How to Build Healthy Soil
Don’t underestimate your dirt! Soil may not look like much from a distance, but in reality, your soil is a living, breathing ecosystem and the foundation for all of your garden plants. Without healthy, thriving soil, your options for growing a lush, healthy garden are severely limited. There’s a lot you need to know about soil before you start planting, so let’s dig in!
While water and sunlight are a given, many people don’t realize the role their soil plays in the success of their plants. There are a few key characteristics of soil that significantly impact plant growth. They are:
• pH Balance: The acidity and alkalinity of soil are remarkably important; many plants strongly prefer one or the other and will not tolerate soil below or above a certain pH.
• Fertility: This refers to the amount of organic matter and trace minerals in the soil that the plant roots can break down into fuel.
• Moisture Retention: Water is crucial for plant growth, so it’s beneficial to many plants if the soil can hold onto water for a prolonged period to give the plant more time for uptake.
• Drainage: You might wonder how soil can both drain moisture and hold onto it at the same time! Drainage refers to the soil's porosity, in which excess water can drain away, leaving only the water absorbed into the soil. This is important because plants, like people, need both oxygen and water to survive; too much water and not enough oxygen can effectively drown the roots.
The neat thing about plants is that the world is filled with species that have evolved and adapted to tolerate every possible combination of these characteristics. In other words, there’s no such thing as the perfect soil—there’s only the perfect soil for the plants you want to grow!
Types of Soil
Every yard with greenspace has its own unique soil, which varies infinitely based on the area's conditions. However, soil types are generally grouped into these six categories—what kind of soil do you have?
• Sandy: These soils contain few nutrients, drain very quickly, and tend to be on the acidic side.
• Clay: These soils hold onto too much water, making them slow to drain.
• Silt: Silt retains water well but contains higher amounts of nutrients and still drains reasonably well.
• Peat: Peat soil is usually made, not found, but it’s a highly fertile and acidic substrate that holds water very well and allows excess to drain away.
• Chalky: Chalky soil is defined by alkalinity, but it can also have either sandy or clay soil qualities.
• Loam: This combination of sand, silt, and clay let gardeners reap all the benefits of each without the drawbacks.
How to Choose Store Bought Soil
When you visit our plant nursery and see bags of soil stacked on top of each other, you’ll notice they’re not described the same way we refer to garden soils. Here’s a rundown of the kinds of soils you’ll find and what they’re for. Roger’s Gardens only sells and recommends organic soils.
• Seed Starting Mix: Despite how it looks, seed starting mix is not actually real soil at all. This is a substrate designed to create a fertile, comfortable environment for sprouting seedlings. It’s lighter than soil to prevent weighing down delicate new plants, contains a lot of organic matter such as peat, and is often blended with perlite and/or vermiculite to improve drainage. Roger’s Gardens recommends Biodynamic Bu’s Beginnings Seed Starter Mix.
• Potting Soil: These mixes are actually similar to seed starting mix in that they’re seldom made from soil, but instead from organic matter like compost, coconut coir, or peat moss and perlite and/or vermiculite for drainage. This results in a mixture that drains quickly but retains water well, which is ideal for outdoor container gardens. Roger’s Gardens recommends Baby Bu’s Biodynamic Potting Soil.
• Topsoil: Sometimes sold as “black earth” or “black soil,” this is a soil mixture rich in organic matter that is usually sold in large quantities. The purpose of this soil is to increase the amount of soil in an area, not necessarily to improve it.
• Planting Mix: Planting mix is sometimes called “soil amendment,” but soil amendments are also a fairly broad category of products. In general, planting mix is a blend that is meant to improve your existing soil’s fertility, moisture retention, and drainage wherever you plan to plant. This is the best choice for in-ground planting if the quantity of soil is good, but soil quality needs improvement. Roger’s Gardens recommends Bu’s Blend Biodynamic Compost.
A soil amendment refers to a product that is used to improve or correct soil in some way. The most common ones are: Compost: Compost is probably the most important amendment you can give your soil, and just about every soil type benefit from an annual application! Compost is pure organic matter, rich in nutrients and trace minerals that most plants can’t live without. Manure: It serves the same purpose as compost but comes from a...different source.
• Lime: Unlike the green citrus fruit, garden lime is alkaline and used to reduce garden soil acidity.
• Aluminum Sulfate or Sulfur: This amendment is the counterpart to garden lime and is used to boost acidity in the soil.
• Peat Moss: As we mentioned, peat is high in nutrients, has great drainage and moisture retention, and boosts acidity. It’s an excellent amendment for acidic beds.
• Gypsum, Perlite, and Vermiculite: You might add one of these products to your soil to improve its drainage.
Fertilizers are basically plant foods, but they’re lumped into two categories: organic fertilizers and synthetic fertilizers. Roger’s Gardens only sells and recommends organic fertilizers.
are derived from natural sources and focus on using natural methods to replenish soil fertility. Organic fertilizers tend to be higher in certain nutrients that benefit specific plants, but the particular breakdown of nutrients is not as precise as with synthetics. Organics also contain important trace nutrients and minerals that support a healthier soil environment. Roger’s gardens recommends Down to Earth Organic fertilizers.
Share Your “Hacks” for Healthy Soil on Social Media!
Got some more healthy soil secrets to share with our community? Make sure to share how you get your garden beds in tip-top shape with us by tagging @rogersgardens on Instagram or using #rogersgardens in your photos.