Soil S.O.S.

How do you make your garden grow? By knowing what kind of soil you have and how to improve it.
From: DK Books - Design Your Garden
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©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Clay Soil

This type of soil feels smooth and sticky, and can be rolled into a ball when wet. Clay is also porous and holds nutrients and water well, although plants cannot extract all of the moisture from clay, because an electrical charge on each of the particles holds it too tightly—rather like iron filings clinging to a magnet.

Acidity and Alkalinity

The pH, or acidity level, of soil has a large part to do with how well plants grow. Every home and garden center carries pH test kits. These kits are fairly accurate, but follow the testing instructions precisely. Some plants, such as azaleas, only grow well on acidic soils, while others, such as acanthus, prefer alkaline conditions, so it is important to establish the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of your soil.

Improving the Soil

Work some organic matter into the soil before planting each season. If using unfinished organic matter, like leaves or undecomposed manure, add it to soil at least one month before planting.

Use Organic Matter

The best way to spread organic matter is with a garden fork. Work it into the soil by turning it over and over until it is thoroughly mixed.

Dig in Sand or Pea Gravel

Add organic matter, plus either sand or pea gravel, and then dig it in very well into the top six to eight inches of soil. Use either a shovel or a tiller to mix everything together.

Sandy Soil

When rubbed between your fingers, sandy soil feels gritty and falls apart if you try to roll it into a ball. Coarse sand is free- draining, but very fine sand doesn’t drain well and can easily become compacted. Sandy soils are low in nutrients but easy to dig, which is why they are known as “light soils.”