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Improve your garden soil simply and naturally

17.02.2021  /  Reading time: 8 minutes

In this article, we provide an overview of methods to improve your garden soil. There are a few things to bear in mind here. The type of soil in your garden plays a particularly important role here. Depending on whether you are dealing with heavy or light soil, there are different approaches to soil improvement. You can find out more here.

This article contains:

  1. Improve garden soil: tips for fertile soil
  2. Heavy soils: loam or clay soils
  3. What are so-called minute floors?
  4. Improve clay soil and loamy soil - Loosen the soil
  5. Light soils: sandy soils/sandy soils
  6. Improve sandy soil
  7. Frequently asked questions about improving garden soil

Quick Overview

Heavy soils = loam and clay soils (minute soils)

  • Properties: high clay content; fine pores; high storage capacity (but partly not available to plants, as small pores hold the water and the nutrients dissolved in it)
  • Problem: soil compaction

Improve heavy soils

  • Mix in coarse particles (e.g. humus or sand)
  • Sow green manure
  • Mulching
  • No-dig method

Light soils = sandy soils/sandy soils

  • Properties: high sand content, coarse pores, low storage capacity, low humus content
  • Problem: Poor storage of water and nutrients

Improve light soils

  • Layering organic material (no-dig method)
  • Sow green manure
  • Mix in loam or clay flour
  • Permanent mulch layer
  • Use organic fertilizer with low solubility

Improve garden soil: tips for fertile soil

Every gardener dreams of fertile garden soil. Preferably with a crumbly, loose soil structure, deep and rich in living organisms. The optimum pH value for growing vegetable plants is usually around 6.5 to 7. If the soil is too sandy, the garden soil is too acidic for most crops; conversely, soil that is too heavy is usually quite alkaline. The perfect garden soil therefore lies somewhere in between. It is important to have a high humus content, which has a positive influence on many soil properties and soil life. In this article, you will learn how to improve your garden soil depending on the soil type.

A humus-rich garden soil is good for plants and all soil organisms. You can find more information on garden soil with tips for fertile soil in this article.

Determine soil type in your garden

In order to take the right measures, you first need to get to know your garden soil better. To do this, it is essential to determine the type of soil and thus roughly its composition. There are various things you can do to do this. With the simple soil test, you can easily determine the type of soil in your garden. But indicator plants can also give you clues about the soil structure, water and nutrient availability or pH value.

Heavy soils: loam or clay soils

Cracks in dry clay soil
Clay soils quickly form cracks in dry conditions and become rock-hard, making them almost impossible to work in this state.

As the name suggests, heavy soils are relatively difficult to work. Anyone who has clayey soil in their garden knows the problem: if it is too dry, cracks form and the soil becomes rock-hard. The other extreme also makes every gardener despair: if the soil is too wet, it also resists any kind of cultivation.

What are so-called minute floors?

Heavy soils can therefore only be worked in a certain condition, they must be neither too dry nor too moist. In agriculture, they are therefore often referred to as minute soils, as the cultivation period is very short.

Tilling minute soils / clay soils

Clay soils contain numerous fine pores (= tiny cavities) that are filled with air or water. The fine pores ensure that water and nutrients are well retained. Heavy soils therefore have a high storage capacity. As a gardener, you benefit from this property because you need to water and fertilize less often.
However, due to the high water content, the soil warms up slowly in spring, which means it can take longer for your seeds to germinate. The narrow pores can also lead to waterlogging and a lack of air in the soil. Both are a death sentence for the growth of your plants and should be avoided at all costs as a gardener!

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Improve clay soil and loamy soil - Loosen the soil

The most important thing when improving heavy soil is to loosen the soil structure. The looser soil structure allows water to seep away more quickly and the roots can breathe more easily. This also significantly improves root penetration, making it much easier for the roots to penetrate the hollow passages. These cavities are crucial for the success of root vegetables, for example!

Loosening heavy soil - here's how

  • Work insand or compost: The coarser particles improve soil aeration
  • Mulching beds and garden soil : Food for soil organisms; protection from environmental influences
  • Create no-dig beds: Piling up organic material to improve soil structure and health
  • Green manuring with deep-rooted crops (e.g. lupins or comfrey)

Light soils: sandy soils/sandy soils

Radishes in the bed
Radishes thrive well in light soils, as they can develop more easily in the loose environment.

As the name suggests, light soils are easy to work on practically all year round. It dries quickly, weeds can be easily removed and loosening is hardly a problem. This may sound tempting at first, but this type of soil also has disadvantages. Sandy soils have a rather poor storage capacity. Water can easily seep through the coarse pores, which can quickly lead to drying out in summer. In addition, a soil poor in humus can only hold nutrients poorly and they are easily washed out into the groundwater. However, the large pores have the advantage that the roots are always supplied with sufficient oxygen and no waterlogging can occur. In addition, light soils warm up more quickly due to the many air-filled cavities, so that early sowing is possible.

Improve sandy soil

To make sandy soil more fertile, you should first and foremost improve its storage capacity. As a gardener, you have a few options here. It helps to increase the proportion of organic matter or clay in the soil. This boosts the conversion of organic matter and thus increases the humus content over time. Here too, the no-dig method is a good way to improve the soil in the long term. Organic fertilizers such as compost are an important tool for building up humus. It is also important to keep a close eye on the pH value of sandy soils. Sandy soils are naturally slightly acidic, but the pH value should never fall below 5.5. Soil that is too acidic can have a negative effect on your crops (e.g. blossom end rot in tomatoes).

Soil improvement for sandy soils:

  • Mulch organic material (green manure is also suitable for this: The plants can be cut from the surface after a while and used as mulch): Contributes to humus enrichment, promotes biological activity in the soil, reduces evaporation and thus soil drying, increases storage capacity in the soil
  • Mix in rock flour with a high clay content: increases the storage capacity of water and nutrients
  • Organic fertilization with compost, rotted manure or plant manure (it is better to fertilize more often here, otherwise you risk leaching nutrients): increases biological activity, food for soil organisms and plants, promotes humus formation
  • Lime the soil: raise the pH value by liming

To give you a concise overview, we have compiled all the common methods of soil improvement in this article. There are many ways to make your soil more fertile, but that doesn't mean you have to use them all. You can simply choose the measures that are easiest for you to implement. You will soon realize which ones help you succeed and which ones don't. The most important thing, however, is to better understand your soil and the life in it!

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Annabell is studying agricultural biology at the University of Hohenheim. She also enjoys gardening in her private life, spends a lot of time in nature and loves to be creative.

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A fertile garden soil has a crumbly but stable soil structure that can be deeply rooted. The optimum pH value is between 6.5 and 7 for most vegetable crops. A good humus content and a lively biological diversity in your soil are important.

Minute soils are heavy soils that can only be worked in a certain condition (neither too dry nor too moist). This is why they are also called minute soils in agriculture.

It is important to loosen the soil structure. To do this, you can work in sand and/or compost or simply apply it, mulch or sow a green manure with deep roots.

Here too, it helps to add organic material to promote biological activity in the soil. Rock flour increases the water storage capacity and you can raise the pH value with liming.

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