Soil is the most important thing in your garden. If your soil is claggy, dry, with low nutrient levels and few minibeasts then you’ll find it difficult to grow anything. Here's how to improve your soil.
So if you are wanting to grow a beautiful lawn, stunning flowers and tasty vegetables, you’ll need to improve your soil. Here’s how to do it.
- Remove weeds, debris and unwanted vegetation
- Assess your soil
- Relieve compaction if necessary
- Measure the area
- Incorporate appropriate organic matter and minerals to improve soil texture
- Feed the soil and the beneficial creatures that live in it
- Mulch to retain water and supress weeds
Improving your soil for growing flowers and vegetables
I’m writing this in May – just about the time of year when gardeners are thinking about planting out their tender flower and vegetable plants. If you have the luxury of bare soil right now, improving it is a good way of getting some healthy exercise.
Improving bare soil
Start by removing all traces of weeds – especially the perennial ones like bindweed and the deep-rooted ones like dandelions.
Next, spread a good depth of topsoil on top of existing soil. I like to go for a good 10cm depth but if your soil is very free draining or extremely sticky, more would be better.
Now it’s simply a matter of turning the soil over to mix improving soil with the existing. If you have a large area to cover then hire a rotovator from your local hire shop…It’ll save you a lot of backache.
When choosing a soil to mix with your own, go for something that adds organic matter and minerals. What you’ll be doing is feeding the worms, beetles and minibeasts that are the real soil improvers.
Once you have planted, mulch well using bark or woodchips to help retain the moisture.
Don’t forget to feed your plants regularly –strong roots will help to keep your soil ecosystem healthy.
Improving the soil around trees, plants and shrubs
Where you have existing plants that you don’t want to move, you can improve the soil by working some good quality soil into the surface between plants.
I like to do this as I’m doing the big spring weeding session. First take out all of the weeds and any spent plants.
Next spread some good quality topsoil on the area you are working on. Lightly fork it into the top few centimetres of soil without disturbing plant roots. I prefer to use a hand fork for this and make an effort to take out any bits of roots or vegetation as I go.
Finish off with a layer of mulch and your beds will look neater, cope better with summer weather and need less weeding at the end of the season.
The same method works wells in pots and planters. You may need to remove the top few centimetres of old soil to make way for the new but I promise it will invigorate your container plants.
Adding new plants or trees? Make the planting holes twice the size that they need to be and mix the soil you remove with some really good topsoil before backfilling the space around your new plant.
Improving the soil beneath your lawn
Improving bare soil is relatively easy, but when you have permanent and dense cover of plants in place, it’s a little trickier. Or is it?
First of all, assess the soil as well as you can. You may not be able to see it or to dig deep but the state of the lawn will give you some clues.
Does your lawn dry out really quickly after rainfall? Is the grass pale – even though its been fed? Do the grasses grow slowly? Will your lawn turn brown in summer if we go for a week or two with no rain. You probably have quite a sandy soil under your lawn that will benefit from a bit more body.
Poor drainage on the other hand often goes hand in hand with compacted soil, yellowing grasses and big cracks appearing on the lawn in summer.
Testing for soil compaction
Start by taking a screwdriver with a 15cm shank. Push it into your lawn. How much pressure does it take to sink it? Ideally, you won’t need to push very hard at all. It’ll feel like cutting into a sandwich. If you need to apply the sort of pressure you’d need to cut a swede then your soil is compacted. Which is probably the most common lawn care problem there is.
Before you can improve your soil you need to relieve the compaction.
Start by scarifying your lawn – in other words rake out all of the dead leaves, moss and debris. If you have a large lawn its worth either hiring a machine or asking a lawncare professional for help.
Next you can aerate the soil. Use a hand held tool or a specialist machine to take small plugs of soil out of the lawn. It sounds brutal but it makes much less mess than you’d expect. Aeration allows water and air to reach the roots of your grass plants and they’ll thank you for the breathing space.
Topdressing your lawn
Here’s your chance to improve soil texture even more if you feel you need to. Spread a layer of topdressing soil over your lawn and sweep it into the holes using a stiff brush. It goes without saying that this is a job for a dry day.
Topdressing soil is a mix of sand (to improve drainage and open out the structure) and topsoil (to add body to the soil, support minibeasts and help hold onto plant nutrients)
If your soil is very sandy, then our eco-earth soil is a better option for topdressing your lawn. Its less expensive too.
Feeding your lawn
Help your lawn to recover from renovations and enjoy its new improved soil by feeding regularly through the growing season.
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