Soil Amendment Tips

Now that it's officially planting season, you may be eager to start adding seedlings and turning your planning to practice; but is your garden soil up to par? Amending soil by correcting its texture and adding nutrients is important for overall plant health, as soil is the foundation of a healthy prosperous garden. All types of soil can use amendments, but some common types that need extra care are sandy and clay soil. Soil that is sandy or clay-like often lacks proper nutrients to help plants grow. Luckily, there are a few simple ways to amend soil to get it ready for planting. 

Soil Basics

Soil is evaluated based on its fertility and texture. Fertility is measured by the amount of essential nutrients in the soil and its pH levels. All plants need three primary nutrients; nitrogen for healthy leaf and stem growth, phosphorus for root growth and potassium for overall plant health. 

The pH level measures the soil acidity and alkalinity. The scale ranges from 1.0-14.0, with 7.0 being neutral. Numbers that are higher than 7 are more alkaline, and lower numbers are more acidic. Many plants thrive in the low acidic to neutral range of 6.2-6.8; however, that's not true for all plants. Check your seed packs or ask your local nursery for the level your soil needs to reach. You can test your garden's pH level by using a soil test, which can be found at most garden stores, or you may be able to send soil to a local garden store or county extension office for testing. 

Texture refers to the size of soil particles. Sandy soils have large particles; water, air and plant roots can move freely in sandy soil, but if it is too loose plants may become uprooted as soil erodes. On the other side of the spectrum there's clay soil, which consists of small tightly packed particles that hold nutrients well, but leave little room for water, air or roots. An easy way to test soil quality is by picking up a small amount and rolling it between your thumb and finger. If it breaks apart easily, it is sandy. If it can be rolled into a ribbon, it is clay. While sandy and clay soil typically require the most attention, there are other types of soil ' including chalk, loam, peat, silt and subsoil ' that can be amended by simply adding compost to refresh nutrients. 

Whatever the issue may be with your soil, do not try to amend your soil texture by adding sandy material to clay or vice versa. That is a recipe for cement. 

 

Amending Sandy Soil

If your soil is loose and falls apart in your hand, it may be too sandy. Here are some quick fix tips

  1. Conduct a soil test to determine what additives are missing from the soil. 
  2. Add compost to supply nutrients and richness to the soil.
  3. Use a tiller to mix compost into the soil.
  4. Other additives may be needed depending on the specific pH level your plants require. If soil is acidic, add lime or wood ash. If it is alkaline, add peat moss, compost or sawdust.
  5. Place about 3-4 inches of the chosen soil amendment and till about 4-6 inches deep. 
  6. Take care when watering. The soil may be slower to drain now that is a thicker consistency. 

Amending Clay Soil

If your soil is compacted and hard to break apart, it may need amendments to make it less clay-like

Read below or watch here to learn how to amend clay soil. 

  1. Conduct a soil test to determine what additives are missing from the soil.
  2. Add compost to supply nutrients and richness to the soil.
  3. Use a tiller to mix compost with the soil.
  4. Extra additives may be needed depending on the specific pH level your plants require. If soil is acidic, add lime or wood ash. If it is alkaline, add peat moss, compost or sawdust.
  5. Place about 3-4 inches of the chosen soil amendment and till about 4-6 inches deep. 
  6. Adjust your watering regimen. Heavier soil may drain water more slowly and cause your plants to flood.