Soil is the skin of the earth and just like our own skin, it requires sunshine, water, air, and nutrients. Without an adequate supply of any of these ingredients, garden soil doesn’t perform at its best to promote the biological function of a life support system for plant growth.
Once you have made a decision on the location for a garden that has adequate sunshine, available water, and good air flow, examine the soil you will be working with.
Garden soil is the foundation to start with in the growing process. Dig up some of the soil and squeeze it in the palm of your hand. What does it feel like? Is it sandy and loose or does it stay compacted in a ball? Knowing the type of soil will tell you if you need to amend it.
Water the hole just dug and observe how the water drains. If it is heavy clay soil, the water will pool and drain slowly, while sandy or loamy soil will easily allow the water to drain into the ground. The ideal garden soil is loamy and easy to dig, but if yours isn’t, amend the soil to be workable for planting.
Interestingly, the solution to both clay and sandy soil is the same: add organic material. Soil additions, such as, compost, peat moss or well composted manures can be worked into the soil before planting.
Take stock of your soil
In addition to knowing what type of soil you have, it is important to know the pH level of your soil. A soil test will reveal if the soil leans toward acidic or alkaline or somewhere in between. Soil testing lets you know if you need to add supplements to amend the pH to make the soil a good foundation for whatever you plant, whether that is vegetables, flowers, or trees.
After you have selected your ideal garden area and have determined what type of soil you have, decide if nutrients are sufficient. This information is also provided in a soil test. Before you plant anything, add any needed supplements to correct pH values or any mineral deficiencies to bring your soil up to the optimum level for a successful garden growing experience.
Soil testing information is available through the Clallam Conservation District at clallamcd.org.
Supplements readily available in the form of fertilizers, mulch, and minerals are found at most garden centers. Preparing soil before planting is vital for getting your garden off to a good start, encouraging strong root growth, and feeding plants to be productive.
If you have always wanted to plant a vibrant garden filled with fruits, vegetables and flowers, then give it a try. With a little pre-planning and easy-to-find ingredients for feeding and amending soil, you can convert dirt into good garden soil. It just takes a little digging and patience. Amendments to soil may take more than one application over a period of time, but once prepared you are ready for planting.
In the worst-case scenario, if it seems like you will need a jackhammer to break up the soil, there is always the option of growing plants in pots or raised beds that are filled with potting soil available for purchase.
Marian Janicik is a Clallam County Master Gardener.