Knowing and understanding your soil is the most important part of gardening. If you do not know your soil, you will waste time and money planting the wrong plants in the wrong place, and being disappointed when they fail. Whether you are starting a new garden or taking over an established one you need to test your soil and discover if it is acid, alkaline or neutral.
To test your soil you need to buy an inexpensive testing kit and follow the instructions. It is quick and simple to do and you will know your soil type immediately. The pH of a soil refers to its acidity or alkalinity and is a vital factor in plant growth. It is easy to measure and is usually listed numerically on a scale of 1 to 14. Acid soils have a pH of below seven, neutral is pH7 and alkaline is above seven.
For most garden plants a neutral soil is ideal but some, such as rhododendrons and camellias, must have an acid soil. Others, including many clematis and lilacs, prefer alkaline conditions.
Most amateur soil testing kits display results in colour, rather than a numerical scale. Acid soils turn a solution yellow-orange, neutral turn it green and alkaline, dark green.
Generally there are four types of soil;
Calk Soils; These are the most difficult soils to have to work. They are always alkaline, and when digging you will frequently hit lumps of flint. The soil is very free draining so you need to add lots of organic matter to get it to hold moisture. If you add peat it allows you to grow acid loving plants. You will need to add flowers of sulphur each year to keep the acidity up.
Sandy Soils; Gritty when rubbed between your fingers, and will not hold a shape when rolled. The soil is usually sandy brown in colour, and very free draining. These types of soils also need lots of organic manure to enable the soil to hold moisture. Do not add spent mushroom compost if you want to grow acid loving plants. The soil will heat up quickly in the spring, so early planting is possible.
Clay Soils; When wet a clay soil can be rolled into a ball and it will hold its shape. It will have large crakes when dry in the summer and always water logged in wet weather. Although clay soils are difficult to manage, clay soil is very nutritious it just needs lots of organic matter or spent mushroom compost adding to it along with sand or grit. This all helps it build a better structure and in time be easier to manage. Spent mushroom compost adds lots of lime, which helps to break the clay down.
Silt Soils; Silt soils are made up of grains originally deposited by rivers, the feel is very grainy and does not hold its shape when wet. These soils are similar to clay, but you do need to test the soil as it can be acid or alkaline. Never work on a silt soil when it is wet, as the damage caused will take it a long time to recover. They can be badly drained but not usually water logged. Silt soils allow you to grow the widest selection of plants.
Soils are also described as;
Loamy, which is accepted as the best soil type to have. It is brown and crumbly in texture, high in nutrients, does not dry out in summer or get water logged in winter. Most plants thrive in it.
Peaty soils are often considered as the best farming soils, but are acidic. Almost black to look at and spongy to touch. Very easy to dig over, but wet in the winter and dry in the summer.
Understand your soil type and your gardening will have greater success.
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This is only for people who love gardening and are pursuing garden ideas or design tips.
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