Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Soil Basics

Everyone knows plants need sun and water, but most people overlook the importance of a good soil base. New gardeners assume that they can simply bury seed in soil, water it, and give it plenty of light and it will grow. To a certain point, it is true that seed will grow in any soil. Plants are resilient and they often find a way to adjust to the environment in which they are planted.

It is not even uncommon for bulbs—whether they are flower or onions bulbs—to grow without water sun or soil. Many gardeners can testify to the strange miracle they find when sifting through a box of onion bulbs and stumbling across one that eagerly began to send a tender shoot out into the world without any encouragement.

At the same time, few things are more frustrating than tending to a garden that should be in full stride only to reap no fruits. Without a careful assessment of the situation, new gardeners often overwater their plants, causing further damage. The first culprit to check should always be the soil.

When a tomato bush will not produce fruit or a flower will not bud, it is almost always because the soil they live in lacks important nutrients for their growth. Well-balanced soil has a mixture of primary, secondary and tertiary nutrients (or macro and micronutrients). The most important three are nitrogen phosphorus and potassium.

Sandy soils tend to lack these nutrients and must be fertilized for optimum plant growth conditions. Clay soils tend to be rich in these nutrients, though plants may struggle with nutrition delivery if the soil is too compact. A gardener must determine whether the soil is sandy or compact.

Sandy soil should be mixed with enough firm garden soil to shore it up and give plant roots something to bite into. During this process the gardener can make sure to till a nutrient fortified fertilizer into the mix. Clay requires the opposite treatment.

Clays are more difficult to prop up for the best gardening results. Because they have high levels of primary nutrients and settle compactly, clays are often acidic in nature. Higher acidity is good for growing blueberries and nondeciduous plants, but most garden-variety vegetables need a pH neutral soil.

The benefit to laboring for a well-balanced soil is higher fruit production. There are thirteen important soil nutrients. Most naturally occur in soil as organic matter decomposes and redistributes into the ground, but many gardeners need a boost on one or more of these nutrients based on geographic location. When all three primary nutrients are available for plant growth, gardeners will be pleasantly surprised with the fruit heavy branches their garden plants produce. In a perfectly blended soil, less work by the gardeners hand will still be rewarded with more produce.

About the Author
Jody Sperling is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, who operates the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook and the widely popular Seeds of the Month Club.

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