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Garden Soil and Good Plant Health

What is Good Garden Soil?

Garden soil is generally evaluated on fertility and texture. Fertility is a combination of essential nutrients and a pH that makes these nutrients available to the plants. Texture refers to the size of the soil particles and their cohesiveness.

Garden Soil Nutrients

The three primary nutrients used by plants are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Nitrogen is largely responsible for healthy leaf and stem growth. Nitrogen does not remain in the soil for long. It gets used up by your plants and by decaying matter in the soil. Nitrogen is also water soluble and can wash out of the soil rather quickly. An excess of nitrogen will cause a lot of foliage growth at the expense of flowers and fruit.

Phosphorus is very important for root growth. Flowering bulbs and root crops can always use some phosphorous. Phosphorus also is crucial for producing flowers. 'Flower boosting' fertilizers have a high phosphorus content.

Potassium is needed for overall plant health. It keeps the plants growing and aids their immune systems. Potassium is water soluble and needs to be replenished from time to time.

Besides nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, there are several trace elements that are necessary for good plant health like: calcium, magnesium, zinc, and molybdenum.

Garden Soil pH

PH is a measure of the soil acidity or alkalinity. The scale goes from 1.0 to 14.0, with 7.0 being neutral. The lower the pH, the more acidic the soil. The higher they go above 7.0, the more alkaline. PH is important because nutrients in the soil are only available to plants if the soil pH is within a certain range. Many plants like a pH in the low acid to neutral range (6.2 - 6.8), but that’s not true for all plants. Rhododendrons, heathers and blueberries favor very acid soils and lilacs and clematis will thrive in alkaline or even chalky soil.

Garden Soil Texture

Garden soil texture refers to the size of the soil particles. Sandy soils have very large particles. Water, air and plant roots can move freely in sandy soils. Clay-based soils contain particles are so small they pack together tightly and leave little room for water, air or roots.

The best type of garden soil is something that is in-between sandy and clay. Good garden soil should be light and allow for air and water movement, but also have a fine bread crumb like texture.

Organic Matter

Organic matter is dead plant or animal material. Organic matter is important because it encourages beneficial microbial activity and it provides some nutritional benefits. Garden soil always contains some organic matter, but it is usually not enough for your plant's needs. Decaying organic matter, will help give your soil a fine bread crumb like texture. Organic matter helps sandy soil by retaining water that would otherwise wash away and it corrects clay soil by making it looser, so that air, water and roots can penetrate.

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