How to Get More from Your Soil
If you’ve ever tried to garden in sticky, wet clay or keep your plants happy and growing in loose, fast-draining sand, you already know that all garden soil is not created equal.
Some soils cling so tightly to nutrients that plants can’t access them, while other soils allow nutrients to wash right out before plants can grab onto them.
The solution? Make your plants’ growing space more hospitable by adding soil amendments like worm castings, biochar, composted manure, perlite, and materials. Each of these amendments has a different effect on the soil, and applying the right combination will improve soil structure and texture, help sandy soil hold more water, and free up nutrients in heavier soils.
Know Your Soil
In order to know what to add to your soil, you need to have an idea of what you’re starting with. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are my plants turning yellow? If yes, you’ll want to increase nutrient availability in the soil.
- Do I have to water my plants almost every day? If yes, the solution is to increase water retention in the soil.
- Does my garden soil stay wet for a long time after it rains? If yes, you may need to add aeration to the soil and improve drainage.
- Is my soil hard to dig in or so loose that it will barely hold a plant in place? If the answer is yes to either of these, enhancing the soil structure is the answer.
Now that you’ve asked the right questions and know what needs to be adjusted in your soil, here’s how to do it:
How to Increase Nutrient Availability in the Soil
Plants use nutrients from the soil, along with sugars they make during photosynthesis, to grow. The catch is, the nutrients have to be present in the soil in a form that the plants can easily take up. If they aren’t, plants will begin to starve and turn yellow. Heavy clay soils can sometimes hold on tightly to nutrient particles instead of letting them go to the plants, while very sandy soils have trouble keeping nutrients from washing away again, leaving plants hungry. Here are three ways to increase the nutrient availability in the soil. Regardless of your soil type, you can try all of these remedies at once or just pick one your choice.
- Add organic matter in the form of Mother Earth® Composted Chicken Manure 3-2-2 and Mother Earth® Worm Castings. This works well for both heavy clay soils and sandy soils because organic matter contains and holds onto nutrients in a way that makes them very accessible to plants. Worm castings are, essentially, pure compost. Just get a bag, spread it over the soil, and rake it in or mix it in. Chicken manure, which is a composted farm byproduct, can be applied the same way. As a bonus, both of these soil amendments also improve soil structure, which will further increase the nutrient-holding capacity of the soil.
- Add Mother Earth® Premium BioChar. Carbon-rich biochar, which comes from the big carbon deposits left behind after an area has been burned, has been used in agriculture for many centuries. These deposits act like a sponge to hold onto nutrients in a way that makes it easy for plants to access them. When you add biochar to the soil, you’re creating that same effect without having to set anything on fire. Biochar also provides a home for microbes that break down leaves, twigs, and other organic matter into nutrients the plants can use, improving soil fertility.
- Add Mother Earth® Sugar Load® Heavy Brix Molasses®. This is an excellent way to feed the beneficial microbes within the soil, which are in charge of breaking down nutrients from organic matter into sizes and forms that plants can use. When you feed the soil microbes with brix molasses, you will end up with more available nutrients in the soil, thereby feeding the plants in a sustainable way.
How to Increase Water Retention in the Soil
If you find yourself watering plants almost every day or your soil is very sandy, chances are good that the soil is draining too fast. One way to improve the water-holding capacity of the soil is to add Mother Earth® Composted Chicken Manure 3-2-2, Mother Earth® Worm Castings, and/or Mother Earth® Coco (a renewable resource made from coconut husks). All three are considered “organic matter,” which helps hold moisture and, as a bonus, helps hold nutrients in the soil.
After adding one or more of these amendments, you should have to water less, and that means fewer nutrients will be washed out of the soil another plus.
How to Improve Aeration and Drainage in the Soil
If your soil stays wet for a long time after a rain, there’s a good chance it needs better aeration and drainage. Improving aeration will add oxygen to the root zone (soils without enough oxygen in them can stunt plant growth), while increasing drainage will allow for better water flow and help keep your plants from getting wet feet. Mixing Mother Earth® Perlite® with garden soil or potting mix automatically introduces more air pockets into the soil, allowing for more movement of both oxygen and water.
Another option is to add organic matter such as Mother Earth® Composted Chicken Manure 3-2-2, Mother Earth® Worm Castings, and/or Mother Earth® Coco to the soil. Doing so will improve the soil structure, which in turn increases both aeration and drainage.
How to Enhance Soil Structure
If your soil is hard as a rock or so loose and grainy that plants won’t stay put, you’ll want to improve the soil structure. The ideal soil structure is crumbly (not sticky or grainy) and somewhat loose if you hold a handful of good soil it will feel like a crumbled brownie.
Two keys to good soil structure are a healthy population of microbes and a well-balanced mixture of soil particles. To improve soil structure, add an organic soil amendment like Mother Earth® Composted Chicken Manure 3-2-2 or Mother Earth® Worm Castings, or add Mother Earth® Perlite® or Mother Earth® Premium BioChar. You can also apply a combination of any (or all) of those amendments. Each will, in some way, contribute to improving soil structure.
When you improve one aspect of the soil, you usually end up improving other characteristics as well, and that’s a great thing. After all, every little improvement can help lead to stronger, more productive plants.