Get your garden soil ready for summerAlison Marsden
Soil is the greatest asset we have in our gardens but it is easy to overlook the importance of maintaining good soil quality and just let borders grow year after year. The rain this winter seems to have been endless and apart from obvious problems of waterlogging in heavy soil, there is a hidden problem of plant nutrients being leached out as the rain flows through light free draining soil. All in all, Spring is the ideal to show your soil a little TLC just as the growing season starts.
Your garden soil needs to supply food, water and oxygen to plant roots and so needs to contain a balance of all plant nutrients and have a texture that holds together but includes small spaces for air and water. Depending on what sits deep beneath the ground where you live soil may range from heavy clay to light and sandy or shallow and chalky. All extremes have their problems but fortunately all respond to the same methods of soil improvement:
Nutrients: apply a granular or slow release fertiliser that contains a balance of the three main plant nutrients, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium, and all the minor and trace elements. Organic fertilisers are available and every product tells you the recommended application rate. There is no benefit in exceeding this. Scatter the fertiliser onto the soil around your plants, avoiding emerging leaves and young seedlings.
Soil texture: well rotted organic matter is the key here and will also add nutrients over time. Spread the organic matter as a mulch between plants. This avoids having to dig in the fertiliser you have just applied and disturb plant roots. Well-rotted organic matter includes garden compost, leaf mould (good for texture but few nutrients), stable manure or bagged products from a garden centre such as composted manure. The mulch will disappear into the soil over the year, partly from continuing to break down and partly from the action of worms. Once in the soil, organic matter binds together particles in a light sandy or chalky soil to improve water retention and reduce nutrient leaching. But it will also open up a clay soil allowing space for air and water, reducing water logging.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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