How To Condition Your Garden Soil

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Pick up a handful of soil in your garden. I bet that you are thinking, "this is ordinary, unexciting earth". Yet it is an example of nature's miracles, and one of her most complex products. Your accomplishment as a gardener will largely depend on its condition, so take the initial bold step in gardening.... get to know your soil.

All soils are composed of four basic components, these are:
Water - Water is essential for support of both plant and soil life - it is also the carrier of nutrients. Water is absorbed into humus and absorbed on to the surface of particles. Water adheres tightly to clay, restricting both drainage and uptake by the roots.

Air - Air is crucial for the support of plant life and desired for soil life - it is also required for the breakdown of organic matter to release nutrients. Movement of air is necessary to avoid the build up of toxic gases. This movement takes place through the soil pores.

Mineral particles - The non-living skeleton of the soil comes from the decomposition of rocks by weathering. The parent rock usually (but not always) lies under the soil and both the fertility and size of the particles are governed by the type of parent rock.

Organic matter - Fertile soils contain at least 5 per cent organic matter. This is present as a mixture of living, dead and decomposed organisms, both animal and vegetable. True humus is the dark jelly-like substance which binds mineral particles into crumbs.

The physical condition of the resulting blend that we all know as soil is described as its texture or structure, but these two terms do not mean the same thing.

Soil texture: refers to the proportions of the different sized mineral particles that happen to be there. When course particles prevail, the soil is described as light. If the particles are minute, the soil is known as heavy. The perfect soil lies between these two extremes. The course and minute particles need to be evenly balanced to achieve the medium-texture soil referred to as loam. Soil scientists have recognised 17 or more styles of mineral soil texture, but for the average gardener there are just 8 basic types, these can be put in to 3 groups. Light soil, medium soil and heavy soil.

Soil structure; refers to the way the mineral particles are joined collectively, they may be grouped as clods, plates or crumbs. A crumb structure is great - it is what we call 'friable soil' with a 'good tilth'.

Your soil may be nothing like a crumbly loam. It may be a back-breaking clay or it may be sandy stuff which always needs feeding and watering. Do not despair, it is quite simple to change the structure of any soil. Organic matter will cement sand grains into crumbs. Digging, liming and organic matter have the same effect on clay particles.

The improvement might be spectacular, but you can not change the fundamental texture unless you add vast quantities of the deficient mineral particle. So your soil will remain basically clayey, sandy etc., this means you should, where possible, choose plants which the catalogues recommend for a particular soil type.

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Author: Kane Ashley
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