Your garden soil is one of the most essential components to growing healthy plants. If it is in poor condition, you will need soil amendments to nourish it again.
The soil in your garden has a mix of nutrients, organic material and minerals.
It is quintessential for plants as it feeds their growth, keeps them in an upright position and provides air and water to the plant roots as well as its entirety.
Hence, if it turns out to be of poor quality, your plants suffer.
This article discusses when you will need to add amendments to your soil in order to improve it and what are they.
Keep reading below to know more!
What Makes Your Garden Soil Good?
Typically you would think soil consists of sand, clay, and silt.
However, that is not all, as soil is a complex ecosystem.
It consists of minerals, nutrients, microbes, organic matter and other organisms that are different from region to region.
Good quality of soil depends on two factors:
The texture of the soil suggests its ability to transfer water and air as well as the size of soil particles and its cohesiveness.
While fertility refers to the nutrients present in the soil and the soil pH level that eventually makes these nutrients available to the plants.
When you see the fertility and the texture of the soil flailing, it is time to adjust and improve it with amendments.
You must be wondering what exactly are soil amendments.
These are essentially, materials that you apply to the topsoil in order to change the soil properties.
As a result, plant growth improves.
Most of the components that act as soil amendments improve the structure and pH.
Though, they also double as fertilizers for your plant.
Benefits of Soil Amendments
- Supports the soil food web
- Improves soil aeration
- Increases the water retention and the capacity of holding moisture in the soil
- Increases the organic matter in soil
- Reduces plant diseases
- Increases organic matter of soil
- Promotes the healthy growth of plants
When to Add It?
The ideal time for adding the amendments is when you are first making a garden bed.
This can be in spring when you are about to begin planting vegetables.
However, it is an ongoing task.
Therefore, you may end up doing it some times in a year like digging up some compost before planting.
You can also add it between successive crops and in autumn after cleaning the beds to give the soil food web time.
Process of Adding Soil Amendments
Before beginning work on your garden, let’s first look at the material you will need to add the amendments.
- gardening gloves
- tiller or gardening shovel
- amendments such as organic material i.e. compost, peat moss, manure, fertilizer or lime and sulfur
After you have the necessary tools, the first step is to evaluate the soil.
A nearby nursery can test your soil and once you have the results, you have an outlook on the current quality of the soil.
It details the pH, composition of nutrients and texture of the soil.
But how do you find out when to test the soil? Simple! Look at the health of your plants.
If they are growing well, you do not need to make any changes to it.
Though, if the plant is beginning to have yellow leaves and has an overall stunted growth while looking sickly, it is time to test it.
It is harder to identify what your soil exactly needs. It could be nutrients in the form of fertilizers, organic material as amendments adjustments to the pH.
In that case, you may have to try these to figure out what the plant actually needs.
Beginning with checking the soil pH and then adding the nutrients it needs to improve.
Let’s find out about these below!
Nutrients and pH
Checking for Soil pH
You can check the pH of the soil by using a pH test.
In case it shows that the pH levels are off, then you will need to adjust the pH accordingly.
The pH of your soil is very crucial as it influences how the plant takes up nutrients. ‘
It cannot be too alkaline or acidic but should be in the ideal range.
In order to adjust the pH of the soil, you will either need sulfur or lime.
Sulfur lowers the pH of the soil whereas lime increases it.
Add the recommended amount when you are making a new garden.
However, for an old one, you should not add more than 5 pounds per 100 square feet.
Rake the sulfur and lime and dig it into the soil through a shovel.
You will need to keep checking the pH over the years as the sulfur and lime deplete.
Thus, they are periodically consumed so you will need to add the same.
Nutrients in the Form of Fertilizer
The soil can receive nutrients in the natural way through amendments.
Though, you can also give it synthetic fertilizers to nourish plants.
Synthetic fertilizer can be useful because its cheaper and acts rather quickly on your plants.
Though, it feeds the plants, it does not amend or nourish the soil.
These will vary in nutrients, though a complete fertilizer usually contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.
You can choose between granular fertilizers that are mixed in soil or the water-soluble ones that apply through a watering can.
When it comes to organic fertilizers in comparison, they are not as fast-acting as the nutrients released over time.
So there is no instant fix, however, you get a consistent improvement and the feeding will be long and sustained.
Types of Soil Amendments
If you compost at home with kitchen scraps and garden waste material this option is almost free for you.
It is a common soil amendment that is made using leaves, garden debris, and decomposed plant materials such as vegetable and fruit peelings.
Compost works as an excellent soil amendment by improving sandy and clay soils.
It also enhances the growth of the plant and increases its water-holding capacity.
After compost, many would prefer to use animal manure.
The most common of these would be cow manure.
It has a balanced supply of nutrients and enough organic matter.
Horse manure is weedy but it also makes for a richer soil amendment.
Rabbit manure is weed free and also has a low nitrogen concentration so it does not burn plants.
Chicken manure is also weed-free but still high in nitrogen.
To reduce the ammonia content, only use composted and well-rotted manure.
It will turn odorless, dark and crumbly, that is when it is best utilized in your garden’s soil.
Cover crops grow on unused soil to till them in and decompose.
Hence, the roots of the cover crops keep the soil loose.
Legumes such as vetch and clover add nitrogen to the soil whereas these cover crops also suppress weeds.
These can act as effective amendments to the vegetable garden fields.
Garden debris such as grass clippings can be worked directly in the garden bed.
As they decompose slowly, they will add to the soil.
But beware none of these should be treated with pesticides or herbicides.
Decaying organic matter in all these forms retains water in sandy soil that will otherwise drain away.
It also stimulates beneficial microbial activity in all soils.
Soil Amendments and Application
Black earth contains plenty of NPK and hummus.
Hence, this type of soil is usually a good choice for nutrient-dependent plants such as vegetables and flower gardens.
So if you can find this amendment it will nourish your soil and your plants likewise.
Your garden may have plenty of leaves falling due to changing seasons.
They can be chopped and dug into the soil to allow to decay and form leaf mold.
Leaf mold adds humus to the soil, which will significantly improve the texture as well as the structure of the soil.
It also greatly boosts water retention i.e the water holding capacity of the soil.
Known as a soil conditioner for years, peat moss is a cheap and easy solution to amend your soil.
It loosens soil and but always use it wet.
Dry peat mosscan contain fewer nutrients and microorganisms.
Moreover, it repels water so does not suit top dressing.
Compost washed-up seaweed or chop and dig it into the soil.
It contains a lot of plant hormones and micronutrients that promote its growth.
You can add kelp meals to vegetable and flower gardens during the spring.
Apply any of these amendments by mixing them into the soil.
It can mix in the top soil and the quantity depends on the general structure and healthy i.e. the existing condition of your soil.
Using these soil amendments you can nourish your plants, flowers and vegetables.
Routinely your garden soil will need the necessary organic matter to loosen clay soil, improve sandy soil and overall provides nutritional benefits.
Thus, whenever your plant is showing signs of poor growth, you know it is time to work up your soil with much needed amendments.