Ask any master gardener, what is the most important factor to consider when starting a garden, and they will tell you. Garden soil composition is as important to healthy garden plants, as proper moisture or nutrients. As for Newbie gardeners, understand there are two basic layers of garden soil to take into consideration that are extremely important. First, there is the top soil layer. Secondly, there is the equally important subsoil layer. The thing gardeners as you and me need to understand, good top, and subsoil each have their role in ensuring the health and productivity of garden plants.
Tips & Tricks every Newbie and Master Gardener should know about garden soil
Before April showers will bring May flowers, garden plants require proper garden soil composition…
What is good Top Soil?
I dare say you like me, when a newbie gardener struggles to figure out our inspiration, and limited gardening knowledge. Found ourselves much too busy to bother with taking time to test the ph.-level, or soil composition of the topsoil in our garden. We were simply more concerned with getting our first plantings in what we believed to be fertile ground. That is of course until all our carefully selected plantings. By the way, I believe it only fair to say we did spend a lot of time selecting what we thought best, and money acquiring before planting. With no regard as to what soil, the plants needed to thrive. When all of a sudden, without any warning we recognized all our plants simply withered and died.
Things we did not know then, or think important. Before our vegetable, annual and flowering perennial plants require to remain healthy, and produce a bountiful harvest. We should have at a mimimum of six-inches of good organic rich granular topsoil in our gardens, raised beds and container garden. Made-up of good organic materials, the proper amounts of minerals, nutrients, earthworms and other beneficial microorganisms.
FYI, earthworms and microorganisms converts’ organic matter into nutrient rich plant food our plants can readily absorb.
What is good Subsoil?
Good subsoil starts with more of a granular composition. This makes it easier for our plants to develop a strong root system. I believe we all understand how important a good root structure is for providing life sustaining water and nutrients critical for plant development.
Lessoning compaction problems, granular subsoil’s make the retention of beneficial moisture, while allowing excess water to easily drain away, so as not to drown our garden plants.
Non-compacted garden soil also makes it much easier for the oxygen rich air to reach a plants root structure. Oxygen is vital for healthy plant growth, there by production of nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Furthermore, these types of non-compacted subsoil layers at least one foot deep. Not only make it easy for excess water to drain from the soil in wet weather. Granular soil allows excess carbon dioxide that develops during the decomposition of organic materials in the soil, escape back into the atmosphere. This is extremely important to maintaining healthy garden plants. As well as all the other beneficial earthworms, nematodes, and other good organisms that resides in well-drained oxygen rich subsoil.
Good organic garden material
Good organic materials commonly used to amend our garden soil includes such things as; horse, cow & chicken manure, tree leaves and small twigs, wood chips, sawdust, grass clippings, weeds, Pete moss, vegetable and fruit peals, fish emulsion and bone meal are all good organics.
These organic materials contain many of the nutrients plants need to grow. However, before plants will benefit from these organics. Earthworms and other microorganisms living in the soil must first consume them and break them down into worm castings.
Our gardening friends, the earthworm in their castings convert the nutrients locked in the organic materials, into the nutrient rich plant food our vegetable and flowering plants can easily absorb. Combined with the proper amounts of moisture, and sun light, our gardens reward us with a bountiful harvest of fruits, vegetables. Let us not forget, our favorite flowering annuals and perennial plants we enjoy.
The important thing to keep in mind, good organic materials is in fact, Mother Nature’s way of recycling plant and animal products and remains. Organics mixed into heavy clay soils, lesson compaction improving soil aeration there by maintaining healthy oxygen levels in garden soils.
Pete moss mixed into sandy soils will help increase moisture retention, and lessen the need for frequent fertilization to replace nutrients carried away with rainwater or irrigation runoff.
Equally important, gardeners should keep in mind organic materials are perishable. Consumed by the microorganisms and earthworms that live in the soil, or combine with oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide make it necessary as newbie or master gardeners, we really need to replenish the organics in the soil each planting season. On the other hand, the microorganisms and earthworms will either die, or relocate to greener pastures.
What not to compost
Whatever you do, absolutely do not use dog, cat or human feces in your compost. It is possible; feces from these critters will contain harmful parasites. Another thing newbie and master gardeners should keep in mind. Meats, animal fats, chicken, steak and pork bones or dead animals, these materials will attract wild animals or scavengers such as raccoons, rats, possums, stray dogs and feral cats. These kinds of organic material smell bad and do take a lot of time to decompose in a compost bin, heap or tumbler.
What is Humus?
Humus is what remains of organic material after it has completely decomposed, generally a deep dark almost black color that has a granular texture. When compared to the original consistency of the organic material.
Humus is compost that has passed through a screen sifting out larger bits, resulting in finer particles of compost. Rich in nutrients beneficial to not only our garden plants, humus also serves to keep the microorganisms and earthworms in our vegetable garden happy and healthy. Subsequently breaking the composted organics, otherwise known as humus, down into the nutrient rich plant food vegetable and flowering plants can easily absorb.
Composting not your thing, no worries look for humus in your local gardening center or landscape nursery.
What is Pete Moss?
Pete moss consists of decomposed plant matter, an important soil amendment when growing plants in containers and sandy soils. For that reason, Pete moss is a good soil conditioner or amendment if you like. However, Pete moss contains no nutritional benefit to our flowering, fruit bearing or vegetable plants for that matter. What it does is to absorb up to sixteen times its own weight in water helping with water retention when mixed into the soil.
Pete moss dries out quickly therefore should be mixed into the soil where it will help to retain moisture, and not simply spread over the top of the soil in the container where it will absorb like a sponge, moisture from the soil and allow it to evaporate back into the air.
Something we all need to remember, when using Canadian sphagnum Pete moss, or domestic sedge Pete moss, both are acidic making it necessary for newbie and master gardeners test the garden soil PH levels a little more often to ensure good growing conditions keep their plants happy, healthy and productive.
Tips & Tricks every Newbie and Master Gardener should know about garden soil reveal the importance of understanding how well drained soil, proper moisture retention, organic materials, earthworms, and the best soil amendments. All work together to make the best garden soil possible. That provides good nutrient and oxygen rich garden soil our plants will love.
Happy gardening, Mike