Yay! It's finally showing signs of springtime here, and I'm in one of the coldest states in the U.S. which means it's probably finally springtime where you are! Time to think about getting your hands in some dirt, enjoying the sunshine, and getting some fresh air.
This week's topic: Lets get dirty!
It's time to think about the growing medium you want your plants in. Depending on the needs of your plants, it may want something as rich and moist as potting soil, or something as arid and dry as sand to grow in. Plants will vary on their need for drainage and nutrients, so pay close attention to their individual needs.
Below is a chart which will help you determine just what kind of soil mixture you need.
1. Sandy soil is dry and gritty and will have large particles in it, so it will not hold water well. It crumbles easily, letting water drain through it quickly. This is soil that is mostly used for succulents and other low water plants (lavender and poppies come to mind). Anything that needs a drying period will do well in it, but not much else will. The bright side of sandy soil is that it's the least likely to have any weeds to deal with. It's also the lightest soil, so it is best for hanging plants indoors.
2. Silty soil is special because it drains like sandy soil, yet holds water much like a clay soil. Roses, willows, and peonies are the kinds of plants that thrive on silty or silt/clay soils. It's usually quite fertile, but because it can be packed down too tightly, the nutrients will have a hard time making it through to the plant. So if you are working with silty soil, be sure to keep it aerated or you be need to supplement the plants with fertilizer. This is a soil you'll have to be careful with overwatering. Again, due to it's ability to be tight and compact, too much water can clog up your soil and waterlog your plants.
3. Clay soil is the densest soil with the smallest particles, making it the best for retaining nutrients but worst for drainage. When we think of thick heavy mud that sticks to our shoes, we're thinking of clay soil. Black eyed susans and milkweed do well in this soil, though overall it can be tricky to deal with. Gardening centers will usually sell a clay soil amendment mixture, but you can achieve the same result using mulch, compost, or manure.
4. Loamy soil is pretty much the ideal growing medium for a lot of plants, as it includes a combination of the draining ability of sandy soil, the nutrient of clay soil, and the density of silty soil. It's a medium weight and the positives of loamy soil cancels out the negative of other soils. Almost any plant can thrive in loam soil, which is why it is the medium sold most as potting soil. Loam is about 20% clay, 40% silt and 40% sand. There will also be a small amount of organic material in it acting as fertilizer.
There are also potting mixes free of any soil. These tend to be the easiest to control, since they are sterile and well draining but retain moisture much like a loamy soil. Most of these soilless potting mixes have a base of peat moss, bark, perlite, vermiculite, and coir. But be warned, peat moss can start out very acidic, which may kill some plants. Here is a set of basic soilless mixtures you can balance on your own if you are feeling adventurous.
The primary difference between growing mediums is pH balance, which can be alkaline, acidic, or a medium balance of the two. Depending on what you are growing, knowing this can be the difference between a healthy thriving plant and a glorified mud hole. Soilless potting mixes can vary greatly on their mix, affecting their pH balance, so be sure to read the bag.
Soil test kits are easy to find at most hardware stores, and thee are two types to choose from. The first is a rapid test, which is a series of sheets you dip in your soil and water mixture. It will give you a clear reading of the minerals in your soil and is great for one time use. But if you're looking for something a little more for permanent use, you can purchase a soil meter. The meter is especially useful if you have multiple garden beds or pots with varying ranges of pH requirement, but just be sure to clean it off in between each testing or your readings may be very off.
Thats the dirt on dirt. How is your springtime coming along?