Friday, March 1, 2019

Soil Amendments: When You Know Your Soil Needs Something….

An old brown church in a field of green plants in red dirt at sunset. Unnamed Road,Palmital, Brazil. Photo by Sergio Souza

The time is rapidly approaching when gardeners have to ask what it’s going to take to build the spring garden they want. Before you can grow plants, you need to grow the soil. There is almost always something that can be done to optimize the soil early in the season for your raised beds, garden plots or container plants. In order to do that, you need to take a good look at what your soil is like before planting. Some good questions to ask are:

    Blue garden spade and black dirt next to a pot. Photo by Neslihan Gunaydin
  • Is it compacted? 
  • Is it too acidic or alkaline? 
  • Does it have all the nutrients my plants need 
  • Has it become hydrophobic? 
  • Have I introduced beneficial microorganisms to help me along the way?

All of these are valid questions and should be part of your pre-planting checklist. If you need it, you can find the answers to or help with these questions right in your area. Ask at a local county extension office run by the Department of Agriculture, a Master Gardener (also part of the national extension program), universities and colleges, local gardening clubs or neighborhood nurseries. The expertise of people growing right where you are (especially those prolific ones!) can’t be overestimated.

Green plants growing in red dirt. Photo by Jens JohnssonAnother option is a simple soil test. We offer several do-it-yourself options as well as a soil analysis done by professionals. Test kits will take the guesswork out of the soil analysis problem and ease the minds of all but the most worrisome of gardeners.

Once you have an idea of where your soil’s at quality-wise, you’ll know how to proceed. If you don’t need much added to get where you want, it might be time to look at soil amendments instead of fertilizer mixes (which make a stronger punch). There are lots and lots and lots of soil amendments to choose from, here are some popularly used and proven options:
Compost – a great all-round addition to soil. It will revitalize depleted soil by adding organic matter and microbes, which in turn will speed up the decomposition of other organic matter and encourage microbial life to flourish in the amended soil. Our ARBICO Organics™ Compost Plus is also high in nitrogen, if that is what you are looking for.
A close-up of a man's hands as he cleans them of dirt. He is wearing a green tank top and standing in the forest. Muddy Man photo by Eddie Kopp.Humic Acid – The benefits of Humic Acid are very similar to that of compost. The liquid form of Humic Acid, however can be easier to use than compost, especially when working in a small area and for indoor and container plants. The liquid will also get to the roots quicker than compost.
Earthworm Castings – This is an old-time favorite for good reason. Castings are full of the micronutrients and trace minerals that your soil craves. They also breakdown slowly for long-term benefits (and fewer applications) and reduced risk of nutrient burn. While castings do their work in the soil, they are improving the soil structure, which reduces transplant shock and helps to buffer pH. Earthworm Castings contain chitinase, which is a natural compound that helps the plants fight soil-dwelling diseases and pests. 

Looking up at an apartment building with blue windows & white balconies full green trees and shrubs. Photo by Chris Barbalis.
Bosco verticale, Milan, Italy. Photo by Chris Barablis
Kelp Meal – It’s all about the nutrition when it comes to Kelp Meal. Bursting with amino acids, vitamins and trace minerals, it feeds the soil well to get it healthy. This well-fed soil welcomes organic matter and microbial life and is much better at retaining water.
Minerals – Many people go straight to a mineral to get minerals for their soil. Azomite and Soft Rock Phosphate fall into this category. They are packed with minerals that leach into the soil over time to provide dynamic and long-lasting benefits. In the case of Andesite, your garden may even get an electrical charge!

The bottom line is that nearly any soil (even balcony soil) can use a little amending and with the affordability of most amendments, why not give one a try? Since soil amendments generally work well with others, you can even try a combination.

Submitted by Pam & Sterling

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