Planning a Garden - Soil Preparation
I have my tools, seeds and plants ready- what do I do next?
How much importance is soil condition for a garden?
Preparing your soil for the best garden possible
In order to grow delicious, nutritious vegetables and beautiful flowers, it is important to prepare your soil. While soil preparation isn’t terribly exciting, ensuring healthy soil will help your garden off to a great start.
Before you begin planting, take a look at the texture of your soil, its density, moisture, drainage and capacity to hold nutrients – essentially the soul of your soil. It is the foundation.
Soil is a microscopic world rich with a vast array of organisms that breathe life into your garden. There are different types of soil. Sandy soil is light, dry, warm, acidic and low in nutrients but it has good drainage and is easy to work with. Clay soil is heavy, wet, and cold but holds high amounts of water and nutrients. Silty soil, a texture between sand and clay, is light and holds moisture well. Peat soil is decayed vegetation high in organic matter and retains a large amount of moisture. Chalk soil is highly alkaline and won’t support the growth of plants that require acidic soils to grow. Loam soil is composed mostly of sand, silt and a smaller amount of clay – about 40%, 40%, 20%, respectively. Loam soil is fertile, easy to work with, rich in decomposed organic matter, and provides good drainage. It is a perfect balance and a gardener’s best friend.
Any type of soil can be improved by the addition of organic matter to provide vital nutrients your plants need. This includes composted yard waste, mulches, cow manure, fallen leaves and organic fertilizers. Adding organic matter will make your soil more loam-like and improve its structure. Chemical fertilizers can feed plants for a while but organic compounds build soil biodiversity and maintain nutrient levels throughout the growing season plus prevent diseases.
In sandy soils, organic matter improves water-holding capacity and the retention of nutrients. In clay soils, it loosens up the minerals that become sticky when the soil is wet and hard when the soil is dry. In all soils, it provides a rich supply of slow-release nutrients and benefits soil organisms reducing the need for fertilizer. Fall is the best time to incorporate organic matter into the soil to give it time to break down before planting in the spring. Use a garden fork to get the organic matter down to the root level where it works best.
Live organisms feed on these organic compounds breaking down and releasing nutrients plants need but cannot extract directly from the soil themselves. Compost improves soil condition by increasing soil organisms and moisture retention. Organic mulches applied on top suppress weed formation, retain soil moisture, create soil aeration and improve the soil as it breaks down over time. Be careful not to overuse too much as that can lead to fungal disease of plant roots in wet soils and humid climates. Apply 1-2 times a year is sufficient to build soil biology.
Finally, let’s talk about bugs. Consider building a robust insect ecology for the biological control of pests. Providing habitat for beneficial insects will help control invasive pests. Native plants – those that have developed over the years in a particular region - attract beneficial insects and provides them with the quality and quantity of pollen and nectar that the insects need.
Now that you have healthy soil, you can start planting into your garden. Have fun!
What are some good compost mixes to use as fertilizer?
How often should I be aerating the soil?
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Sources: Anne Balogh, Garden Soil 101; Ganna Walskra, Lotusland, Building Sustainable Gardens; Pexels, A