Did you know?
When we picture an ideal garden, we tend to imagine all the activity going on above ground; flowers blooming, trees reaching for the skies, shrubs feeding hungry birds. Meanwhile, there is an entire ecosystem below ground making all of that possible.
Soil is the foundation of our gardens — it sustains our plants with nutrients and water, supports a web of fungi that improve plant health, and nurtures billions of critters that keep everything in check.
There are four main components to soil that keep it functioning:
Organic matter: Healthy soil is packed with life, from munching earthworms to burrowing rodents to tiny organisms you need specialized equipment to see. When any of this living matter dies it decays and breaks down into nutrients that feed our plants.
Water: Water carrying nutrients is taken up by plant roots and is vital for plant growth. Soil organisms also consume water and some even live in it.
Gas: Any space between soil particles that isn’t filled with water is filled with gas, such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen. All these gases help plants thrive.
Minerals: The most common minerals found in our soil are quartz and feldspar, but others are usually in the mix. Generally, soil minerals are divided into 3 broad categories based on the size of their particles:
- Sand: These particles are 2 – 0.05 millimeters in diameter creating a loose, quick-draining soil that can dry out easily and is often low in nutrients.
- Loam: These particles are 0.05 – 0.002 millimeters in diameter creating a fine, textured soil that drains well.
- Clay: These particles are very small, less than 0.002 millimeters in diameter, creating a slow draining, dense soil that is sticky when wet and hard when dry, but is often nutrient rich.
The way these four ingredients interact and are found in your soil can vary drastically from one part of your yard to the next. Your soil can even change the deeper into the ground it gets, creating layers with distinct characteristics.
Different plants grow best in different types of soil, so it’s important to know what you’re working with. In any case, it’s always best to choose native plants that have evolved with our soil conditions.