How to improve soil quality
10 Ways to improve soil quality
If you want an abundant garden jammed with healthy plants the essential ingredient is good garden soil and getting it right is a continuing process. There are no short cuts, it can be hard work to improve soil quality and takes years. However, if you get the soil right, you will be rewarded with strong, vigorous plants that resist pests and diseases and produce abundantly. You will be considered someone who has ‘green fingers.’
To get those fingers really green here are 10 ways that you can improve the quality of your soil no matter what sort of soil you have.
- Remove all large stones.
It may seem obvious but let’s start with the fact that most plants will not grow well if planted on top of large stones.
There are two solutions to stony soil. Either dig the large stones out and rake out as many as possible of the small ones before planting, or, if it’s really bad, build raised beds and fill with a good quality topsoil compost mix so the plants are above the stones.
Often when people move into a brand new property, once they start to dig the garden, they find all sorts of stones and debris buried under a thin layer of topsoil. The only solution is to dig out the debris and sub-soil and incorporate a mix of good quality topsoil and compost.
2. How to improve clay soil.
Heavy clay soil is another ‘problem’ soil type.
To help improve the soil quality of a heavy clay soil, keep adding organic matter, such as well-rotted manure. Do this every year and it will help break down the clay particles.
Well-rotted means the manure has been allowed to rot down for at least 6 months. You can buy manure in a garden centre or DIY store, or if you have a stables nearby, ask if you can have some horse manure. This is the most economical way to get good manure, to make sure that it is well rotted, leave it in a corner of the garden until it no longer smells of ‘horse!’ My friends who own horses warn that you never know what medication the animals have been given, so again, make sure that you don’t use the stuff straight from the horse.
Never walk on clay soil when it is very wet, this compresses it and prevents water, air, and oxygen from reaching the roots of plants so, if possible, create paths around the growing areas.
Add compost to your soil at least once a year to improve the soil quality.
The most economical and environmentally friendly way to do this is make your own. It’s not hard to do and very rewarding! You can create as many bins as space allows. Even in a small garden you can buy composting bins for a small space. Fill the bins with a mix of green and brown waste. Lawn clippings, annual weeds, plant trimmings and other soft material that rots down. Cardboard, old woollen jumpers, kitchen waste (but not food to attract rats) I even add the contents of my hoover! Get the right balance and you will be rewarded with a crumbly compost that will improve the quality of your soil for free!
- Leaf Mould.
Another free way to improve soil quality is making leaf mould. Obviously you’ll need to have trees in your garden to do this one, but if you have it’s very easy to make leaf mould. It does not require any special conditions, just collect all the leaves you can gather and put in a wire cage and leave for at least a year. Alternatively, gather the leaves together in black bin bags (I use old compost bags) and leave in a corner to rot down. After about year you will be rewarded with the most excellent, friable, leaf mould full of beneficial nutrients to add to your soil.
Using bark chippings as a mulch not only improves soil quality but also acts as a weed suppressant and helps prevent moisture loss. Bark chippings will gradually break down, releasing valuable nutrients to feed your plants. I add a layer of bark chippings in the early spring every year after spreading the soil with manure. It helps to keep the garden looking neat and tidy, although the blackbirds in my garden enjoy making a bit of a mess with it!
6. Chemical Feeds.
If you can’t enrich your soil organically, use a chemical fertiliser to feed your plants. I use a granular artificial fertiliser, especially for plants I grow in containers. There are many products available in garden centres and DIY stores so it can be a bit confusing to choose the right fertiliser to do the right job. Manufacturers have developed different formulas tailored for various plant needs, for example lawn, tomato and rose feeds, which is helpful. Read the label carefully because applying too much can be just as damaging as applying too little.
7. General fertilisers.
Other fertilisers to use include fish, blood and bone meal which I use in all areas of my garden. It is very easy to find in shops and relatively inexpensive. The only problem is my dogs like to eat it! A gardening friend of mine in Sweden highly recommends Cuxin DCM Algomin Plus for general use in the garden. We can’t get that product in the UK but there are alternative organic seaweed feeds that I’m going to try this year. Thank you to Duncan Sunter in Sweden for the advice.
8. Growing your own vegetables.
If you grow your own vegetables try growing cover crops (also known as green manures) to improve the soil quality in your vegetable bed or allotment. Some can provide food too. Plant a cover crop in the late summer and allow it to remain over winter. It protects the soil from being eroded by severe winter weather, prevent the soil from compacting, and helps reduce weeding.
There are various cover crops to try including kale, clover, ryegrass, radish, turnips, legumes, and peas. In spring turn over the crop and allow it to decompose to increase soil fertility.
In the vegetable garden, rotating crops each year increases the depletion of nutrients and helps improve the soil quality.
9. Worms.Worms are a sign of healthy soil so encourage them as much as possible to improve the quality of your soil. Add as much compost as you can to feed earthworms and other microbial life in the soil. The worms will tunnel through the soil improving the aeration and drainage while leaving behind their castings which increases soil fertility.
10. Wormeries .
Many of my gardening friends have a ‘wormery’ and turn kitchen waste and small amounts of garden waste into nutrient-rich compost and a concentrated liquid fertiliser. This is not the same as conventional composting. The worms used for composting are not earthworms. Composting worms live in decaying organic matter, whereas earthworms are soil dwellers. They are smaller and darker red than the common earthworm.
Worm compost can be used as a general soil conditioner, just as you would with conventional compost. It’s generally rich in nitrogen and potassium so perfect to improve the quality of soil. The liquid drained from wormeries can be used as a liquid fertiliser on garden plants after diluting with water.