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Garden Soil Tips

Amend Your Soil

Some soils are sandy; others have a high percentage of clay. Some soil drains well, while other types stay soggy for too long. The good news is most soil can be improved upon to help you create a luscious garden. The tips that follow will help you make the right changes to your soil.

  • Use ground limestone to raise the pH of acidic soils. Limestone is nature's soil sweetener, capable of neutralizing overly acidic soils. It's best to add limestone in the fall to allow time for it to begin to dissolve and do its job.

    The amount of limestone you use will vary depending on the specific soil conditions. Simple home test kits, or a professional test, can be used to determine the soil's pH. If you dump limestone on soil randomly, you run the risk of overdosing the soil with lime. Follow guidelines on the limestone package or on a soil test.

    Maintaining the new and improved pH is an ongoing project. Recheck the soil's pH every year and continue to add limestone as needed.To lower the alkalinity and increase the fertility of limestone and other soils with very high pH, add cottonseed meal, sulfur, pine bark, compost, or pine needles. Garden sulfur is a reliable cure when added as recommended in a soil test. It acidifies the soil slowly as microbes convert the sulfur to sulfuric acid and other compounds. Soil amendments such as compost, decaying pine bark, and ground-up pine needles gradually acidify the soil while improving its texture.
  • Test your soil by feel before and after the soil is amended to judge the extent of the change. Take a small handful of lightly moist soil from several inches below the soil surface. Squeeze it into a ball in your hand and watch the results when you open your fingers. Sandy soils, which can have a scratchy feel, will fall apart. To enrich a sandy soil, apply a several-inch layer of compost and even an inch or two of clay, then try again. When the soil is improved, the ball will cling together better.

  • Clay soils, which have a slick feel, will form a tight ball that's not easily broken up. To lighten clay soil, add extra compost and coarse sand. When the soil is light enough, the ball will break up with a tap of a finger.

No matter what type of soil you have, you can continue to improve it by regularly adding organic matter. Find out more in the next section.

Sources of Specific Nutrients
Many of these fertilizers are available processed and packaged. You don't have to harvest your own in order to add them to your soil.
  • Nitrogen: livestock manure (composted), bat guano, chicken manure, fish emulsion, blood meal, kelp meal, cottonseed meal
  • Phosphorus: bonemeal, rock phosphate, super phosphate
  • Potassium: granite meal, sulfate of potash, greensand, wood ashes, seabird guano, shrimp shell meal
  • Calcium: bonemeal, limestone, eggshells, wood ashes, oyster shells, chelated calcium
  • Boron: manure, borax, chelated boron
  • Copper: chelated copper
  • Magnesium: Epsom salts, dolomitic limestone, chelated magnesium
  • Sulfur: sulfur, solubor, iron sulfate, zinc sulfate
  • Zinc: zinc sulfate, chelated zinc Iron: chelated iron, iron sulfate

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.