Making Your Soil Fertile

It really doesn’t matter what type of soil you have in your yard, garden or landscape. Any soil can be amended to make it fertile and robust.

As you can see from the chart above, each type of soil has its own properties. Clay soil has good nutrient- holding and water-holding capacities, but water and air cannot infiltrate into the clay. Clay is also hard to work. Dig a hole into clay soil and fill it with water. You can see what I mean. It takes forever for it to drain. Since clay is so dense, plant roots find it difficult to penetrate very far, leading to a weakened root structure and unhealthy plants. Soil amendments increase the porosity and allow water and air to flow through the soil.

Silt soils have medium capacities in all the categories, but to get the best results it will need to be changed somewhat.

Sand doesn’t hold nutrients or water very well. Pour water into sand and see how fast it drains through. Adding good amendments to sandy soil increases its water- and nutrient-holding abilities.

Now, loam is a different matter. Loam is an almost ideal plant-growing medium. It’s a mixture of equal parts of clay, silt, and sand. But, to make REALLY good soil, a few more ingredients are needed.

“ A soil amendment is any material added to a soil to improve its physical properties. In other words, you want to increase water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, aeration, and structure. The overriding reason for this is to provide a better environment for roots,” according to a Colorado State University paper by J.G. Davis and D. Whiting.

There are easy ways to develop good soils.

I have found that organic materials are best, although some swear by inorganic methods. Organic amendments have come from something that was once alive…composted leaves and grass clippings (although it’s much better to mulch the clippings as you are mowing), peat moss, manure of many kinds, organic humates,  straw (not hay because hay has tons of seeds),  rotted wood (not fence slats or loading pallets) but wood from trees), fresh vegetable scraps, worm castings, and more. Although wood ash is organic, it is also high in sales and has a high pH.

You should also know this about organic materials. It helps the soil retain water, while also providing infiltration of both air and water. Soil with five percent of organic matter can hold up to three quarts of water per cubic foot. A 4,000 square foot lawn with that amount of organic matter (thus 4,000 cubic feet) can hold up to 3,000 gallons of water, and an acre can hold about 33,000 gallons. If water is a problem (many residents along the coast have their own water wells), it pays to remember that a good soaking rain can save a ton of water-and money – just by adding organic material. Some people make their own compost -others buy organic material (or steal it from their neighbor’s green recycling bin.)

Inorganic materials include vermiculite, perlite, pea gravel, sand, several other mined materials, and man-made crosslinked polymers. These materials are readily available.

I definitely prefer organic methods. I make my own compost- although I can never make enough to meet my needs. I do buy a lot, but I purchase it from local organic compost manufacturers. You can find a local organic composter near your area here.

One other good thing about organic material is that it inoculates the soil with beneficial organisms, which in turn help make nutrients more available to plants, as well as increasing the health of the soil.