Garden Soil 101…It’s time to get dirty!

Think about it, what makes humans healthy and strong?  Water, nutrients, vitamins and good genes!  Well, think of your garden soil in the same way.  The good “genes” in the soil are the components that are typically in soils throughout the U.S. Many regions have varied soil conditions, from very sandy soil to heavy red clay.  Each region has it’s own unique “gene”.   Here in Maryland, we have everything from sandy soils on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to very clay prone areas throughout Maryland.

The importance of soil to plant growth can be summed up in the aphorism “it’s better to plant a $2 tree in a $25 hole, than a $25 tree in a $2 hole.” Soils contain the nutrients, water, and living organisms that help create healthy and sustainable gardens and landscapes. The first step to improving your soil is to invest a small amount of time and money to have your soil tested.

A basic soil test will tell you some important things about your soil that you cannot determine just by looking at it, smelling it, and feeling! And, it can save you money- less fertilizer used based on soil test results, and increased fertilizer efficiency by getting soil pH in the correct range.  Visit the University of Maryland information on Soil testing

Soil pH is one of the most important measurements. It plays a big role in the availability of nutrients to plant roots, nutrient run-off and leaching and microbial efficiency. Don’t pay for extra tests, such as soluble salts, or specific micronutrients unless you have a very good reason.   Soil tests should be done every 3 years for lawns and vegetable gardens. Problem sites can be tested more frequently.

There are over 750 soil types (textures) in Maryland! Regardless of soil type here are some qualities of a good soil:

  • The top soil is dark brown indicating lots of soil  organic matter
  • It breaks apart easily into “crumbs” when you bounce a small handful of soil in your hand.
  • There are lots of earthworms in spring and fall
  • Water does not stand after a hard, steady rain
  • Plants grow well with roots penetrating eight inches or more into the sub-soil

 

 

So, what is soil made of? Soil is a combination of both living and nonliving materials. One part of soil is broken down rock. Another is organic matter made up of decaying plants and animals. Water and air are also a part of soil. These materials help support plant life by providing them with nutrients, water, and air.  Most Maryland soils are made up of mineral particles- sand, silt, and clay (about 45%); organic matter (about 1-5%); and air and water- pore spaces (about 50%). Soils are classified largely by their texture and that is determined by the relative amounts of sand, silt, and clay.

Soil is filled with many living creatures, like earthworms, which are responsible for keeping the soil healthy by creating tunnels in the soil that help with aeration and drainage. They also eat decaying plant materials, which pass through and fertilize the soil.

If you are starting a vegetable garden, or even if you have an established vegetable garden, you may wonder what is the best soil for growing vegetables. Things like the right amendments and the right soil ph for vegetables can help your vegetable garden grow better. Keep reading to learn more about soil preparation for the vegetable garden.

Soil Preparation For A Vegetable Garden

Some soil requirements for vegetable plants are the same, while others differ depending on the type of vegetable, however, we’ll just focus focus on the general soil requirements for vegetable gardens.

In general, vegetable garden soil should be well draining and loose. It should not be too heavy with clay or too sandy.  Keep reading below for some help!

 

General Soil Requirements For Vegetables

Organic material – All vegetables need a healthy amount of organic material in the soil they grow in. Organic material serves many purposes. Most importantly, it provides many of the nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive. Secondly, organic material “softens” soil and makes it so that the roots can more easily spread through the soil. Organic material also acts like small sponges in the soil and allows the soil in your vegetable to retain water.

Organic material can come from either a compost, such as LeafGro®  or well rotted manure, or even a combination of both.

Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium – When it comes to soil preparation for vegetable garden, these three nutrients are the basic nutrients that all plants need. They are also known together as N-P-K and are the numbers you see on a bag of fertilizer (e.g. 10-10-10). While organic material does provide these nutrients, you may have to adjust them individually depending on your individual soil. This can be done with chemical fertilizers or organically.

To add nitrogen, either use a chemical fertilizer with a higher first number (e.g. 10-2-2) or an organic amendment like manure or nitrogen fixing plants.

To add phosphorus, use either a chemical fertilizer with a high second number (e.g. 2-10-2) or an organic amendment like bone meal or rock phosphate.

To add potassium, use a chemical fertilizer that has a high last number (e.g. 2-2-10) or an organic amendment like potash, wood ash or greensand.

Trace nutrients – Vegetables also need a wide variety of trace minerals and nutrients to grow well. These include:

Soil pH For Vegetables

While exact pH requirements for vegetables vary somewhat, in general, the soil in a vegetable garden should fall somewhere be 6 and 7. If your vegetable garden soil tests significantly above that, you will need to lower the pH of the soil. If the soil in your vegetable garden tests significantly lower than 6, you will need to raise the pH of your vegetable garden soil.
Got Clay?

 Clay gets a bad rap, but it is an important constituent of soil because it holds nutrients and water. But too much clay can cause problems. Soils high in clay (more than 50%) feel sticky, don’t drain well, and become rock hard when dry. You can’t change the texture of your soil (the percentage of clay) but you can improve soil structure (the arrangement of individual soil particles). Adding lots of organic matter such as compost, such as LeafGro®, delivered in bulk from Patuxent Materials, Inc, to clayey soil will allow it to drain more easily and hold the right amounts of water and air for better plant growth and increased biological activity.

 

Got Sand?

The best sandy soil amendments are ones that increase the ability of the sandy soil to retain water and increase the nutrients in the soil as well. Amending sandy soil with well rotted manure or compost, such as LeafGro® will help to improve the soil the fastest.

When amending sandy soil, you need to watch the salt levels of the soil. While compost and manure are the best way to amend sandy soil, they contain high levels of salt that can stay in the soil and damage growing plants if the salt level builds up too high. If your sandy soil is already high in salt, such as in a sea side garden, be sure to use plant only based compost or Sphagnum peat as these amendments have the lowest salt levels.

So, to sum it up, starting your vegetable garden may take some extra time and money to get the soil prepared the way it should, but it should reap you BIG benefits with a season of beautiful vegetables for your reward!

As you can see from all the different scenerios, that adding LeafGro® to your soil will reap you big benefit!    And purchasing in bulk is more economical than buying by the bag, saving you money!   LeafGro® is Black Gold to most gardeners!

To order your LeafGro® from Patuxent Materials in bulk or to pick-up in our Crofton Retail yard yourself,  please visit Patuxent Companies website for more information or call 410-793-0181 today to schedule your delivery!

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