Soil quality is an important part of farming. Most people begin by digging up some dirt, adding a little mulch or compost, and putting in plants.
Some gardeners are lucky enough to have fantastic soil that works for them, but most of the time, we’re stuck dealing with some sort of issue.
From too much clay to too many stones — it’s not often we end up with perfect soil right off the bat.
But in the long run, the success of your garden is entirely dependent on your soil. This is where gardening often becomes more difficult than we imagined at the beginning.
So how does one go about improving soil health?
Fortunately, there are a few ways to improve it naturally, in order to improve the outcome of plants growing in the garden.
First and foremost, you must understand soil and what it’s made from.
The soil is composed of water, air, and weathered rock/organic matter. But the magic lies in the organisms — microbes, insects, worms, and other elements — enabling it to flourish in the healthiest way.
Types of Soil
Anyone who wants to start a garden must know the different types of soil and their qualities to reap gardening success. Below are the six main types of garden soil.
Lumpy and sticky when wet. Poor drainage. Plants such as bee balm, goldenrod, pear, black-eyed Susan grow, and summer crops well in clay soil.
Gritty, drains well and dries out fast. It does not hold nutrients so organic amendments are necessary for plants to thrive.
Strawberries, butterfly weeds, wormwood, carrots, peppers, parsnips, and corn grow well in sandy soil.
Soft and powdery, rich in nutrients, and holds moisture well; however, it can easily become waterlogged.
Most vegetables thrive well in silty soil, so long as there is proper drainage.
A mixture of clay, silt, and sand. This is basically the soil type for vegetable gardening as most crops thrive well in it.
Loamy soil is full of nutrients, retains moisture well, has a great structure, and doesn’t dry out easily in hot climates.
Dark, acidic soil with a spongy and damp feel. Retains water easily.
Roots vegetables, legumes, and Brassicas grow well in peaty soil if mixed with organic matter, lime (to reduce acidity), and compost.
Large grains and stonier than other soil types. Very alkaline, which can lead to yellow leaves and stunted growth.
Cabbage, spinach, corn, and beets do well in chalky soil if the right fertilizer is added to balance ph.
Improving Soil Quality Naturally
Below are a few tips for those looking for recommendations on how to improve soil quality naturally:
1. Feed Your Soil an Organic Diet
The soil has a few basic requirements: water, shelter, air, and food. As mentioned above, the organisms are key to improving the quality and health of it.
Add some organic materials, such as garden debris, kitchen scraps, and even fallen leaves, to it. How?
Simply add the material into the top few inches of soil with a hoe, then cover the material with mulch.
Do this in the fall for the best possible results.
2. Use a Soil Test Kit
When you’re starting your garden, buy a soil quality test kit and make sure to use it early on.
This will tell you if an important nutrient is missing, which can help you take action before your garden suffers due to unhealthy soil.
Keep in mind, test kits should be used in the late summer or early fall for best results.
Once you’ve taken the test, you can submit it to a local certified lab to help you find the right fertilizers.
3. Pay Attention to Nitrogen
Nitrogen is one of the most essential nutrients for living plants as it feeds the organisms that are living in the soil.
Make sure you’re adding various sources of nitrogen each year — from fish emulsion to seed to feather meal to green grass clippings and everything in between.
It’s vital to ensure adequate nitrogen is added during the fall or spring before any new planting takes place.
4. Recycle Plant Scraps
This tactic mimics the natural way plant litter falls into nature.
When it’s late spring or early winter, go outside and collect all of the dropped scraps from your garden, hedges, and other woodlands nearby.
This material makes great mulch, and when it’s still green, it provides an amazing source of nitrogen for your plants.
Simply recycle the scraps back into your garden.
5. Use Ashes From the Fire
Do you have a wood stove or fire pit? If so, make sure you collect the ashes now and then.
Using ashes from the fire is a great way to help neutralize acidic soil while ensuring adequate calcium levels.
If you burn a variety of woods, you’re able to get a range of beneficial elements from the ashes — from potassium to phosphorus to magnesium.
6. Let Wet Soils Dry Before Planting
Before you try to plant anything in the spring, make sure your soil is sufficiently dry.
How do you know if it’s dry enough to plant? Grab a handful and squeeze.
If water drips out of the handful, it’s not ready yet. Wait a week or two before trying again.
Also, take note of whether or not it forms into a ball when you squeeze a handful. This is another sign it’s not ready yet.
7. Stay on Top of Weeds
We’ve all been there before. Sometimes it’s not all about how to enrich poor soil. We look forward to spring when our garden starts to come back to life — only to find it’s filled with weeds.
Before you start planting in your garden, make sure you get rid of any weeds that will otherwise compete with your plants.
If you can pull them early and efficiently, you can help prevent them from spreading. Just make sure you’ll pulling by the root.
8. Avoid Digging Unless Absolutely Necessary
If you don’t need to dig, avoid it. This is a simple rule, but it’s often missed. Why should you avoid digging?
In the simplest terms, digging will disturb any dormant weed seeds lying beneath the soil. This means once you start digging, you’ll notice weeds popping up pretty quickly.
Feel free to use a garden fork to keep your soil aerated, but don’t go any further than that.
9. Cover Your Soil at All Times
Weeds will cover your soil if you don’t cover it yourself. Take precautionary measures and always keep it covered at all times.
Poor soil quality can be improved by using mulch or some type of living, organic material.
You can use grass clippings, bark chips, green manure, and any other resources available to you.
Just keep it covered. This will ensure healthy content that doesn’t need to be watered constantly.
10. Keep an Eye on Moisture Levels
Don’t let your soil get too dry.
As you know, plants need water to survive, but this is especially true if you’re growing any vegetables or fruits.
If you don’t get much rain in the area you’re living, keep an eye on moisture levels.
Make sure you’re feeding your soil an organic diet as mentioned above. Why? The more organic matter, the greater it is able to hold moisture.
11. Avoid Walking Too Much on the Soil
If you have a large, expansive garden or you’re looking to improve the quality of soil underneath your lawn, make sure you have adequate walking spaces that don’t disrupt the soil.
If possible, create paths as needed. If you’re walking on the wet ground, you’ll compact it and reduce its breathing room — lessening the health of your growing avenue significantly.
12. Keep Examining Soil Structure
Before you choose a place for your garden, try to examine the soil.
Take your time to figure out the structure, pH level, and drainage qualities of the area you’ll be using for your garden.
Be aware that mother nature can alter the soil texture in a multitude of ways. Keep an eye on the wind, rain, sun, and other factors that may damage it.
If it does end up damaged, focus on adding more organic matter to help hold onto some of the nutrients in it.
Keep in mind, the soil is rarely perfect. Any improvements you’re looking to make will take time, effort, and hard work.
If you follow the tips above on how to improve soil fertility and quality, you’ll greatly boost the appearance of your soil — resulting in a much more attractive garden or lawn that’s rich, strong, and lush.
It’s a time-consuming, delicate process, but once you’ve followed these suggestions on improving soil quality, you’ll be rewarded with healthy, vibrant plants or grass.
Just make sure you’re not removing the wonderful organic material that ends up in your garden or lawn in an attempt to clean up the appearance.
Many well-intentioned organic farmers make this common mistake, but it’s best to leave the organic material as it feeds the soil.