Building a Garden:

Soil Amendments

Your local Agricultural Agent can answer most questions you may have concerning soil structure.

The natural soil found in your garden or garden-to-be, may not be suitable for growing a picture perfect garden or the particular plant(s) you have in mind. It may be too sandy to hold nutrients, or too compacted to allow Oxygen penetration. It may have no drainage or too much drainage. It may be too acidic or alkaline.

You may have to modify or amend the existing soil to bring it closer to the perfect potato or posy patch. Many natural and commercial  products are available to remedy any deficit your garden may have.

They include Sand, Sawdust, Expanded clay, Lime, Fertilizers, Perlite, Peat moss, Rockwool, Vermiculite, Wood shavings, Wood Ash, Mushroom manure, Tree bark, Blood meal, Bone meal, Compost and more.

Some of these products may be thought of as being exclusive to potted plants or small flower beds, but depending on your soil conditions and bank account they can all be used on a much larger scale. 

The First step may be to work with the existing soil. For instance, if your soil is too rocky, you may want to remove rocks and stones. Rocks may have to be moved by mechanical means, while stones can be removed by a hand Sifter. This may be no small chore, but it may be necessary if the stones interfere with tilling and planting.

The destination of the sifted soil will determine the mesh size of your sifter. Potting soil may be sifted through 1/4" or 1/2" Hardware Cloth. This steel freezer basket with 1" openings is adequate for flower beds and small gardens. For larger areas, you may want to hire your local Landscaper's mechanical equipment.

Not only is it a blessing to be able to easily push a shovel or planting tool into the soil, but plant rootlets will also appreciate this loose soil condition, and reward you with sturdier and hardier plants. You will also find weeds easier to pull out. And Carrots will grow straighter and longer.

The Second step may be Trees which can also be a problem whether they are tiny or tall. If they interfere with your garden-to-be, they must be dealt with. Even Saplings can have enormous root systems which defy pulling. Some species (Sumac) break off easily at ground level and send up many new sprouts. Some have many roots near the surface that make tilling nearly impossible.

If Saplings are your problem, digging down a foot and cutting off the roots may be the answer. If a tree is six or more inches in diameter, you may want to cut it off above ground level and fasten a bird feeder or bird bath to it. This has the benefit of attracting your Feathered Friends to you garden to help keep the insect population under control. Serenading birds also make gardening more enjoyable.

A Tree Stump can also serve as a pedestal to fasten a BIG Rural Mailbox or other enclosure to hold your small tools and garden aids, like gloves and kneeling pad. It can also be the pedestal of a Bird Bath or bird Feeder. You can drill 1" diameter holes in the sides, and fill them with Suet. 

As a last resort, you may decide to hire a Tree-Removal machine.

The Third Step may be the soil's "pH" (potential Hydrogen ions) which is an indication of how alkaline or acidic ( "sweet" or "sour") your soil is. This can be measured with a pH Meter, or strips of dyed fabric that respond to sweet and sour by changing color. Over time, leaching causes many soils to become sour, which is remedied by adding Wood Ash or Lime.

An inexpensive Test Kit from your Garden Center will indicate which amendments are needed to bring the soil to a pH that is desirable to your intended plants. A more detailed analysis can be had by contacting your local Agricultural Agent.

It  must be noted that different plants prefer different pH levels, so different planting areas may need to have different treatments. If the pH level is too far astray, your plants may respond by yellowing of the foliage, a generally puny growth, poor blossoming or fruiting, or other deficiencies. Follow directions on the test kit.

pH is indicated by a scale of 0 to 7 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Soil gets more sour  as the pH goes from 7 toward 0, and sweeter as it goes from 7 toward 14.

The problem with pH at its extremes seems to be in a plant's inability to process nutrients effectively. Most plants seem to be more robust when pH is near Neutral.

If soil pH is too far into the red, lime is generally added to bring it back into the blue.
Most plants do well in the range of 6 to 7.5

Pure Water has a pH of 7. Rain leans toward the sour side because of air pollutants, and ground water may be quite sour, which may indicate why lawns and plants seem to thrive more on rain than on water from a hose.

The Fourth Step: determine Amendment ph: Different soil Amendments have different pH levels and also different moisture-holding abilities. It may be helpful to be aware of these two characteristics before you amend your soil.

For comparison; clean Sand tends to be neutral, while Peat moss leans toward the sour side, and Mushroom manure is sweeter. Sand holds very little water, Mushroom manure may hold its own weight in water, and Peat moss is like a sponge and may hold 100 times its own weight in water. If your location is wet, Peat moss may not be a good Amendment choice.

Depending on the size of your job, you can use a wheelbarrow to mix the amendment(s) into the soil, or you can spread them on the soil before tilling it in.

Tilling can be done with a shovel, a tiny Tine-Twirler,
or an impressive  Tractor-mounted Attachment.

Nothing beats the Twirler for cultivating around plants and between rows,
 nothing beats a Tractor for fast preparation of a large garden or truck patch.

Wherever you live, or whatever your gardening problem,
your best source of answers to your questions
may be a nearby Gardener.

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