May 28, 2023
When setting up a garden for growing vegetables, soil selection is indispensable in the planning stages for a first-time gardener or a planting season. There are different soil types to choose from. A wrong or bad soil can ruin all expectations even if other vital factors such as moisture, sunlight, and nutrients are available. Some vegetables perform better on acidic soils, while some prefer moderate water-retaining soils. Hence, it is critical to identify the various soil types and understand how their respective attributes significantly influence plant growth and yield. This article discusses essential information a gardener needs to know about soil and how to identify them based on different attributes.
Vegetables need soil with a balance of nutrients and a range of texture. The texture can vary from loamy to sandy. Try to have equal parts of sand and clay with a bit of loam for drainage.
Composting will enhance the soil, increasing its nutrient content and improving its structure. This can be done by adding your natural kitchen and garden waste as a green layer to your soil.
Soil has unique meanings to different people. For gardeners, the soil plays a crucial part in gardening, serving as the primary growth medium for plants. An aggregate of various solid particles, including rocks, makes up the bulk of the soil.
Generally, the soil is a biologically-active substance that acts as a reservoir of organic materials, inorganic elements, water, and air required for plant growth. The plant roots also rely on the soil for support (anchorage).
Good soils with high fertility are essential for a successful planting season. However, soil quality may vary based on location or deteriorate with time. Therefore, the soil in a garden requires adequate care.
Due to some factors, including climate, soils differ in physical, chemical, and biological properties. These differences bring about discussion on the various types of soil found in different parts of the world. As a result, some garden soils may support one crop better than another.
Some soils may appear rough, while some may feel sticky or fine in texture. It is necessary to know the attributes of each soil before deciding how to improve it or what to plant. The following are the most familiar soil types.
Sandy soils are rocky, grainy, barely sticky, well-aerated, and less challenging to cultivate. A significant disadvantage of this soil type is its poor moisture retention. It drains water quickly and, as a result, tends to lose its nutrients faster in the wetter periods. Unlike other soil, they dry out faster during summer.
Clay soils are almost the opposite of sandy soils. This type of soil has smaller pore spaces and poor draining ability, making it easy to become water-logged. Clay soils get sticky and clumpy when wet but gradually as they dry.
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Some places have a large concentration of peaty soil. Such soils consist of decaying or decomposed organic substances. Consequently, they are dark-colored, acidic, spongy, and can retain moisture pretty well. However, they are less common in gardens.
Silt is a soil type between sandy and clay soils with medium-sized particles. It does not lose moisture quickly yet drains water easily. Although it can get compacted easily, it requires minimal effort to cultivate, compared to clay soils. It also has high fertility but is susceptible to erosion.
Chalky soils are unique in appearance, having larger coarse and stony particles than other soil types. In most instances, they carpet a massive bedrock (limestone) and possess high alkalinity, causing poor plant development. Due to their particle size, they also have poor water retention.
The loamy type of soil is a relative mixture of clay, sandy, and silty soils, having all the desirable attributes required for gardening and the ability to grow many plants. Loamy soils have excellent moisture retention (even during summer), high fertility, average aeration, and moderate drainage. It is relatively easier to manage and cultivate.
Loamy soil is widely regarded as the ideal choice for gardening as it contains three soil types – sand, clay, and silt. The soil possesses the perfect level of organic material, excellent soil texture, and moderate water-holding ability. Although fertility may vary based on location, it is highly productive and suitable for leafy and root vegetables.
Generally, the performance of each soil type depends on the drop cultivated on it. Besides loamy soils, one may find a particular crop growing optimally on one soil than another. Some vegetables may thrive due to a specific attribute of a soil type.
For instance, shallow-rooted vegetables are likely to suffer and dry out quickly on sandy soils. Thyme and rosemary will grow optimally on low-fertility soils. Some brassicas will not do well on loose or acidic soil types.
Nevertheless, garden soils will produce as desired if appropriately managed in many aspects. The table below shows the various soil types available and some recommended vegetables to grow on them.
Tomatoes, onions, peppers, lettuce, legumes, eggplant, corn, carrots, and spinach
Corn, tulips, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, asparagus, collard greens, rosemary, oregano, and thyme.
Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, squash, pea, and pumpkins.
Ginger, sugar beets, fennels, radishes, garlic, turmeric, celery, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, and celery.
Onion, lettuce, broccoli, and other similar brassicas.
Spinach, beets, cabbage, and sweet corn.
It is not uncommon for oils to influence the performance of a plant and, ultimately, the output of a garden. Sometimes, the problem behind an undesired growth performance is the soil. In short, wrong or poor soil type can prevent vegetables from growing and yielding as expected.
If a gardener is observant, they should quickly identify the following four signs.
The easiest way to tell the wrong soil is from the color of the leaves. Without suitable soil, a plant may struggle to flourish. While there are other determining factors, poor or unsuitable soil is among the determinant of leaf discoloration.
For instance, the leaves of the vegetables may turn yellow if the soil is alkaline (due to iron deficiency). It can happen if the soil is water-logged or dry for extended periods. Furthermore, leaves may also show brown spots as an indication of poor soil.
The soil might be the culprit if the plant is not growing as expected compared to other gardens nearby. Unfavorable soil pH and deficiency of essential nutrients can also cause stunted plant growth.
The signs often include leaf discoloration. Other signs include dark-colored foliage, which is attributable to acidic soils. When leaves become dull rather than glossy, the soil moisture might be low.
In more chronic circumstances, the younger leaves may curl upwards with the possible occurrence of necrosis. Older leaves may become brittle, and the entire plant can start wilting.
Ideally, a garden should have a balance of biotic and abiotic elements. Furthermore, the garden should have a functioning ecosystem of biotic units, especially microorganisms.
The presence of bacteria, fungi, insects, earthworms, and other animals is a significant sign of good soil. These organisms are essential to keeping the soil at optimum productivity levels.
Bacteria is fundamental to decomposing dead organic materials and releasing nutrients for plant growth. Also, earthworms help minimize compaction and aerate the soil through their burrowing activities.
Soils with good aeration and better animal life will decompose organic matter faster. The near-absence of animal life on garden soil indicates a terrible situation that requires immediate attention.
Besides poor plant growth, unwanted growth (e.g., weeds) can take over the garden. The presence of mosses in the garden can signify that the soil is acidic. Weeds can also increase the likelihood of pests and diseases.
It is crucial not to give up entirely on one’s garden. There are ways to make garden soils suitable for vegetable growth. Improving garden soil to ensure performance over a long time is possible, albeit with some effort and dedication. Below are some valuable tips we recommend.
Compost is a mixture of decomposed organic materials, and it is a cheap means to fertilize garden soil. Making compost is relatively easy, requiring fallen or dried leaves, hay, wood shavings, kitchen food waste, and grass trimmings.
Applying well-prepared compost to garden soils enriches it with nutrients and enhances its structure. Compost can also help to improve the soil’s water retention and pH. Furthermore, it can attract and stimulate an increase in animal life and microorganisms.
Fermented animal manure can be beneficial in raising the fertility and organic content of soils. To avoid burning the vegetables, be careful not to apply fresh animal droppings as they get hot while decomposing. Besides, they may contain microorganisms that are harmful to humans
Excellent manure sources include cow, goat, chicken, rabbit, and sheep. Ensure that they stay for several weeks to ferment entirely before use. Like compost, fermented animal manure can also enhance soil structure.
When sourcing animal manure, confirm that they are free from harmful chemicals that can hurt the vegetables.
Mulching is a garden management procedure that aims to conserve soil moisture. This practice is effective in maintaining soil temperature and suppressing weed growth. It involves placing a layer of material (called mulch) on the soil surface around the plant.
The mulching material can be organic (e.g., leaves, hay, and bark chips) or inorganic (e.g., crushed stones and plastic sheets). However, the latter offers more advantages since they are cheaper and can decompose to contribute to soil fertility.
On the other hand, mulching with inorganic materials can help to kill existing weeds and turn them to surface compost (nutrients). They can stay longer without needing a new or additional mulching layer.
Gardens with soil prone to erosion will benefit from planning cover cops. Rather than the direct impact of winds, snow melt-off, and rain on the soil, these crops have broad leaves that can provide sufficient soil protection.
Interestingly, cover crops are edible; hence, they serve a dual purpose. Some suitable cover crops are turnips and kale. Planting these crops at the end of the season is ideal for preserving the soil condition and curtailing weed growth, especially in the warm winter.
Vegetables planted on compacted garden soils tend to suffer poor nutrient supply. Microbial activities are limited in hard, compacted soils; hence, the decomposition rate is slower. Aeration is poor in such soils as well.
Since water cannot permeate those soils properly, the vegetables may exhibit poor root development. Some oils are likely to compact easily under some weight, e.g., clay soils.
Generally, applying organic matter will modify the soil structure over time. It is essential to exercise caution when working on the soil. It is easy to compress wet soil, especially when walking or pushing a wheelbarrow.
A practical solution is to make permanent beds that allow a sizable walking space to reach any plant without compacting the soil around it. The space should accommodate a wheelbarrow and other similar-sized equipment.
Before planting, always attempt to loosen the soil on the growing area (beds). This practice is beneficial in ensuring proper soil aeration.
Apart from applying the previous steps, it is critical to keep close tabs on the chemical parameters of the soil. Many DIY soil test kits are sold online or in local garden supplies. Purchase a reliable kit to check for essential elements.
If possible, conduct a soil test every one to three years. Basically, the test should provide detail on the level of phosphorus (P), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), Calcium (Ca), sulfur (S), organic matter, and acidity or alkalinity (pH).
Extension offices may be able to help with in-depth soil testing and analysis in case it seems challenging to perform. The test result will indicate where corrections are necessary and the type of fertilizer to purchase.
Crop rotation is a simple way to manage soil nutrients and control the spread of pests and diseases. We recommended that gardeners rotate their crops with another from different families every two to three years.
For instance, replace root crops with potatoes, tomatoes, or legumes (e.g., peas). If the garden is big, divide it into segments and plant different crops in each segment. After the recommended time streak, rotate the crops in the segments.
Primarily, the practice breaks the cycle of pests and diseases. However, some crops help replenish nutrients, e.g., legumes add nitrogen to the soil.
Having the right soil type for one’s vegetables is crucial to achieving the desired plant growth and yield. We at taim.io recommend that gardeners should first identify the soil type before deciding what plant to grow on it.
Regardless, there is a need to manage the garden soil properly to sustain its productivity over time. For more information on how to grow edible vegetables, taim.io has all the required resources. We also have many guides to help every gardener.