The key to any beautiful yard or garden is healthy soil. Essential for providing nutrients and support, healthy soil can make or break your landscaping or gardening efforts. For some homeowners, the soil around the house isn’t ideal for growing the plants they want, which can make it almost impossible to create the yard of their dreams. Indoor or patio container gardens can struggle with the same issue.
Luckily, there are several ways you can improve the health of your soil, whether in your yard or in a container garden. We’ve created this guide to provide information about what makes healthy soil and ways you can improve it.
What Makes Healthy Soil
Gardeners have many opinions on what makes soil healthy. Often, soil health depends on the region, its soil type, and the plant life it supports. Some attributes of soil that are important to be aware of include:
- Texture: Soil comes in many types, typically categorized as sand, silt, or clay. Many regions have soil that is a mix of these three types. Sand is the loosest, while clay is the most tightly packed.
- Organic Matter: Organic matter can affect your soil in a number of ways, ranging from soil adhesion to absorption to food for the organisms that live below ground.
- Air Retention: Ideally, soil should have about 25% air retention. This gets oxygen to the roots without allowing so much air that the plant rots.
- Water Retention: Soil should also have about 25% water retention to allow for the formation of both large and small soil particles. This helps support plant movement and the presence of soil life.
- Soil Life: Everything from mites to earthworms make their home in the soil, and their presence provides plants with much-needed nutrients. In addition, their movement in the ground keeps soil from getting too packed.
- pH Balance: pH level is one of the trickiest components to balance but is very important to your soil’s health. Some plants need more basic soil while others thrive on acidity. Being aware of and manipulating your soil’s pH balance can make a huge impact on the success of any garden or landscaping.
These factors all contribute to healthy soil. Knowing how to improve them can help plant life thrive. To tell what type of soil you have and whether you need to make any changes, fill one-third of a jar with water. Add soil, and shake the jar until everything is mixed. Leave it overnight; it should stratify into different levels as it settles, with the organic matter on top. Mark the different levels so you know your ratio of soil types. Make sure there’s organic matter on top. If not, you need to add some into your soil.
Improving Potting Mix
Potting mix is a difficult substrate to get right. Container gardens are less flexible than yard gardens because they’re self-contained. One of the best ways to improve a potting mix is to add another substrate to enhance both the texture and the nutrients. Coir is a great organic soil additive to help your potted plants thrive. Thanks to its porous nature, coir keeps oxygen in the soil while still providing the needed nutrients. Because it’s so absorbent, it is also easy to re-wet. This helps your plants stay healthy if you’re dealing with dry conditions.
To use coir as a potting mix, start with your favorite potting soil. Place a coir brick in a large container with plenty of water. It’s important to use a container that’s big enough: Coir expands significantly when soaking. After you’ve soaked the substrate fully, mix it in with your soil. We recommend a 40% coir to 60% soil mixture. It’s important to note that because coir is so absorbent, you have to be very careful about salt buildup.
Another popular alternative is homemade compost. Start with a compost bin in your kitchen or outside and only add items that will compost properly. A good rule of thumb is to think of things that rot easily. Common composting items include eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, grass and plant clippings, coffee grounds, and shredded newspaper.
Once these items begin to rot and mix together, simply combine them with a little soil and use the resulting compost as a nutrient-rich additive for your container garden. Add a few inches to the garden once a year, as the nutrients will seep into the soil over time.
You can improve the soil in your yard, as well. Start by determining your main soil makeup, based on the trick mentioned previously. Depending on what you find, you can figure out what additives to use to improve the overall health. It’s important to consider what sort of plants you want before you dive into soil amendment. For example, coir has a more balanced pH balance, making it good for plants such as ferns and asparagus. Peat moss is more acidic, which is perfect for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, blueberries, and camellias.
Soil amendment also includes changing up the texture. Hard-packed clay is nearly impossible to grow many plants in, as they have a hard time pushing roots through the tight particles. Mixing in coir is a good choice in these situations, as the coconut fiber-based additive improves porosity and encourages healthy water flow.
For sandy, loose soil, adding organic matter is key to getting a good consistency and texture. Whether you choose peat moss, coir, compost, or a store-bought blend, till it into the soil carefully and add more every year to ensure there are enough nutrients to support plant life.
Having healthy soil can make all the difference in your garden, whether it’s in your yard or in a container. While it might take a little extra work, increasing the health of your soil will help benefit your gardening and landscaping projects in the long run.