Soil may not be one of the most exciting aspects of a garden, but if you’re new to gardening or want to know how to be better at it, this is probably the most important bit of the whole puzzle, get your soil sussed and everything else falls into place.
Soil matters because
we want our plants to produce masses of fruit, flowers and vegetables, a lot more than they would choose to do if left to themselves in the wild, and they’re unlikely to perform well in poor soil.
Firstly work out what type of soil you have in your garden:
Is heavy and very sticky when it’s wet and is slow to drain away, roll it around between your fingers and it forms a smooth ball.
Improve the drainage by digging in grit or a mixture of grit and compost, you can also add this mix to the hole when you’re planting.
Is the opposite of clay, it’s light, easy to dig and drains quickly. Try rolling this between your fingers and it’ll feel gritty and won’t form a ball.
Nutrients drain out of the soil easily, so the aim is to keep rainwater in the soil for as long as possible by adding plenty of compost, any type will do, as a thick mulch over the soil or in planting holes. This soil will also benefit more than other from having fertiliser added, organic ones rather than chemical ones are best because they release nutrients slowly.
This is soft and crumbly, neither too soggy or too light, sounds perfect but still needs compost adding to keep plants at their best.
Adding compost to your soil is the best way to improve it:
Compost is a term that’s used for all types of bought soil. The type we’re talking about here is soil improver, rather than bags of potting compost, these are the main types:
Home made compost:
Arguably the best, you know exactly what’s in it, and it’s completely sustainable, which we like very much.
Well rotted horse manure or farm-yard manure:
Good and chunky, great for opening up the structure of soil. Fresh manure has a burning effect on plants so has to be well rotted down. If you get your hands on some fresh stuff (not literally), just add it to your compost bin and let it decompose there.
Discarded by mushroom growers and good stuff, it tends to be a bit alkaline so not so good for growing rhododendrons, azaleas and all those plants that like acid soil.
This recycled waste is often available from local councils, phone up your local council and see if it’s available.
easy to make if you have lots of fallen leaves around. Simply store it in it’s own container, separate to the compost bin (leaves take longer to rot down than general compost) Use it as a mulch, for planting or mix it in with potting compost.
with the right information it’s really not complicated at all.
all images: Jill Anderson