Super Soil: How to Get a Garden Growing
Seeds or a tray of sturdy starter plants? Check.
Sunshine? (Looks up) Check!
What else do you need for a healthy, abundant backyard garden? Of course, you need the most important part of all: balanced, fertile soil.
But unlike picking up plants from the nursery or turning out a hose, creating the best soil for your specific conditions and goals isn’t quite as straightforward. Everyone from weekend garden warriors to professional, commercial agricultural experts can benefit from an in-depth understanding of what is needed to mix the best soil for exceptional plant growth.
Think of your soil as the foundation of a house. Without ensuring your house’s foundation is sturdy, you won’t be able to build much. If your soil doesn’t have balanced acidity levels, organic content, and the right texture, you aren’t going to get much from your garden, either.
Just like contractors take many things into consideration before pouring a foundation, you can do just a little work in advance of planting — or even after you’ve planted — to ensure whatever you seek to harvest will be impressive and bountiful.
In this guide, we’ll review the components that are necessary for ensuring your soil provides the best substrate for the success of your garden. This includes:
- Proper texture
- Healthy pH balance
- Organic additions
- Good bacteria
Before breaking down each of these components, it’s a good idea to first identify what kind of soil you’re working with in your garden. After going through each of the components of healthy soil, we’ll offer some tips for gardeners to keep their soil in peak condition for seasons to come.
Knowing Your Soil
You don’t have to be a third-generational farmer to know that not all of the land on Earth is the same. Some people have backyards that are so rocky that it would be close to impossible for the roots of plants to work their way to the nutrients and moisture they need to survive.
Indeed, large outcroppings of rock are what we see when the soil has already eroded away. Most soil has some smaller rocks within other material. Soil is defined as the upper layer of Earth where plants can grow. There are four main types of soil:
Especially if you live in desert areas or near the coast, your property may contain soil that is very sandy. It likely will be light in color, warm, and dry. You’ll find that it’s naturally acidic and low in nutrients, but both of these conditions can be addressed.
The most pronounced characteristic of sandy soil is that it drains very quickly. This means you’ll need to mix in additional materials so that the roots of your plants can absorb water before it slips away into the fragments of quartz, limestone, or granite.
Silt is basically a smaller particle compared to a grain of sand, so silty soil is smoother and better for retaining water. It’s often found near rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water since it’s so easy to be transferred in times of heavy rains. It usually consists of bits of rock and other minerals.
Even smaller than silt is clay, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. It’s a little like Goldie Locks and the Three Bears. Sandy soil drains too easily, clay soil doesn’t drain enough, and the silty soil is almost perfect (we’ll save that superlative for the final kind of soil).
Clay soil is often made of Earth that packs together so tightly that there is hardly any airspace for roots to push through. While it can store water well, this soil is too dense and heavy to provide alone what growing plants require.
Now, this is the porridge that’s ready to eat. Loamy soil is defined as a combination of sand, silt, and clay, and it provides the best of all worlds for your garden. It can retain moisture and nutrients well while offering young roots the space to grow and thrive. It usually has higher levels of calcium and excellent pH levels, which we’ll talk about soon.
If you have loamy soil, rejoice! It’s also called the gardener’s best friend. But there’s still plenty of things to consider for enhancing this soil, too.
Components of Super Soil
Identifying the makeup of your soil is just the first step to understanding what steps are needed to make it the best it can be for your fruit, vegetables, cannabis, or fragrant flowers. An excellent start is to visit your local agricultural extension office for a DIY soil test. It often costs very little and provides good information about the natural state of your Earth.
Then, you’ll need to consider the other important components of soil.
Soil should not contain so much clay that you can squeeze it into a ball, but it shouldn’t sift through your fingers like sand through the hourglass, either. Seasoned gardeners and commercial farmers look for crumbly soil.
Beyond adding organic matter (more on that in a minute), you’ll want to make sure you don’t compact your soil. Plan your garden with specific walkways so no one steps on your garden beds. The less crumbly your texture, the harder it is for your plants to spread their roots.
Healthy pH Balance
If you haven’t tested your soil with a DIY kit or through your local agricultural extension office, the only way you’ll know if you have an imbalance is when the leaves of your plants start looking yellow and sad. It’s easier and faster to address an imbalance than restore a plant’s vitality.
If your soil is too acidic, you can till pulverized limestone, bone meal, or wood ash into your garden beds. Also, compost is another longer-term solution that can improve the pH over many seasons.
Just because compost isn’t the fastest way to balance acidity levels doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strongly consider adding compost to any kind of soil you may have.
A compost pile, which naturally degrades green and brown materials such as grass clippings, fallen leaves, and leftover fruits and vegetables from the kitchen, can invite healthy microbes and additional nutrients that feed plants. Some gardeners prefer to add processed manure, worm castings, or other natural sources of nitrogen as compost.
It’s nearly impossible to overdo the compost in your garden beds. The more organic material you can introduce into your garden, the better your plants can withstand threats like pathogens and pests.
Finally, many gardeners neglect one of the most effective ways of improving soil, and that’s adding good bacteria. Bacteria gets a bad rep, with all the hand sanitizing going on today. But that dirt under your fingernails is exactly what growing and blossoming plants need to become resilient.
Known as microbial inoculants, products are available to easily add the right kinds of bacteria to your soil before you plant, during the initial growth spurt, and as the plant is blossoming. Impello’s Tribus Original can be used throughout your growing season to improve your plants’ ability to process the nutrients from your compost.
Tips for Keeping Your Garden Growing
Most gardeners only think about the makeup of their soil right before the planting season begins, but we encourage you to make your garden a year-round hobby. By keeping track of your soil throughout the seasons, you’ll consistently have stronger, more abundant crops for years to come. We recommend you also:
- Till and dig as little as possible as to not disrupt the soil’s natural ecosystem.
- Monitor moisture content and use a drip irrigation system rather than a sprinkler, to reduce erosion and plant stress.
- Steer clear of chemicals and find organic methods for pest control, if necessary.
- Add as much compost as you can, even getting leftover coffee grounds from your local café.
- Check your soil’s temperature and cover with mulch if it gets too hot or thick, black plastic if it gets too cold.
- Plant cover crops or pile on leaves when you’ve finished your harvest.
- Rotate your crops during subsequent seasons to avoid nutrient depletion.
Never Ignore Your Garden
Finally, it may go without saying for people who love to harvest a fresh bounty from their backyard but don’t ignore what you’ve started. It’s easy to get too busy and forget to check on plants, which sometimes seem like they take forever to grow.
The more you look at and, even more importantly, feel the soil, the more you’ll be able to understand how to improve it. Plus, daily garden checks will alert you to unwanted pests, sunlight concerns, or other factors that may limit your ability to grow as much as you desire.
It’s easier (and probably more fun) to do these checks in the height of the growing season, but don’t stop after harvest. Make a note to check your garden frequently throughout the rest of the year, so you’ll be even more prepared when it’s time to plan the next round of crops for you and your family.