Soil is a natural resource which nourishes and nurtures varied living beings. However, soil, because of constant cultivation, year over year, has reached a point of self-destruction.
Soil does not remain constant and paralyzed in its composition. It is constantly moving and recreating itself aided by minerals, water, oxygen, and decomposing plant and animal matter.
Healthy soil should consist of 93% minerals and the remaining percentage is dedicated to bioorganic nutrients.
Through constant weather changes, i.e, snow, floods, arid spells, the soil gets robbed of its nutrients. Also, a lot of nutrients are lost in harvesting. By using bio-organic material, the soil’s natural nutrient resource can be increased and protected.
Without understanding soil, establishing a lawn is like investing in the stocks of a company without a clue on how the company is actually performing in the stock exchange market. Your money and effort will likely be lost.
So What is Soil?
Soil is a combination of organic and inorganic materials which provide water and nutrients for plants. Soil is not simply one thing, it also contains inorganic material such as sand, silt, clay, and small stones. Understanding the percentage of these components will help determine the texture or type of soil.
Soil provides food to the roots of the grass, and thus, the soil needs to be rich in certain organic material that is palatable for the grass. The grassroots retain the organic matter they require on the top level of the soil surface; this is called exchange sites.
The total number of exchange sites available in a patch of soil is the Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) of the soil. Obviously, if the CEC level is higher, then the soil’s richness is also higher.
Sometimes, probably due to economic conditions or due to repeated cultivation; the soil may be deficient in certain nutrients. This deficiency will have a direct impact on the grass, which will tend to look lackluster, discolored and unhealthy.
Seeing the grass withering in front of one’s eyes can be very disturbing and one may think that the reason is less water supply, and the reaction is to increase water supply. However, too much water can produce its own problems. If in spite of adequate water supply and pest control treatment, the grass looks off-color, the best option is to get the soil tested.
Once the results are obtained, the turf owner should provide a good fertilizer which has nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus in a 3-1-2 ratio. Following the schedule provided in the test report is important. Repeating the test once every three or four years will ensure that the land continues to be fertile.
Steps Involved in Soil Testing:
Take a sample of lawn soil to a laboratory for analysis. Lawn soil should be treated differently from the soil of flower or vegetable beds.
Soil rich in clay is not ideal for grass. Hence, soil amendments will be required. The best soil for grass is neutral moderate topsoil. In case the soil is rich in the claim, removing the top layer by excavation and bringing in new soil is recommended.
Adding soil supplements which are rich mixes (available in shops) or compost (commercial or homemade) manure will help to add to the nutrients in the soil.
To tackle weeds, we need to understand the weeds. That does not mean we need to learn botany now. We just need to be able to use some common descriptions for weeds to understand them.
Weeds are plants which grow where they are not wanted, multiply miraculously, survive in really tough conditions and choke good plants. Like cancer, they destroy good plants and over time, conquer the entire garden area.
Weeds are a sure example of Darwin’s theory on `Survival of the Fittest’. Probably because their use to mankind is limited and their growth is often curbed and controlled, weeds are really armed to survive in the bleakest of conditions and thrive and grow. They are also competent by nature, and they dominate the place they live in.
A few simple characteristics of weeds are:
- They produce seeds abundantly.
- They establish themselves really fast, and they grow and expand at amazing speed.
- Their seeds are `survival’ encoded.
- They compete and drive out other plants to establish their own selves more firmly.
- Weeds are troublesome! A lot of them can cause allergies like hay fever.
- They contaminate good crops, interfere with harvest and they act as hosts for insects.
- They grow during all seasons.
Controlling weeds is sort of like controlling cancer. The treatment should start in the initial stages in order to control the spread. Some methods include regular mowing, pulling out weeds by their roots, and applying herbicide discretionarily. To know more, read my eBook.
Recognize your weeds:
There are a lot more out there, but here are a few easily recognizable ones:
- Those little yellow flowers with tiny leaves are called Wood Sorrel.
- Plantain has leaves which have hard shoots with plain colors.
- Hawkweed resembles the dandelion.
- And the dandelion itself which has yellow flowers.
We actually start managing a weed problem only when we see it. But then the weeds have started germinating long before they appear on the ground. Since they are season resistant, a lot of weeds begin germinating in winter itself.
A good weed management program requires that we use a pre-emergent and a post-emergent treatment. As the words indicate, pre-emergent tackles weeds before they appear outside the soil, and post-emergent is for those persistent weeds which have made an external appearance.
Weeds are like viruses – there is no one miracle weed killer which kills all. Only the right weed killer will work on the right weed, and that too has to be used at the right time.
You may need to figure out the techniques and the products you need to use to manage your weed problem and to make your garden look healthy and nourished. Once you have tackled the problem, the benefits far outweigh the effort – your lawn will now look smoother, mowing is easier and finally your lawn looks thick with green grass and not with creepy weeds.
3 Steps to Get Your Soil Ready for Planting
It’s that time again. With the weather warming up, a sense of excitement about gardening always sets in. Whether you’re a first-time gardener or you’re returning to your garden after winter, let’s talk about simple ways to prepare your soil for the gardening season. 3 Steps to Get Your Soil Ready for Planting.
Clean Up Your Yard
Before you think about soil, you should clear away any old plant debris. Fallen leaves, branches and other organic matter can provide a perfect home for garden pests.
If you know the organic matter comes from a safe source, you can add it to your compost pile. Any organic matter from infected plants or other questionable sources should be discarded immediately.
While you’re cleaning up your lawn, look for obvious signs of pests, such as chewed leaves, aphids, snails or slugs.
Do a Soil Test
A soil test will determine your soil type, what nutrients are in it, what nutrients it’s lacking, and if it contains any toxins. Obtaining this information is the first step to amending your soil for gardening. You can do a simple test at home to look at the composition of your soil.
Grab a pint-sized jar and towel and follow these steps:
- Dig down at least 6 inches into the soil and scoop some out into your jar. If you plan to plant a large garden, you may want to test several areas of the yard.
- Fill the pint jar halfway with soil, and then add a few drops of liquid dish soap. Fill the jar the rest of the way with water.
- Put the lid of the jar on tightly and shake for 3 minutes. Set it aside to settle for 24 hours. You should then see the individual layers that make up your soil. Loamy soil is the ideal composition for gardening, but other soil types can be amended to work for planting.
Testing for toxins will require sending the sample away, but this step is extremely important to urban gardeners who may have lead in their soil. If your garden is near the road or near an older building, the chances of lead or other toxins in the soil increase exponentially. Luckily, it’s okay to plant in soils with lead.
For families with children, you should ensure a level of 100 ppm, but if children aren’t a concern you can safely eat plants from the soil with up to 300 ppm.
Here are a few steps for working with toxic soil:
- Always wear gloves and a face mask to reduce exposure to soil dust.
- Remove outer leaves from leafy crops and peel any root vegetables. Wash all produce in soapy water or water with vinegar to remove any traces of soil.
- Consider a home pH test. Maintaining a pH of 6.5 will make lead less available in the soil.
Till Your Soil
Tilling your soil helps eliminate weeds aerates the soil and makes it easier to work with. You can till small gardens by hand, but a rototiller or something similar is ideal for larger spaces. After working your soil and removing plant matter, you can start adding ingredients to help your specific soil. Here are a few tips:
- Clay soil can be amended by adding organic matter, such as manure or compost. Till any decayed organic material 4-6 inches deep in your soil.
- Sandy soil doesn’t retain moisture, so adding biochar can help. Once the biochar is in your soil, you should add fertilizer or compost. Mulching your plants once they’re established will help retain moisture.
- Acidic soil can be mixed with lime and compost to lower the acidity to a more acceptable level, while an alkaline soil will benefit from the addition of sulfur.
- While amending your soil pH and nutrients, you should regularly check the soil’s progress. Soil amendments like lime work slowly over time. Adding too much won’t help speed up the process. You have to be patient and test regularly until your soil reaches the desired state.
You can take a look at the chart for the soil PH levels for different plants.
Once your soil has been tilled, tested and amended, it’s ready for planting. Preparing your soil may seem time-consuming, but the process is worth it. Healthy soil leads to a healthy garden and bountiful harvests. You get back from the soil what you put into it, so the time and effort you devote to it is a wise investment.
Read also: Typical Lawn Care Problems