Your favourite plants don’t seem to thrive in your garden? Check your soil – its structure, acidity and fertility have a major impact on what will or won’t grow.
Here we take a look at soil – what it is, how you can assess yours, and what you can grow in acid or alkaline ground.
Take minerals from rocks, organic matter in the form of rotted manure and vegetation, and organisms – bugs, bacteria and worms that help to aerate and condition your veg patch – and what you get is soil. The foundation and nutrient source for all plant life in your garden.
Different geology, topography, and weather conditions mean each of us has a unique mixture of minerals, organic matter and organisms in our patch. That said, your soil will share similar characteristics with neighbouring gardens and will reflect the general makeup of soils in the area.
|Clay soil||Full of minerals, this soil is fertile but quickly gets cold and waterlogged in winter, and during the summer, bakes to a crust. Sticky mud you can roll into a sausage is a clay soil.|
|Silt soil||Like clay, silt is fertile, holds water and is easy to compact. Unlike sticky clay, silt soils have a silky consistency.|
|Sandy soil||Sandy soil has much larger mineral grains than clays and silts. It’s free draining and thanks to the air trapped within it, sandy soil is also warmer than either clay or silt. However, it tends to be low in nutrients, dries quickly, and is often acidic. Sandy soil is gritty and crumbly in texture.|
|Chalky soil||The consistency of this soil varies considerably depending on its precise makeup – some are heavy, some quite light, but all chalky soils tend towards alkalinity.|
|Peat soil||Full of dark organic matter, peat soils hold a lot of water.|
|Loam||Combines elements of sandy, clay, and silt soils to produce the best of all worlds, a soil that’s moist, fertile and drains well.|
You can measure the acidity of your soil using a soil test kit available from all good garden centres. A pH value of 7 is neutral – less means your soil is acidic, more makes it alkaline. A soil additive may make a temporary difference to the pH of your soil, but in general, good gardeners grow the plants best suited to the soil at their disposal.
If there’s a lot of organic matter breaking down in your soil, it will tend to have a lower pH value. But just because your soil is a little on the acidic side doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can grow in it. On the contrary, slightly acidic soils support a wide variety of plantings:
Soils which contain significant quantities of chalk or limestone have a higher pH value – they’re alkaline soils. And while adding organic matter will help balance the soil over time, you’re probably better off growing some of the wonderful plants that thrive in chalky soil:
There are lots of things you can do to improve your soil's structure and fertility. But don't try to work against the natural conditions in your garden. Visit our plants for a purpose resource page to find out the best things to grow where you live.
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