening that sometimes beginners gardeners tend to neglect. Not knowing the condition or type of soil you have can lead to catastrophic failure and ultimately, a huge waste of money, time and resources.
So today we are going to talk a little bit about soil conditions and soil types, and what you can do to to amend your soil.
There are many different soil types and if you want to grow a bountiful garden, you need to know yours. Let’s take a quick peak at the different types of soil that are out there.
- Sandy Soil – Sandy soil is exactly that… sandy. It feels gritty, drains very well but also dries out really fast. Because it drains well, it also loses it’s nutrients faster and therefore requires a higher frequency of fertilization and soil amendments. To learn how to amend your sandy soil, scroll down to the amendments section.
- Clay Soil – Clay soil is a mucky and lumpy soil when wet and dusty and rock hard when dry. While clay soil has a high nutrient content, it doesn’t drain well at all. Clay soil is also very heavy and takes a while to warm up. To learn how to amend your clay soil, scroll down to the amendments section.
- Silty Soil – Silty soil has a slick texture to it when it’s wet. It also feels “soapy” for lack of a better term. While it holds moisture very well, it drains poorly. It has a high nutrient content but it has difficulty holding onto nutrients. Silty soil is cold and compacts very well which causes plant root to not breathe well. To learn how to amend your silty soil, scroll down to the amendments section.
- Loamy Soil – Loamy soil is often referred to as the gardener’s dream soil. It is a nice mix of sand, clay, silt and peat or compost. Also, it is high in nutrients. It drains very well. And it also retains water quite nicely. It doesn’t compact too much so roots can breathe. The only downfall to loamy soil is that frequent replenishing of organic matter is necessary and if not carefully managed, loamy soil can become too acidic for most plants and vegetables.
- Peaty Soil – Peat soil is dark because it is high in organic matter. However, it can be low in nutrients. If your garden beds are right near a bog or marsh, then you may be dealing with peat soil. It is kind of spongy when wet and it retains moisture very well. It is also highly acidic so you may need to amend your soil before you will have a bountiful garden.
- Chalky Soil – Chalky soils will seem rocky, but those ‘rocks’ are soft and easily broken. Like sandy soil, chalky soil drains very well and also dries out very quickly. Chalky soils are high in nutrients but also highly alkaline which prevents nutrient absorption by plants. You can fix chalky soil to help make it work for
yougarden. Scroll below to leanrhow!
When we talk soil conditions, I’m strictly referring to the PH levels of your soil. Most plants prefer a soil that is slightly acidic but leaning towards neutral. So generally speaking, you want your soil to have a PH level between 6 & 7.
Acidic soil is a soil with a PH level between 0-6. Plants that like acidic soils include:
- Blackberries and Raspberries
Alkaline soil is a soil with a PH level between 8-14. Plants that like alkaline soils include:
- Broccoli & Cauliflower
- Various leafy greens
Neutral soil is a soil with a PH level of 7. This is the ideal soil PH because you can grow blackberries and potatoes in it, and you can also grow watermelon and beans.
To test you soil, you can head to any garden center and pick up a soil testing kit (I get mine from Canadian Tire actually) and it not only lets you test your PH levels but also the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels so you can adjust your soil perfectly.
Knowing your soil also means knowing what’s in your neighborhood that may be affecting your soil. Look and learn about the plants and trees in your area. Do any of them leech toxic chemicals into the ground (ie. walnut trees leech a natural chemical that they create called juglone which can be detrimental to your plants!). Do you live near a cemetery? There are big environmental concerns regarding soil toxicity near in and around cemeteries. Do you live near an industrial plant, it’s not just air pollution that they produce. Maybe
AMENDING YOUR SOIL
Amending your soil may or may not be an option for you depending on your soil type, soil conditions or soil toxicity. Me personally, I have 6 walnut trees on my 1/2 acre property. I live right in front of a cemetery and just a few blocks down from a landfill. My very sandy soil is a toxic mess that I CANNOT amend no matter how much I try… so my only options are raised beds or straw bales. Both of which work very well for me.
Hopefully for your sake you are not dealing with even half as many soil issues as I am and you can amend your soil to work for you. Below is a brief explanation of how you can help fix your soil depending on the type and condition.
- Sandy Soil – To amend sandy soil simply add a good 3-4 inches of compost into the soil and be sure to add either wood chips, straw, mulch or leaves to the soil as well. Make sure to top up your soil each year afterward with 2-3 inches of fresh compost.
- Clay Soil – To amend clay soil, add 2 inches of sand or gypsum to the soil. Adding 2 inches of peat moss and 2 inches of compost also help with breathability and nutrient content. Do this treatment for 3 years then each year afterward, drop amounts in half (ie. 1 inch of sand, 1 inch of peat moss, 1 inch of compost).
- Silty Soil – To amend silty soil, on a yearly basis simply add 2 inches of good compost (manure) and 2 inches of wood chips and you can even throw in 1 inch of peat moss to help with compaction. Tilling or aeration annually is also highly recommended for silty soils.
- Loamy Soil – Because loamy soil is almost the perfect soil for your plants, the only thing you really have to watch for is acidity. In this
casea PH test is required and if your soil becomes too acidic. Adding an inch or two of organic matter (wood chips and or compost) is all you need to help this issue.
- Peaty Soil – The amend peaty soil, add some glacial rock dust and some compost. Together this will help lower the acidity of the soil and increase the nutrients in the soil.
- Chalky Soil – Like sandy soil, to amend chalky soil you will need to add a good 3-4 inches of compost into the soil and be sure to add either wood chips, straw, mulch or leaves to the soil as well. Make sure to top up your soil each year afterward with 2-3 inches of fresh compost.