Your garden soil is where your plants live and reproduce. Great soil makes having a great garden much easier to achieve; poor soil makes having even a good garden a burdensome challenge. So the very best thing that you can do for your garden this year is to improve your soil.
Soils basic components
All soil consists of mineral particles, organic matter, air and water. Mineral particles come from dissolved and weathered rock material. Organic matter consists of decayed plant and animal products, as well as living organisms. Air and water occur naturally in the atmosphere and circulate amongst the mineral and organic particles in the soil.
The minerals in the soil have two important functions; they supply nutrients and give shape and texture to the soil, whilst organic matter supplies nutrients and also affects the way in which your plants are able to utilise the other three components; minerals, air and water.
Your garden soil texture is determined by the mineral particles size. Sandy soil occurs when the mineral particles are large, whilst in contrast, clay soil has an abundance of very small mineral particles and silty soil is made up of particles that are in between the two.
For almost all garden plants, the ideal soil has a good combination of sand, silt and clay particles. The geometry of the sand components provides spaces for water absorbtion and drainage, whilst the clay and silt components hold some moisture, which is necessary for both your plants and for the organic components in your soil
Soil structure is defined by how well the soil particles stick together to form larger groups. When a handful of moist soil can be shaped into a nice ball that can easily be crumbled in the hand, you have a good structure. If you cannot form a ball that holds together, it is probably too sandy. However, if you can form a ball but you can’t easily crumble it in your hand, there may be too much clay present.
To remedy either of these problems adding a good compost will help, boosting sandy soils ability to hold water and nutrients and breaking up the cloggy consistency of clay soil, reducing the risk of compaction and promoting better drainage. Good soil structure promotes good root development and relatively free movement of air and water, essential for healthy plant growth.
Organic Matter in your Soil
Two types of organic material are essential to good soil;
- Dead plant and animal matter in various stages of decomposition, and
- The living organisms – from microscopic soil bacteria to earthworms – that break down the organic matter
As organic material decays, it become a dark, sticky material known as humus. Acting like a glue, the humus holds individual mineral particles together in larger groups. Humus also contributes to the soils fertility.
Please click here to see our article entitled Soil Preparation for more information on how to improve your soil quality.