Plants use soil in order to take up much of the nutrients that they need. The nutrients needed by the plant must be in the soil and the soil must also be in a condition that is conducive to the plant taking up the nutrients. In addition to nutrients already found in the soil, nutrients end up in the soil when gardeners add commercial fertilizers or organic compounds. The residue of the plant is also a source of nutrients for the soil.
Plants usually need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Because these nutrients are so commonly needed by plants, the fertilizer that is applied to the soil almost always contains these nutrients. While most plants need these nutrients, they often need the nutrients in different amounts. The fertilizer comes in many forms, with some fertilizer being granulated and dissolved in water, some fertilizer coming in liquid form and some fertilizer being mixed in with soil.
Many types of organic matter are added to soil to increase fertility. One of the most popular types of organic matter is peat moss, which is a plant that not only provides a large amount of nutrients to the soil, but also helps the soil maintain moisture because of peat moss' ability to absorb water. Other types of organic fertilizer include animal manure and leaves.
Most plants prefer soil that is well-drained. According to Colorado State University, soil that does not have drainage prevents the roots of the plant from getting oxygen, which is necessary for the survival of the roots. Sandy loam soil is one of the best draining soils because of pores that allow for water to seep through. Soil that contains more clay or soil that is more compacted is less well-draining.
Mulch is a type of matter that is added to soil to prevent weeds, the loss of moisture and to insulate the soil. According to the University of Rhode Island, the composts are made out of organic wastes, which must be exposed to oxygen, water, fertilizer and lime. If the organic matter is made up of small pieces, the composting will occur more quickly. Inorganic mulches can be made out of objects such as lava rocks, peddles and plastic. The inorganic mulches are difficult to get rid of, as opposed to organic mulches.
Wind and water have the ability to take nutrients away from the soil, starving plants of the nutrients they need. The soil on the surface blown away by wind can be reduced by employing windbreakers. The University of California explains that another type of soil erosion, where channels of water underneath the soil carry away soil, can be stopped through tilling.