Improving Your Gardening Soil – How to Improve Soil

how to improve soil - gardening soil

Aerating Your Gardening Soil

Working the ground with a spade or fork is the most effective way of aerating waterlogged or dense compacted gardening soils.

It’s best to dig after annual flowers and vegetables have been cleared and before the ground becomes too wet. Wet garden soils are heavy to work and there is a danger of compacting the ground, particularly on clay, while tramping backwards and forwards.

The action of the weather in winter helps to break down the soil turned over in autumn. Raking in spring produces the fine, crumbly surface layer known as tilth — perfect for seed sowing or planting.

In established beds, such as a shrubbery or border, aerate the gardening soil by forking it over in spring — before growth starts. Throughout the summer use a hoe to break up the soil, let the air in and clear the ground of weeds.

Adjusting the Water Balance

If an area of the garden is seriously waterlogged, water will lie in puddles after rain; it eventually evaporates rather than drains away. The simplest solution is to dig in plenty of manure to improve drainage, or you could create a scree bed. Otherwise you may need to lay drainage pipes to carry excess water away. Fortunately, problems this serious are unusual.

Conditioning Soil Texture

Bulky organic materials, such as compost or well rotted farmyard manure, help to improve soil by opening up the structure. They also give substance to gardening soils that are too free draining, so increasing the soil’s capacity to retain water.

If you have a clay soil, add grit to break up the density (make sure it’s horticultural grit from a garden centre, and not builder’s grit). A half to a full bucketful per sq m (sq yd) is the correct proportion, according to how poor the drainage and how acid the soil is. Alternatively, use 200g (½ lb) of hydrated lime per sq metre (sq yd) — this binds the particles together in larger lumps

Mulching — covering the soil with an organic material such as compost, leaf-mould or composted bark — conserves moisture and discourages weeds. Apply in spring or early summer when the sun has taken the chill off the ground and while it’s still moist. As it works its way into the soil, the mulch also improves the texture.

Peat — vegetable matter prevented from decomposing by lack of oxygen. It has little nutrient value, and coir (coconut) fibre and spent mushroom compost can be substituted as soil conditioners, as they both improve qualities of aeration and water retention.

Enriching the Soil

how to improve soil - gardening soil Adding organic material such as manure (from animals) and compost (from plants) aerates the garden soil and improves its texture and ability to retain moisture. But their value goes a great deal further — they produce humus.

You can make your own compost by recycling kitchen vegetable peelings and tea leaves, and garden waste, particularly dead leaves, on a compost heap. But avoid adding woody material, which doesn’t break down, and also diseased plants or perennial weeds such as ground elder.

Alternatively, you can buy manure. Farmyard manure is an extremely rich dressing but never use it fresh — it needs to be stacked for several months before use. Other options, which may not sound appealing but are effective additions to the soil, include hop manure, poultry manure, seaweed, sewage sludge and shoddy, which is a waste material from wool factories.

Feeding Plants to Improve Soil

Applying chemical fertilizers — the inorganic answer to manure and compost — is the easiest way to boost the nutrient content of soils. But don’t rely solely on fertilizers — they don’t produce humus. Treat them as supplements to organic materials rather than as substitutes.

Fertilizers come in various forms and perform different functions. Add slow acting general fertilizers to the soil in early spring. Throughout the summer, apply quicker acting general fertilizers. These are either liquid feeds watered into the ground around plants, or leaf feeds applied with a watering can or spray. There are also special formulas for some categories of plants, such as tomatoes and roses.

28. October 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Garden Management, Soil Cultivation | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Improving Your Gardening Soil – How to Improve Soil


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