Soil Amendments
How to improve soil with soil amendments

Most soil will benefit from additives, which can improve drainage, retain moisture, provide aeration, and supply organic matter.

Organic matter, the decaying of once living plants and animals, is fundamental to the fertility of your soil.

Organic amendments improve aeration and drainage -they act as wedges between particles and particle aggregates. In sandy soil, they help hold the water and nutrients.

When organic matter decomposes, nutrients are released, adding to the fertility of the soil. The nitrogen that is released is converted into ammonia by soil micro-organisms, then into nitrites, and then into nitrates, which is absorbed by plant roots.

One popular additive is mulch, a loose organic material that is generally anything from bark or sawdust to straw or leaves. Mulch serves a variety of purposes -it reduces evaporation, thwarts weed growth, insulates the soil, and can be aesthetically pleasing.

Another option is compost -decomposed organic material. This works best if you have a steady supply of plant waste like grass clippings and leaves, as well as vegetable scraps from your kitchen use. You allow these items to decompose together, usually for 6 weeks to 6 months. You may want to use a cylinder or specially made container to hold your compost.

Other additive options include composted manure, humus, peat moss, and top soil.

Once you have your additive ready, it`s important to mix it in properly with the ground soil by digging the depth of at least one spade and incorporating soil amendments, never more than 2 inches of organic material to the soil at a time. Mix deeply and uniformly. Add a volume equal to 25 to 50 percent of the total soil volume in the cultivated area.

You can also use a rotary tiller, which turns about 6 inches worth of soil. It`s important not to overwork your soil. About once a year is sufficient. And if you`re working a new garden, try to plan ahead so you have to time to let it set for 6 months before you begin planting.

Organic amendments are always being decomposed, so it`s beneficial to add to your garden on a periodic basis.

In addition, nurseries offer packaged soils, ideal for starting your own seeds, container gardening, and beds. You`ll find names including potting mix, professional grower`s mix, planting mix, potting soil, and plant specific mixes. They generally contain organic matter, compost, sand, and materials that retain moisture.

So once you become familiar with your soil and prepare it properly, you`ll have the most important job out of the way and will be one step closer to a healthy, thriving garden.