Soil plays an important role when it comes to gardening. It serves as a growing medium for plants. However, not all soils are good for gardening because they may lack the properties that make plants grow, such as enough nutrients, ease of tilling and moisture retention. Choosing the right type of soil for your garden will help you grow better and healthier plants.
Also known as heavy soils, clay soils can be problematic in a garden. Sometimes, they lose their structure and become lumpy. Compaction happens when there is heavy traffic and tilling. Clays are also difficult to manipulate when it is too wet. Severe compaction of soil is difficult to handle and may take years to restore to good structure.
Making clay soils ideal for gardening involves incorporating large amounts of organic matter, such as animal manures, green plant material, compost and leaf mold, into the soil to improve soil structure. Apply some extra nitrogen to the soil when using these materials, especially if you intend to plant a crop immediately after adding the organic matter to prevent any competition from other plants for available nitrogen. The improved condition may remain even long after the organic matter has disappeared.
Sandy soils are sediments formed from weathered rocks, such as volcanic rocks, feldspar, limestone, quartz, granite and shale. Adding organic matter into sandy soil will make it easy to cultivate; however, it is susceptible to over-draining and summer dehydration. In wet weather, sandy soils can have problems retaining moisture and nutrients.
Sandy soils may be problematic for a gardener because they do not hold water and nutrients well. Adding organic materials, which are similar to those used for clays, will improve the ability to hold water and nutrients. Adding at least a 2-inch layer of material will result in a marked improvement. This translates to about 17 cubic feet of organic matter to cover an area that measures 100 square feet.
Considered to be among the most fertile of soils, silt usually contains minerals such as quartz and fine organic particles. Silt has more nutrients than sandy soil, yet it still offers good drainage. It has a smooth texture and looks like dark sand when dry. Silt is easy to work with when moist because it has a weak structure. It also holds moisture well.
Probably the most chosen type of soil is a loamy soil, because it works well with many plants. Loamy soils consist of equal amounts of clay, sand and silt. They are ideal for most garden plants because they hold plenty of moisture, and they also ensure that sufficient air can reach the roots. Loamy soils drain well, yet retain moisture and are rich in nutrients, which make them ideal for cultivation.
Chalky soils have both good and bad points for the gardener. They drain well and warm up quickly in the spring. They are easy to walk on, even after a heavy downpour, and they have excellent structure. When given enough water and nutrients, chalky soils will help plants thrive well. Chalky soils are alkaline, light brown and contain varying sizes of stones. On the negative side, they tend to block iron and manganese, which are important in plant growth and color. Because of their poor quality, chalky soils need regular addition of fertilizers and soil amendments in substantial amounts.