Most people take soil for granted, and that’s probably the most honest thing we can say as gardeners. Just like any living thing, plants need a good environment to grow in, and in that environment, soil is one of the most critical factors.
Healthy soil is essential for cultivating strong, robust, and productive plants. Poor soil, on the other hand, will discourage plants from growing at their best, even if they are regularly given fertilizers. In this article, we’ll answer some of the most important questions people have about soil.
What are the types of soil found in gardens?
Soil can be broken down into four basic types. These are:
- Clay soil
- Sandy soil
- Silt soil
- Loamy soil
Each garden can have soil in varying states of mixtures and combinations. Depending on your area, you can have at least one type of soil in your garden.
What is the most ideal soil for gardening?
Naturally loamy is the best soil for gardening. Loam consists of the right proportions of sand, silt, clay, and humus that results in spaces for water and air to pass through. Humus, in particular, serves as a garden material that provides nutrients for plants. This is due to its rich organic components derived from decomposed matter.
Generally, commercial soil will also be specifically formulated to be ideal for plants.
How do I identify the type of soil I have?
The easiest way to identify your soil type is to touch it, grab a piece of it, and roll it in your hands. By its appearance and how it rolls in your hand, you can tell the type of soil that is dominant.
Clay soil will feel thick and sticky. It smears easily, especially when wet. This dense soil traps moisture but can also suffocate the root system of your plant with too much water.
Sandy soil will feel gritty because it has large amounts of sand. Aside from this, it breaks easily and falls through the fingers.
Silt is sedimentary and dust-like. Its particle size falls in between fine clay and rough sand. Pure silt soils in gardens are quite rare.
As loam soil contains all three, it is neither dense nor gritty. Rather, loam soil is moldable yet loose enough to support healthy plant growth because it has the properties of all three types of soil.
Does soil pH matter?
It certainly does. Some plants are more suited to slightly acidic soils, while others prefer a more alkaline environment. Most plants, however, grow best in neutral pH soil levels.
You can determine your soil’s pH level by using a soil tester. Based on the numbers, you can adjust your soil according to your plants’ needs.
For instance, you can add more compost to make the soil slightly more acidic. If you’re going for more alkaline soil, you can mix in some dolomite lime to raise the pH level.
How do I make sure my soil is prepared for planting?
You can prepare your soil by making sure that it is loose and well-draining. To do this, add organic matter, such as compost, to help improve its nutrient content and texture.
As much as possible, avoid walking around the areas where you plan to grow your plants. This will help prevent the soil from being compacted so that air and water can still penetrate the ground. For containers, avoid packing down the soil for the same reason.
What is the difference between topsoil and garden soil?
Topsoil refers to the top layer of soil that has a high content of organic matter and nutrients. Topsoil is formed from the decaying of organic matter and the slow weathering of rocks over time.
Garden soil, on the other hand, is topsoil that has been mixed with amendments to make it more suitable for plant growth. Soil amendments can include soil, compost, and other materials to improve the texture and nutrition of the existing soil.
Can I just place compost on top of the soil?
You definitely can. This will help your soil get better sources of nutrients and trace elements that are required for healthy growth.
However, it is recommended to mix the compost with the soil to enhance its texture and nutrition content. In fact, doing this on a regular basis will improve your soil over time.
Can I use topsoil instead of potting soil for container plants?
Topsoil is ideal for filling spaces in landscaping. While it is a great material for large areas, potting soil is better suited for container plants.
Potting soil incorporates peat moss, bark, and perlite to make the texture easier to work with, as container plants tend to require more attention. Plus, potting soil is usually sterilized to prevent the presence of microorganisms that may cause diseases. It also has a looser texture and is more well-draining, both components of good potting soil.
Is garden soil better than potting soil for container plants?
Although garden soil has better nutrient content than topsoil, it is no match to potting soil when it comes to container plants. Potting soil is specially made for better substrate texture. Plus, potting soil is often sterilized, reducing the chances of pests and diseases growing in the soil of the potted plant.
How do I know the overall health of my soil?
The most reliable way to determine your soil’s overall health is to get a soil test. Soil tests will show you the results regarding the nutrient content of your soil. Once you have the information at hand, you’ll be able to add the necessary amendments and components to your soil to help improve it.
Get soil tests from accredited soil testing laboratories in your area. If not, you can always ask the local environmental agencies for assistance and support. Some universities also offer soil testing, which is more credible than most commercial soil test kits sold at garden centers. Commercial sets are fine in a pinch, but they are often limited in what they can tell you.
Can I use pure compost as my potting soil?
While compost is packed with nutrients, it is not recommended as the only potting material. Ideally, compost should be added to potting soil so that the potting soil retains some water.
The amount of water will help the root system of the plant absorb the nutrients from the compost. Unlike potting soil, pure compost can drain water too quickly, leaving the plant’s root system dry.
Should I throw away old potting soil?
You can actually reuse old potting soil as long as you have determined that the material and the plants it supports are healthy.
If the plant has pests or diseases, it is best to sterilize it if you still plan to reuse the soil. Once your sterilized potting soil is ready, add more potting soil or compost as needed.
How do I sterilize my potting soil?
If your potting soil is brand new, you shouldn’t worry too much. Most potting soils come sterilized. However, if your potting soil has an existing plant, then you’ll need to look into at least one of the following options:
- Remove the plant, and expose the soil to 140 F for 30 minutes.
- Remove the plant, and pour boiling water all over the soil.
- Remove the plant, and pour hydrogen peroxide into the soil.
Always make sure you work with sterilized tools and clothing to avoid contamination before and after your activities.
Is my used potting soil unhealthy soil?
Assuming that you have sterilized your used potting soil, it may be that it has lost some nutrients along the way. Unhealthy soil is classified as soil that lacks moisture and nutrient content.
When your used sterilized potting soil is classified as unhealthy, you can still revive it by adding soil amendments. New sterilized potting soil, compost, and even aged dry manure can help improve unhealthy soils. Generally, though, it’s easier to just buy new soil.
How do I make my garden soil healthier?
The easiest way to enrich your soil is to add more organic matter, such as compost, peat moss, aged dry manure, mulches, or even cover crops. These materials encourage beneficial microbes in the soil to generate and utilize nutrients to ensure that your plants grow, thrive, and produce foliage, flowers, and fruits abundantly.
Having healthy soil is the foundation for growing vigorous plants that resist pests and diseases quite easily. This is doubly important when cultivating indoor plants, as they may require more care than those grown outside. If you want to learn more about soil health in detail, check out our article here, and let us know what you think!