by Christine Freeburn – Master Gardener
For the plants in your garden to be the best they can be, you need to start with the best soil you can make. Enhancing your soil with compost and manure is the best way to do this.
Soil provides physical anchorage for plants
You need your soil to have enough texture to hold your plants without being so heavy that it strangles them.
You should know what your SOIL TEXTURE is. To do this, you can try this simple test:
- fill a quart jar one third full with a sample of your soil
- dig down into the soil to get a sample
- fill the jar with water, put the lid on tightly and shake well.
As the soil settles, you will be able to see different layers. The bottom level is the sand portion. Next will be silt. Silt has larger particles than sand, but smaller than clay. Last will be clay.
The amount of each that you have in your soil will determine what type of soil you have….clay, sandy, silty or any combination of these. The best soil is sandy loam, which is about 60% sand and 40% clay.
This will also tell you how your soil deals with water….does it drain well or hold and stay wet longer.
You can amend your soil to improve the texture, but it is a constant challenge. Sometimes it is better to accept what type of soil you have and grow plants that prefer a sandy soil or a clay soil.
Soil supplies water and nutrients to plants
When you water, water the soil and roots of your plants, not the leaf portions. Water is absorbed through the roots and channels up into the leaves.
Another thing you should know about your soil is it’s pH…is it acidic or alkaline. pH has a scale of 1 to 10, with acidic soil have a low number. Most plants like 6.0 to 7.5. This is where they can best absorb the nutrients in your soil. You might have heard that plants like rhodendrons prefer acidic soil, which would have a lower pH.
Knowing the nutrients in your soil is important also. You can send away to Guelph University to get your soil tested, however that can be expensive. You can use an inexpensive soil testing kit also. It will also test for pH.
There are 3 big nutrients and these are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. You will be familiar with them as the three numbers on fertilizers. Many fertilizers are synthetic, however you can get organic types.
Nitrogen is for leaves and greening of your plants.
- fish emulsion
- blood meal
Phosphorus is for bloom
- bone meal
Potassium is for roots and overall health of plant
- wood ash
- composted seaweed
Other natural fertilizers
- animal manures – make sure they are well composted or they will burn your plants or be full of weeds
- manure tea – dilute manure in water, let sit for a week, then water plants
- comfrey tea – another good nutritional source
- epson salts – put a tsp in hole when planting