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Soil Basics for Great Gardens

The success of a great landscape is not measured by how well it looks when it is complete. It is measured by how well it stands up over time.

Although designers, landscapers and home owners look at the flowers, leaves, paving, sculptures and water features, these are not actually the secrets to the success of a garden. Just as a Mercedes drives on top quality tyres, so too does a landscape rely on what’s beneath… the soil.

Soil is the substance in which roots develop and obtain nourishment for trees, shrubs, climbers, bulbs, grass and weeds. Skimping during the early stages of creating a landscape by either using low-cost poor quality soil, or by not improving what you already have will result in only one thing… a poor quality landscape in the future.

It must also be remembered that treatments in the soil regarded as good for plants may not necessarily be good for other landscape elements such as paving, decking, retainer walls. For example, structural elements like paving need compacted soil which is in contrast to what living plants require. Consideration should be given to where structural elements of the landscape will occur and therefore the different soil treatments required.

If starting a landscape from scratch, first identify the type of soil. This can be done most easily by taking a sample of soil to the local garden centre. Soils will usually be described as clay, loam or sand, or a combination of these.

Additionally it is important to establish the pH of the soil which relates to acidity and alkalinity.

Water conservation is a topical issue and water retention is therefore critical. If the soil repels water or does not hold onto rainwater after a rainshower, then you need to address this problem immediately. Products on the market include wetta-soil, penetraide and saturaid should overcome this problem. There are also ‘water crystals’ and ‘water cells’ that can be added into the ground with newly planted specimens.

If you have to buy in soil and desire to conserve water ask for a soil mix that has products like hydrocell or saturaid already mixed in.

Too many people get hung up over soil type… if its clay, sand or loam. Each of these can easily be worked to sustain and enhance plant growth. However soil structure should not be overlooked. Structure refers to the natural shapes of the soil ‘clods’. Natural soils will have a structure whereas ‘imported’ soils from most landscape suply yards will rarely have one. A good structured soil enhances water penetration, root development and aeration. Usually all that is needed to enhance structure is organic matter.

Ppersonally I am a strong believer in fixing the soil you already have rather than ‘import’ new soil into your garden. However there are many good reasons to buy soil for a garden especially in new estates where all the natural soil has been removed.

A gardener’s resource kit for soil improvement:
* pH test kit
* gypsum to beak up clay

What Paul uses to enhance soil:
* organic matter
* hydrocell / saturaid
* maidenwell diatomite
* powerfeed / seasol combination


Article written by Paul Plant FAIH, freelance horticultural writer and consultant. This article has already appeared in the HOME magazine of Courier Mail.

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