In an ideal world, every garden plot naturally would have deep, rich soil. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. When establishing a new garden, or revitalizing an old one, you are pretty likely to run into sub-par soil (see our previous blog on soil testing to learn how to check up on the health of your soil).
If you’re not happy with your soil, what are the options? Short of scraping the top foot off your garden and replacing your entire plot’s soil, the best option is to add amendments to your existing soil. If you’ve had your soil tested, you will have a pretty good idea where to start.
As a general rule, in clay-rich soil, amendments break up the dense clay, add porosity and water permeability (which also improves drainage), and allows greater rooting depth. On the other side of the coin, if your soil is sandy, soil amendments increase its ability to hold nutrients and retain water.
Soil amendments fall into two broad categories, organic and inorganic. Organic amendments include peat moss, Sweet Peet, wood chips (often available free from your municipality, along with humus), compost, lawn clippings, straw, wood ash, and anything else that comes from something that was once alive. Inorganic amendments include gravel, sand, recycled rubber chunks, vermiculite, and perlite.
Not all amendments are recommended for all applications. For example, if your soil pH is already high, wood ash will only contribute to a high pH. Similarly, adding sand to soil with high clay content will essentially produce cement.
When using organic materials, it’s generally best to ensure they are composted first, with the exception of peat products. Uncomposted wood, for example, takes far longer to break down than other organic matter, ties up nitrogen as it decomposes, and can interfere with water movement. Similarly, uncomposted manure can carry dangerous pathogens.
Inorganic amendments should be applied sparingly, as once you mix them into your soil, they are there permanently. Organic materials will eventually decompose, but putting in too much gravel or sand into your soil is not something that will go away with time.
If you need help deciding what amendment will work best for your soil, talk to the experts at Three-Z. We’ll also help you determine how much ammendment your soil needs. In general, healthy soil should be about 5% organic material, and contain the correct inorganic materials to ensure easy movement of water and roots.
Unfortunately, adding amendments takes a bit of work. They must be thoroughly mixed into the soil to work properly. In existing beds with plants, this means breaking the soil up 3-4 inches deep around the plants with a garden fork or rake. Add your amendment, then rake it completely into the soil, raking first in one direction then in the other. An empty bed is a little easier, as it can be rototilled both to break up the soil and to blend in the amendments after you have spread them. In boh cases, you must thoroughly water the bed once you’re done.
Investing a bit of work into adding amendments can have a big payoff in a more lush garden, and improved soil for years to come. As always, if you have any questions, or need any help, come talk to the experts at Three-Z Supply.