Inexpensive ways to improve your garden's soil

Good gardens start with good soil. That's great news, because learning about your soil and improving it can be easy and inexpensive, as long as you know what to look for.

Inexpensive ways to improve your garden's soil

Get to know your dirt

To determine the type you have, dig a spadeful and grasp a clump of soil in your hand and take a look.

  • A clay-heavy soil makes a sticky clod when damp. Clay soil is rich in nutrients, but holds so much water that it drains poorly.
  • Sandy soil crumbles in your hand even when wet. Sandy soils act like a sieve, letting water rush through and take all the nutrients with it.
  • A loam soil forms a loose clump when damp but crumbles easily.
  • If you find more than a few stones or pebbles in each handful of soil, your yields will probably be sparse. Discard the rocks or replace the soil.

Turn your dirt into soil

  • Soil can be improved by working in plenty of compost several times a year.
  • Break up clay soil by adding sand.
  • To amend sandy soil, add sphagnum peat moss.
  • If even weeds have a hard time growing in your soil, or if it's full of debris, replace it. Start by digging out to a depth of at least 20 centimetres (eight inches). Then, replace your old soil with fresh topsoil mixed with peat moss or compost.

Add just the right amount of water

  • The phrase "well-drained soil" on a seed packet or plant description means that the plant will not do well if it soaks too long in water.
  • The roots of most plants will rot if they sit in water, so the soil must be able to efficiently drain water away from the roots.
  • If water stays in a puddle for several hours after a rainfall, the soil is not well-drained.
  • Depending on your soil type, you should add sand or an organic material like compost to help keep the water moving.

Few of us have a yard full of the black, crumbly loam that is ideal for most plants, but soil can be improved over time. Learn what kind of soil you have and take the steps you need to improve it. In a few seasons, you could see some welcome improvements in your garden.

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