Amending Your Soil …. the DIRT on Dirt!
I love dirt. I love the way it feels between my fingers and toes. I love the way it smells. I love what it represents. I love seeing it on my kids’ hands and faces because of what they’ve likely been up to. I just love dirt. But all that dirt is to me…it’s not nearly what it is to my plants. But unfortunately most of us take dirt for granted when planting our plants. Dirt’s dirt…right? Well, no…it’s not. Which is why you need to understand the importance of amending your soil.
Once you understand the basics of “dirt”…err, “soil” in the gardening world…you’ll understand why it is so important to your plants. Although not as easy as just throwing a plant into the ground, it is actually quite easy to make sure that your plants’ soil needs are met so that they live long and healthy lives.
This week I’ll provide you some of those soil basics…and next week I’ll give you a quick run-down on how to amend your soil while planting, as well as some information on what’s up with those funny letters on fertilizer bags…NPK. So stay tuned for those.
The Basics of Amending Your Soil
Put very simply, your plants need to be able to spread their roots…and they need to have both air and water circulating about their roots. Both of these things allow your plants to absorb what they need to in order to grow big, strong, and green! On one in the spectrum you have soil with high clay content…and on the other end, high sand content. And it’s the difference between the size of particle that makes up clay vs. sand that determines the “type of home” that the soil provides your plants.
- Having tiny particles that pack very closely together, clay-heavy soils are almost impossible for water or air to penetrate. As a result, water won’t drain from the effective clay pot you’ve dug for your plant…so its roots will likely become swamped and impacted. Sounds lovely, huh?
- On the other extreme, sand-heavy soils have very large particles…so air and water run right through it. So as a result, nutrients are washed away and the soil dries out very quickly – not giving the roots time to absorb what little there is to absorb.
So as you probably guessed, a good healthy soil is a balance between the two…actually a mix of the two. Gardeners will say that the perfect soil is “loamy” – which is composed of particles of varying sizes…allowing for both greater aeration and appropriate water retention. So not only will your plants’ roots be able to grow deep and wide, but the soil will retain both the water and nutrients needed for your plants to thrive…will result in strong and healthy plants and brightly colored flowers and fruit.
One quick and easy way to figure out what type of soil you have is…take a fist of soil and lightly squeeze your hand together. If it keeps its shape, your soil is good. If it breaks apart real easily, it’s sandy. If you can squeeze it between your finger and thumb and it forms a ribbon of sorts, it has too much clay. And if you’re here in Atlanta you’re very likely dealing with clay-heavy soil.
The good thing is, if you’re soil isn’t “loamy”…having either too much clay or too much sand, all you’ll need to do is amend it with organic matter and potentially some other amendments when you’re planting your plants. Something I’ll cover in one of next week’s posts.
What kind of soil do you have? What have you done to improve your plants’ home?
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