Improving your soil


The key item in any garden is the soil - itís the place to start. If your garden is windy, shady or has other problems the solutions will normally start with the soil. If you can create the ideal soil conditions for the plants you wish to grow then they should get off to a flying start.

Generally there are 4 types of soil.

Clay - This is the most likely type of soil you will find in your garden. Most people think they have a problem once they discover the soil they have is a clay or clay loam. However if managed correctly clay as a type of soil can be the most productive. The key on clay soils is to add lots of organic matter. One of the best ways of doing this is to dig into the soil 'spent mushroom compost ' which is available from mushroom growers that can be found in the yellow pages. Mushroom compost contains large amounts of lime, which helps the soil break down. Another favourite of the Garden Advice team is a product called 6X, which is a soil activator. Imagine all the goodness of a load of farmyard manure condensed into a 25kg bag (for a few days afterwards you even get the smell too!) It gives the soil a great kick-start without the need to barrow 2 to 3 tonnes of manure around your garden.

If your soil is very heavy then you should add some grit sand available by the tonne from your local builder's merchant. Simply spread it onto your soil and fork it in. A good guide is to spread it about 15 mm thick on the surface before you start forking it in. To work out the quantities, one cubic metre generally weighs a tonne.

Sand - As with clay the best way to improve sandy soil is to add lots of organic matter, again in the form of 'spent mushroom compost', unless you intend to plant acid loving plants such as azaleas or rhododendrons. If you wish to plant acid loving plants then most councils now produce good compost from the recycling programs they have in operation.

Silt - This type of soil is similar to clay but needs a soil test before you start to determine the correct course of action as the soil pH can be acid or alkaline. It is important not to work a silt soil in wet conditions as it can take a long time to recover. The beauty of a silt soil is that it allows you to grow the widest range of plants.

Chalk - The most difficult soil to have in a garden. It often suits perennial plants, but can destroy acid loving plants such as acers and magnolias. Because chalky soil is free draining you need to add organic matter in the form of compost or peat. One tip for chalky soil is that if you wish to grow acid loving plants you could try using sedge peat and flowers of sulphur in raised beds. But you should remember to add a light dressing of flowers of sulphur every year as the chemical reaction will help keep the rooting zone less alkaline.

Drainage - Another important factor in garden soil management is drainage. If your garden soil floods or puddles on the surface you need to start looking at solutions. Improving the soil structure by digging can often solve drainage problems, as will adding organic matter or sand.

If after improving the soil structure it is still badly drained then you need to consider a land drainage scheme. The key item to consider is that once the drainage scheme is installed the excess water will need to go somewhere. This can be a ditch or a soak away, and ideally should be installed at the lowest point of the garden.