Soil – And How To Treat It

The soil in your garden is the basic raw material upon which all plants depend. It should never be dismissed as merely a collection of mineral particles used to anchor the roots of your plants or, worse still as “dirt”.

The main constituent of  soil consists of rock partocles broken down by erosion to produce the different types of soil. However much of  its make up is organic matter, animal and vegetable remains in  various stages of decomposition along with air and water. This really is all you need to support  plant and animal life.The ideal soil has a crumbly structure full of organic matter. It drains well enough to prevent it becoming waterlogged in heavy rain and is capable of providing the nutrients needed by plants to grow healthily.

There are five main soil types: peat, chalk, silt, sand and clay. Generally, the rock upon which your soil is sitting dictates what kind of soil your have. Of course, there are many variation on the themes – such as sandy loam. This means that whilst a high proportion of your soil is sand, a large proportion is also silt.

When seen together the five different types of soil look very different. Most of us do not have purely one type of soil. However, here are a few pointers to soil types and how to improve them.

Clay is a heavy cold soil which feels sticky when moist and hard and compacted when dry. Because it is made up minute particles, it drains very poorly. However with some work, over time, it can be turned into a very workable, fertile soil. First, dig clay soils in the autumn when it is moist but not too wet. When digging in autumn, leave the top rough and uneven to expose the maximum area to the elements over winter so that freezing and thawing will work their magic. When digging incorporate plenty of organic matter to improve fertility. In addition, if your soil is very heavy, add course grit into the mix, this will help drainage. Raising the area of soil in which you  are goung to grow will help drainage.

Sand is a very light soil which tends to drain easily. It can therefore be cultivated when other soils are still water logged. However, because it drains so easily, nutrients are washed away so you need to add organic matter and fertilizer to the soil to improve fertility.

Silt soil has the same sort of  drainage problems as clay soil and the way you treat it is very similar, although you should not need the grit. However, adding plenty of well rotted compost and manure will help no end.

Chalk soil has two big disadvantages. Firstly, it tends to be very thin, dry and hungry. You need to add plant nutrients in the form of organic matter and fertilizers. Like sand, chalk soil drains very easily and the nutrients drain away with the water. The second disadvantage is that it is very alkaline and so unsuitable to many plants. However there are plants which require alkaline soils, so if you do have chalky soil, work with it and look carefully at plant requirements before trying to grow them.  Chalk soils  need to be covered  as much as possible, so use green manure crops during times when you are not growing other crops and mulch between plants where ever possible.

Peat is the easiest type of soil to grow plants in. If you are lucky enough to have it, you will know that it is very fertile. You can grow plants intensely. However, peat soils do tend to be acid and will therefore need generous applications of lime to keep the balance. It also tends to dry out in summer and if allowed to dry completely  it will shrink and be difficult to wet again.  The nature of peat soils mean that they are high in organic matter but probably low in nutrients so although it is not necessary to add organic matter , fertilizers may be needed.


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