Understanding and Amending Our Soil

To garden successfully, a basic understanding of our soil is paramount. Soil is the foundation of the garden. Soil tilth or health determines the health of the plants. If you have healthy soil, you’ll have healthy plants, barring an extreme weather event. Of the seven Basic Gardening Principles, properly implementing this principle will bring you the most success in the garden. The chief role of the gardener is in being a soil builder. If you've not had success as a gardener, maybe lack of understanding of our Panhandle soils and how to improve your soil for the plants you choose are the problems.

Physical Soil Composition

For soil to be at optimum levels for healthy plant performance, the physical, biological and chemical compositions need to be in balance. Plants have different requirements. Matching the plant to the soil composition provides a better, more successful growing environment. Some plants are very forgiving of their soil, other are finicky guests requiring the finest five star hotel. You cannot change the basic composition of your soil with these soil amendment recommendations, but you can improve its physical characteristics to increase your plant selection and water conservation.

Biological Composition

If it hadn't been for the chemical revolution in the first half of the twentieth century, gardeners would have concentrated their efforts on improving the biological component of the soil instead. Indeed, the emphasis on chemicals, often synthetic chemicals, was the accepted practice to greatly increase harvests rather than improving organic content and stimulating specific microbial life to match the crop. Today, however, more and more attention is paid to this biological side. For healthy plants, the soil must be alive with soil life and it must contain food for the soil organisms. Gardening practised in this manner promotes increasing long term health and benefits instead of short term gain where soil vitality decreases each year.

Chemical Composition

For optimum health of plants, it is just as important for the chemical component of the soil to be in balance as it is for the physical and biological sides. Extra caution is advised when amending the soil to improve the chemical composition; it is much easier to throw it further out of balance. Adding organic matter in the form of composted plant and animal products or rock dust powders are general, slower acting and safer.

Benefits of Soil Amending

Amending the soil with organic and inorganic material provides a healthier, more nutrient rich environment for plants, and an easier environment for plant roots to spread out and gather in water and nutrients. Organic and inorganic matter increase presence of soil organisms the plants need to thrive. When your soil has an active soil food web, our work as gardeners is simplified. But there are two other benefits besides healthier plants -- lower maintenance and a cleaner environment.

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