While pest and disease control, fertilizing, and proper planting techniques are key parts to your landscape and garden success, the quality of your soil can greatly impact the health of your plants more than any other factor. Doing some garden soil preparation can save you a lot of time and bring you more healthy plants.
Soil amendments, also called soil conditioners, are materials added to your soil that aim to improve aspects of your soil, like water retention, permeability, drainage, aeration, and structure. Your soil should be able to support the roots of your plants while providing the optimal environment for growth. Soil amendments are thoroughly mixed into the soil, not laid on top like mulch.
Types of Soil Amendments & Conditioners
The end results you’re looking for will determine which type of soil amendment you choose. Organic soil amendments include sphagnum peat, wood chips, grass clippings, straw, compost, manure, biosolids, sawdust, and wood ash. Inorganic soil amendments are manmade or mined, and include vermiculite, perlite, pea gravel, and sand. Organic products have the added benefit of containing nutrients and serve as a food source for beneficial fungi, bacteria, and earthworms, and are the best soil amendments for vegetable gardens.
Using Soil Amendments
Before choosing something to add to improve your soil, you should first assess your soil’s condition and research before adding anything to your soil. Soil testing can help you determine what you soil needs in order to better support plant growth. You can order soil tests, which will tell you the current pH, levels of nutrients (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese), and any fertilizer recommendations. These tests can make it clearer on the amendments you might need for your soil.
Along with a soil test, you need to diagnose your soil as heavy (clay-based) or light (sand-based) because certain combinations of soils and amendments can make your soil worse. For example, difficult clay soils need to be porous, permeability, aeration, and drainage and you could use peat, wood chips, tree bark, or straw; adding sand to clay can make it even more compacted, similar to concrete. Sandy soils need to be able to hold water and nutrients and benefit from decomposed organic materials.