Have you noticed that you don’t see bare soil in nature often? That’s because exposed soil is a big no-no for nature, as it gets easily eroded by the elements. But what happens when the soil gets eroded? All the precious nutrients they store within get washed away as well. So, what else makes gardening soil so essential, and what can you do to test and keep it healthy? Keep reading below.
Why is Gardening Soil so Important?
You can’t grow a flourishing garden without good soil health. That much is a given for every gardener. After all, your soil is the foundation of the garden’s overall health. With ample nutrients, it can support plant growth and sustain a healthy and productive garden.
As mentioned earlier, nature rarely leaves soil uncovered. That is also good gardening practice since covering garden soil will make it harder for weeds to grow. Covering the ground with organic materials also feeds the land, giving it the fuel it needs to nurture plants.
How to Test the Soil
There are plenty of signs you can look for to find out whether your garden has healthy soil or not. You can observe the underground animal and plant activity. You can also check how rich in organic matter the ground is.
Good garden soil should be full of animal life. To check, dig a 6-inch hole and watch it for at least 4 minutes. Your soil is healthy if you see more than ten critters, such as ground beetles, spiders, and centipedes. Why is this important? A substantial population of soil organisms help to keep down disease and pests.
Earthworms are also important in your garden as they aerate the soil for better circulation. Not only do they eat organic matter and provide plant nutrients, but they also leave secretions that can improve soil structure.
You can look for earthworms by checking for earthworm burrows on the surface of damp soil. Dig a 6-inch hole in the ground and count the worms you see. A good number is five, but three is also acceptable.
It is the condition of the tilled soil. To test, dig a hole in the damp ground that’s 6-10-inch deep. Take a soup can-sized section that’s intact and break it apart gently. Ideal gardening soil will break apart into different-sized chunks that hold their shape when applying slight pressure. If the aggregates or lumps are difficult to break apart, the ground is too hard.
Good soil structure allows water and air to move easier around plant roots, resulting in healthier plants.
Soil with low workability is susceptible to compaction, restricting plant water and nutrient availability. It also stops soil organisms from aerating the soil. To test for compaction, stick a wire into the ground and mark the depth when the wire starts bending. The wire should penetrate at least a foot or more before it bends.
Good water infiltration means water reaches your plants’ roots, improves aeration, and helps prevent erosion and runoff. You can test this by using a can.
- Remove its bottom, push it into the soil and leave the top portion three inches above the ground.
- Fill the visible part with water and mark the water height.
- Time the absorption rate and repeat the process until it becomes consistent.
- You have compacted garden soil if the absorption rate is slower than ½-1 inch per hour.
Healthy soil should provide plants with adequate water supply between waterings. That means the soil should be well aerated and evaporation resistant. You can test the ground after a soaking rain to determine if the soil restricts water absorption.
- Time how long it takes your plants to exhibit signs of thirst. Remember that different regions will yield varying results.
- If your plants need more watering than usual for your area, your soil is most likely compacted
Excellent root systems mean you have healthy soil and thriving plants. You can check this by digging up a plant and examining the root development. If the plant has white roots with fine strands, it’s healthy. On the other hand, brown, mushy roots point to signs of drainage issues. Short and stunted roots may point to a disease or root-eating pests.
How to Improve Garden Soil
While testing your soil and finding out that it’s less than ideal may put an unexpected roadblock to your gardening project, you can do plenty of things to improve its health.
Compost and Manure
You can always make garden compost for free by composting everything you can. A healthy heap with plenty of ingredients will produce a rich and crumbly compost loaded with valuable nutrients. Then again, not everybody may be a fan of homemade compost, and you can always buy good-quality ones from your local suppliers.
If you do plan on making your compost, you can use the following ingredients:
- Kitchen food scraps
- Fresh grass clippings
- Coffee grinds
- Seedless weeds and pruned branches
- Aged manure
- Disease-free plant material
You can also start a worm farm and let them do the work for you by creating nutrient-rich vermicast to feed your plants.
A good time to feed your soil with organic matter is during fall since it will spend the winter decomposing. Manure is another excellent option as long as it isn’t contaminated since it can damage crops. Spread the compost or manure onto your garden bed to enrich the soil as it rots down.
Cover the Ground with Mulch
Covering the top garden soil with a uniform layer of mulch helps to improve and protect the garden soil. It can retain soil moisture by shading the earth from the sun. It can insulate the ground and moderate temperature extremes while lessening weed germination and growth. Moreover, organic mulch slowly decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil. Lastly, it helps to retain rainwater and prevent runoff.
Some types of organic mulch you can use are:
- Shredded bark or hardwood
- Shredded leaves
- Coarse wood chips
- Pine needles
- Pine bark nuggets
- ½-inch screened compost
Synthetic mulch is another option, such as gravel, decorative stone, and landscape fabrics. However, they do not enhance soil quality and may become harmful to beneficial microorganisms and overall garden health.
Grow Cover Crops
Cover crops are grown solely to protect and improve soil healthy by shielding it from the elements. They also improve soil structure through their roots and return nutrients into the ground once chopped down or turned in.
Avoid Soil Compaction
Another way to improve soil health is by avoiding soil compaction, which usually happens with too much foot traffic and the use of heavy equipment. The soil is especially susceptible to compression when wet, so it would help to install pathways around your garden soil and void parking heavy vehicles on the lawn.
It’s also a good idea to avoid too much mechanical rototilling since the ground can easily compact and become firm when watered and stepped on during planting. Excessive digging also disturbs weed seeds that may be dormant and harm the community of beneficial microorganisms living underneath the soil.
You can aerate your garden with the gentle use of a garden fork. Also, avoid working soil after rain since it needs time to drain.
Avoid Chemical Use When Possible
Pesticides and herbicides have plenty of potentially harmful and long-term effects on your garden. In the first place, a well-tended and healthy garden rarely needs pesticides. Don’t spray at the first sign of insects since healthy soil should be teeming with a community of beneficial soil organisms.
At the first sign of plant problems, address other possible underlying causes by:
- Pulling weeds before they spread
- Removing decaying, diseased, and dead plants
- Changing a garden practice (replace overhead watering with direct soil watering)
If the damage is due to an insect, try non-chemical controls such as placing a screen, setting a trap, or removing the pest by hand.
If using a pesticide is inevitable, do the following:
- Identify the insect first
- Choose a product that is labelled specifically for that insect
- Use the least toxic product
- Apply precisely according to the label instructions
Maintain Soil Moisture
Good garden soil should hold moisture like a sponge. By maintaining soil moisture, you also keep it healthy. Water, after all, is not only for plant survival but also crucial for them to flourish. Different plants have varying water requirements, and if you live in an arid climate, you must pay close attention to your watering schedule.
While you can always water your garden independently, doing so can damage your soil health, mainly if you use a hose. Too much water can cause your soil to run off and waste precious nutrients. It can also drown your plants with excessive moisture. Avoid making this mistake with automatic reticulation in Perth.
Grow a Healthy Garden with Quality Reticulation
Are you determined to keep your gardening soil healthy? Take watering schedules out of your list of worries and let Green Oasis Lawn and Reticulation handle it for you. We help you maintain and improve your garden’s overall health by offering Perth quality reticulation services.
Remember, too much or too little water can be detrimental to your plants and your garden soil health. So, keep everything well balanced with reticulation services that take care of everything for you.