DIY (Do It Yourself) Guide – Improving Your Soil

Improving your soil for better quality gardening

Improving the quality of the soil is necessary for healthy plant growth. If you have a garden making certain that the soil is of good quality will provide the necessary nutrient for roots to grow which depend on the soil quality. Improving the quality of the soil is performed gradually. It may take a bit of time to notice results but will definitely be worth the effort. Soil can be sandy (light) in such case, you may want to have the soil become less porous and retain moisture better. Similarly, the soil can be heavy (clay); loosening the soil to make it more porous should be your goal. Soil of very good quality is often denoted as loam; it contains sandy and clay partials in such case, the soil has enough porosity and drainage such that it can hold fertility, nutrients, and moisture in abundance.

Testing the soil quality

Testing the soil implies determining the PH level and nutrient content; factors essential for good quality soil.  Too much or too little nutrient is detrimental to plants. The correct quantity is necessary for perfect plant growth.

soil ph testThe PH offers an indication of the concentration of nutrient in the soil. It is often rated on a scale of 1 (most acid) to 14 (most alkaline). Soil that does not have the correct PH prevents plants from acquiring the necessary nutrient like phosphorous or potassium. This even if they are present in the soil in high amount. In the contrary, low PH may increase the solubility of certain minerals to toxic levels like magnesium. Certain vegetables and ornamental prefer soil that is little acidic with a PH of 6 or 7.

Testing the soil to determine whether it is perfect for the type of plants that you want to be growing in your garden is very simple.  Below are two methods that you can use to test the soil:

  • Buy a DIY kit

A DIY kit often provides basic information regarding the soil PH level and nutrients. You can purchase a DIY kit to have basic information regarding your soil composition.

  • Have lab test

Testing the soil through a laboratory can be a lot more beneficial. The lab test gives reading of PH level, nutrient content. Knowing the nutrient content helps determine the type of fertilizer to use. Some lab test can tell you specifically the amount of fertilizer to add. The lab test also helps identify local issues specific to the region where the soil is being tested and make recommendations accordingly.

To obtain the soil sample either for DIY or for lab testing, dip some soil from your plot about 4 to 6 inches and place in a plastic bag. Dig 5 to 6 similar samples from different parts of your plot. Mix all the soil together and retrieve two cups of soil which will constitute your soil sample.

Improving heavy soil (clay)

clay soilClay soil is very hard and prevents the roots to grow deep in to the soil normally.  Clay soil can hold water and fertility but clay particles are very hard eliminating any porous space which prevents water from draining and roots from penetrating normally. Clay soil is often dry very slowly and during the summer they may bake or crack. To improve the quality of clay soil, mix two or three inches of organic material into six inches of top soil. This will help loosen and improve the quality. Knowing the soil composition will better determine the composition of organic material which will be most beneficial especially taking into account the types of plant that you would like to grow in the plot.

Some people think that adding sand to clay soil will improve it. In the contrary, sand will make the clay even harder. Also, adding gypsum

To clay soil can improve the quality through a process denoted as “flocculation” but this can only be effective if the soil composition is very sodic (rich in sodium). Gypsum is sometimes used to correct the PH level of soil but should be taken into the proper context by looking at the soil composition and determining whether there is a deficiency in sodium for the type of plants you would like to plant.

Improving light soil (sandy)

 Sandy soil has the opposite effect than clay. It is very porous and hardly can hold any moisture or nutrient which may

sandy soilRequire irrigating and feeding much more than is necessary. They have an advantage in that they can be cultivated

any time of the year. To improve the quality of sandy soil, adding organic material or clay. Five percent of the material or clay tilled in about six inches into the soil should help improve the quality for the soil to retain moisture.

Inorganic materials

The treatment of the soil can also be helped with inorganic material but such treatment are best for container gardening as it can be quite expensive and require about 50% of such material to treat a whole plot. Vermiculite are quite useful for loosening heavy soil and providing moisture and nutrients in sandy soil. They consist of puffed mica and perlite which are actually pulverized volcanic ashes.

Tips when improving your soil

making compostWhatever the type of soil that you have (clay, sand, loam) they all benefit from improvement. Different regions have different types of soil but the procedure for improving the soil is the same. Adding organic material to the soil helps break down clay making it more porous and provide the necessary capability for sandy soil to retain moisture and nutrients. Even loam soil that is perfect also benefits. The most efficient method of adding nutrient to your soil is by having a supply of compost. Peas moss and manure are just some form of organic material that you may want to add organic material rich in nutrient and good for composting include:

  • Peat
  • Manure
  • Grass clippings
  • of kitchen waste; egg shells, coffee grounds, vegetables, fruit peelings
  • sawdust
  • mulched branches and twigs
  • leaves and pine needles
  • fish/meat

Organic material produces earthworms which are very helpful to the ground.

In the majority of cases, many plants thrive in an environment where the PH level is between 6 and 7. This almost depends on the geographical location and also on the type of plant. Liming is a method used to correct too much acidity in the soil.  Limestone rock is a common method used for this purpose. 50 pound for every 1000 sq ft is required. Alternatively if the soil is too alkaline, 40 pound of agricultural sulfur can help correct the PH level.

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