The Nitty-Gritty About Ideal Soil

David Abrego

Enhancing your garden begins with the soil. More than just a blank canvas for arranging plants or walking upon, healthy soil contains thousands of living organisms, each performing a special function.

Ideally, soil should be loose, well-drained and rich in organic matter and nutrients. But without preparation, most local soils are far from ideal. Each soil type has properties that affect water and nutrient supply to the plants. Clay soils hold excessive water and nutrients, while sandy soils drain well and lack nutrients. Most of our soils are clay or clay loam.

Both roots and microorganisms need oxygen for development. When soil is wet, the available air spaces fill with water. Too much water will suffocate the roots. The availability of water to the plants depends on the existing root system and soil properties such as porosity, conductivity and water retention capacity.

Before you choose your plants or begin planting, evaluate your soil. Ask yourself:

  • Is it clay or sandy?
  • What nutrients are present?
  • What nutrients are lacking?

These answers will help you select plants that will thrive in the existing conditions. No matter what kind of soil you have, the best way to improve it is by mixing in organic matter such as compost.

Then, tread lightly! Your footsteps tend to compact the soil structure, which reduces its ability to conduct water, nutrients and air that plant roots need to thrive.

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