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  • Writer's pictureTony Taurone

Soil Assessment & Amendment

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

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Q: What is amending soil for gardening?

A: Amending soil is the act of adding things to pre-existing soil to improve its quality of nutrients, water retention or drainage.

Gardening is a wonderful hobby that provides both physical and mental benefits. But to make your garden truly thrive, it's important to start with good soil. If your garden soil is lacking in nutrients, organic matter, or has a poor structure, your plants may struggle to grow and produce healthy yields. In this blog, we will discuss some ways to amend garden soil to make it more fertile and conducive to plant growth. I personally believe it's good to check these qualities even if buying bulk garden soil to ensure a good season.

1. Determine Your Soil Type

Before amending your soil, it's important to determine what type of soil you have. There are three main types of soil: sandy, clay, and loam. Sandy soil is gritty and drains quickly, while clay soil is heavy and can hold onto moisture. Loam soil is a mixture of sand, silt, and clay and is generally considered the best type of soil for gardening. The USDA soil texture chart is a great visual for this.

Knowing your soil type will help you determine which amendments you need to add to improve it.

2. Test Your Soil

Once you know your soil type, it's a good idea to test your soil. A soil test will tell you the pH level of your soil as well as any nutrient deficiencies. You can purchase a soil test kit at your local garden center, online or send a sample of your soil to a lab for analysis.

3. Add Organic Matter

Organic matter is important for soil fertility because it helps improve soil structure and provides nutrients to plants. You can add organic matter to your soil by mixing in compost, aged manure, or leaf mold. Spread a layer of organic matter over your garden bed and till it into the top few inches of soil.

4. Adjust pH Levels

The pH level of your soil can impact plant growth. Most plants prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil is too acidic or alkaline, your plants may struggle to absorb the nutrients they need to grow and produce healthy yields. To raise the pH of your soil, you can add lime, which is a type of calcium carbonate. Spread a layer of lime over your garden bed and till it into the top few inches of soil. To lower the pH of your soil, you can add sulfur, which is available in powdered or pellet form. Spread a layer of sulfur over your garden bed and till it into the top few inches of soil. There are also liquid pH balancing kits available online.

It's important to note that both lime and sulfur take time to break down in the soil and impact the pH, so you may need to wait a few weeks or months before retesting your soil and making additional adjustments. It's also important to follow the instructions on the package when adding these amendments, as adding too much can harm your plants.

5. Add Nutrients

If your soil test shows nutrient deficiencies, you can add amendments to provide those nutrients. For example, if your soil is low in nitrogen, you can add blood meal or fish emulsion. If your soil is low in phosphorus, you can add bone meal or rock phosphate. If your soil is low in potassium, you can add wood ash or greensand.

6. Mulch Your Garden Beds

Mulching your garden beds is another way to improve soil structure and fertility. Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil and provides a barrier against weeds. You can use a variety of materials for mulch, including leaves, straw, wood chips, or grass clippings.

7. Rotate Your Crops

Finally, it's important to rotate your crops each season to help prevent soil-borne diseases and pests. By rotating your crops, you can also help maintain soil fertility by planting different types of plants that have varying nutrient needs. This prevents the same plants from depleting a garden area or bed of all of one or two vital nutrients. There are plenty of good resources on crop rotation, a cheaper favorite book is "Crop Rotation" by Vincent Brown.

Amending your garden soil is an important step in creating a healthy and thriving garden. By adding organic matter, adjusting pH levels, adding nutrients, mulching your garden beds, and rotating your crops, you can create a fertile environment that supports plant growth and yields. Happy gardening!

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