If you think preparing a garden soil for planting was just about finding the right spot and digging a hole to plant your seedlings was all that it entails. Think again, it is more complicated than that. There are many factors you need to put into consideration if you are to grow a healthy garden.
You will need to test the soil for sand and clay content, you will need to pick a spot that has the right amount of sunlight, and you will also need to test for the PH level and the nutrients within. Among others, you might also need to add organic matter and smoothen out the bed before you even think of planting.
In this short guide, we have gone the extra mile to highlight the most important aspects of garden soil preparation needed to grow a healthy garden. Read on.
Know your Soil (Soil Texture)
Soils are generally classified according to the predominant particle present; sandy, clay or silt. You don’t need to have a degree in soil science to determine the texture or type of soil in your garden. Carrying out a basic soil sample test can quickly give you an idea of what soil your garden has.
If your soil feels gritty after rubbing it on your palm with water, then it is sandy soil. If it feels smooth then the soil is probably silty. Clay soils have a characteristic of been slippery when wet and harsh when dry.
Soil Fixes – Modify your Soil to suit the seedlings
For those with garden soils that aren’t quite suitable for planting, carry out these soil fixes to improve your chances of maintaining healthy soil.
- If you have clay soil, add peat moss and coarse sand
- If you have silt soils add coarse sand and compost mixture with manure.
- Add humus or heavy rich clay soil to sandy soil to improve it.
Components that make up a Healthy Soil
Ideally, most soils are made up of an admixture of weathered rocks, water, air, and organic matter. But the life therein is brought about by organisms. Those small life forms we too often disregard; insects, worms, and microorganisms. They help maintain a healthy soil when other elements are in the right balance.
Just as the name suggests, organic matter it is the decomposed remains of plant life and microorganism. Organic matter makes up a small fraction of the soil but they are an absolute necessity for healthy soil. Organic matter serves to:
- Bind soil particles together into granules that allow the free flow of water and air
- Help retain moisture and absorb nutrients.
- Helps sustain small life forms (microorganism) in the soil.
Minerals in the right proportions are essential to maintaining a healthy garden. The major mineral requirements for plants are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (k). Minerals find their way into the soil via the chemical and biological degradation of rocks. If they aren’t in the right proportion you can carry out soil amendment using fertilizers.
Healthy soil should have between 20-30% air. Borrowing life forms and microorganism need air to survive. Air is required to supply the much needed atmospheric Nitrogen that the plants need to survive. A well- aerated soil should have plenty of pore spaces in-between particles.
Water is the basic necessity of life, without which all life forms will cease to exist. Healthy soils should have about 25% water held between the pore spaces at all times. This is where large pore spaces are essential because they aid in the easy transportation of water down to the roots and subsoil. Use a good quality garden hose to help you in your watering needs. There are several options such as expandable garden hoses, metal garden hoses as well as rubber hoses.
Soil Test for Garden Prep
The right garden prep is a precursor for healthy plants. It is imperative that you test your soil samples in a reputable establishment (soil-testing lab) for nutrient and PH analysis. You run the risk of a bad harvest if you skip this step.
Use a soil sample collection kit to take samples at strategic locations. You might need to call the local garden center for directions on how to go about this.
Sample results from your local soil center will reveal soil PH level (acidity or alkalinity) among other test results like soil texture and nutrients. Plant nutrient deficiency or toxicity can occur at a very high low PH.
The ideal PH level for optimum plant growth and healthy garden is 7 (neutral). A PH of 7 supports microbial activity and is the best condition that allows plant root to absorb minerals and nutrients.
Amending Soil PH level
Amending or adjusting the PH Level of your soil can be a tricky experience. You should not aim to change the PH of your soil overnight. Instead gradually change it over the course of two planting seasons or more.
Adjusting the PH of acidic soils: Acidic soils have a soil PH that falls below 6.5, which in most cases is too acidic for some plants. The most popular way to increase soil PH or reduce acidity is by adding powdered limestone (calcium carbonate or dolomite). Applying limestone will take several months to alter soil PH. So ensure you do this earlier before the planting season begins.
Increasing the PH of your garden soil
Loam soil: Add 6-pound of limestone per 100 square feet of soil
Sandy soil: Add 4-pound limestone per 100 square feet
Clay Soil: Add up to 10-pounds limestone per 100 square feet of soil area.
Adjusting the PH of Alkaline Soil: Soils with a PH above 7 are alkaline. You will need to acidify it a little by adding sulfur.
Lowering PH of soil type by one point
Sandy Soil: Add one pound grounded sulfur per 100 square feet
Loamy Soil: 1.2 pound sulfur per 100 square feet
Clay soil: 1.5 -2 pound ground sulfur per 100 square feet
Test for Nutrients
If your soil sample test results reveal a deficiency in the required nutrients (N, P and K), you can make up for these deficiency using nonorganic fertilizers. The ration of these nutrients is usually stated as a percentage of net weight on the body of the container. The major benefits of these individual nutrients are:
- Promotes strong steam and leaf
- Contributes to the dark green coloration of healthy plants
- Needed for early plant growth
- Promotes strong roots, fruits, and seed formation
- Improves diseases and stress resistance
- Enhances the flavor of fruits and vegetables.
Finally Prep your Garden Bed for Planting
Prepping your soil for planting is not enough. The right bedding to promote healthy plant growth is essential. Most beginning gardeners make the mistake of planting on a thin soil which will later have a negative impact on plant roots.
You need to prepare your garden bed by making sure you dig around the soil area to loosen the soil and add organic material. This step alone can save you a lot of hassles that come with improper plant shootings and bad harvest.
Here we have highlighted the basic test and requirements needed to prep your garden soil for planting. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or seasoned professional, skipping any of these soil preparations can spell disaster to your garden. Follow through on each of these preparations to ensure you have a healthy garden soil.
1.) State of the art list of Soil testing labs in USA – https://gardeningproductsreview.com/state-by-state-list-soil-testing-labs-cooperative-extension-offices/
2.) Cooperative Extension services in USA – https://www.almanac.com/content/cooperative-extension-services
3.) Soil texture and types – https://www.almanac.com/blog/gardening-blog/know-your-dirt-soil-types-garden
4.) How soils are formed – https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/land/soil/soil-explained/forms
5.) 4 ways to prepare soil for garden – https://www.wikihow.com/Prepare-Soil-for-a-Garden