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Here’s the dirt on dirt

Having great soil to grow your garden in sometimes takes sufficient time and effort to accomplish.  Read on to discover a few tips on how to establish great garden soil.

In most areas of the United States, soil needs to be improved in one way or another before it is ideal for planting.  Just like people need check-ups, so does garden soil.  A soil test will reveal fertilizer needs and composition of soil. Soil testing is available for a nominal fee through area local county extension services in most counties across the Unites States and some private testing labs. Soil testing for home gardens is recommended every three to five years.

A good soil test will tell you the pH, salt concentration and level of nutrients in your particular garden plot. On a scale with a pH of seven being neutral, many vegetables will grow quite well from 6.0 to 8.4. With the analysis, the lab or extension service will provide recommendations on what your soil needs and what to do to improve the soil.

One mistake that many gardeners make is to assume that just brining in new topsoil will solve their problem.  A word of warning – there is no real definition of what topsoil is, nor are there any regulations on what people can sell you and dump on your properly.  Many times, so called “topsoil” is dirt someone wants to get rid of because it’s really not good for growing anything.  In addition to lacking nutrients, top soils dug up from housing projects and development areas come from open fields loaded with weeds.  I had the unfortunate experience several years ago of hauling in some dirt for one of my garden boxes that was loaded with weeds.  To this day, I’m still fighting the same kinds of weeds that are not native to my property.  My point – it’s almost always better to improve upon what is already there.

If you must haul in topsoil, check with your local nursery first and price compare between nurseries.  Although the price on the sign at the side of the road may look a little better, consider the origin of the soil and how much work you are willing to do to improve it.

Although crops prefer a perfect soil, most will adapt and grow satisfactorily in a wide range of soil conditions from sand to clay provided they are handled correctly.  Cultivate your soil with a good mixture of soil and sand – optimum plant growth occurs in soils that hold water and nutrients around roots, yet drains well enough to allow oxygen into the area. It should also offer support for plants. Always correct soil imbalances before planting.

Stay tuned to the Essential Garden Guide for more tips on how to make great soil.  In the coming days I’ll discuss how organic materials and other soil amendments can improve your soil and also how to combat acidic soil.

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