A question on every gardener’s mind whether you are a novice gardener or a master gardener is what is good soil for my garden? Depending on the type of garden you have, it can vary. When I say types I am referring to raised garden beds, elevated garden beds, wicking beds, container gardens and of course the traditional ground garden. Each of these types of gardens can utilize a certain mixture of soil, soil amendments and added fertilizers. Companies are now getting on board and producing soil specifically for raised and elevated garden beds as well as additional soil with amendments to add to your ground garden. So, yes, it can be confusing as to what works best. One thing is for sure, that once you plant in soil it will need to be revived with nutrients to make up for the ones lost during growth. Here are some tips to keep in mind when choosing or amending your soil.
Traditional ground gardens
Not everyone lives where there is good soil! If you are determined to do traditional gardening and start a plot in your backyard you might want to have your soil tested to see what will need to be added to make it viable for plants. Well drained soil is a must for healthy plants. If you have clay soil, adding organic matter over a course of several years will improve the texture of the clay. Clay soil is full of nutrients, but is in need of good soil tilth (which relates to the soils ability to drain properly and provide proper aeration.) Adding aged-manures, compost and planting cover crops will eventually improve the soil.
Soil recommendation: Add garden soil for ground gardens, compost, and aged-manures to improve texture.
Raised garden beds
There are soils you can purchase for a raised garden. Because raised garden beds have no bottom and are open to the earth below they are similar to amending as in ground gardens. Adding compost regularly in the spring and the fall will help build a beautiful soil rich in nutrients and texture. The benefits of the raised bed over ground; is that they have less weeds, prevent soil compaction, and provide good drainage. Not to mention they bring the garden platform up for less bending and digging.
Soil recommendation: Add coconut coir to retain moisture and nutrients. Peat moss is another medium you can use, however it is slightly acidic where coconut coir is neutral. Top it off with a good potting mix and add in compost (which should be at least 30-50 percent of your soil.) Plant food additions, such as fish emulsions and worm castings can be added for extra nutrients.
Elevated Garden beds
These beds are different from raised beds because they have bottoms and are waist high for easier gardening. Elevated gardens can be placed in areas such as patios, porches and balconies. Because they have no soil to start, you can choose nutrient rich soil to fill them and over the course of a few years continue to add compost and plant food to enhance the soil.
Soil Recommendation: Similar to raised beds; A layer of coconut coir or peat moss on the bottom with a potting mix on top and added compost to that will make ideal conditions for your plants. Don’t forget the plant food!
Container gardens are very popular for people who have very little room to plant a garden. Growing a tomato plant in a bucket or bag has given new meaning to gardening! Grow bags and small pots offer people with little space an opportunity to grow fresh vegetables. Small gardening still means choosing a quality soil. A potting mix (which is not real soil from the earth) is a combination of peat moss, compost, and perlite or vermiculite. Porous and loose soil, allow water and air to plant roots more quickly. Because they are smaller pots they will need frequent watering to prevent drying out.
Soil recommendation: A quality potting mix, or if you make your own: a combination of peat moss, compost, perlite and fine sand.
Wicking garden beds
What is a wicking bed? It is a garden bed that has a water reservoir at the bottom of the garden with the soil on top. The water below wicks up through the soil to your plant roots for consistent moisture. This type of garden makes sure your plants are not under watered or over watered. Wicking beds can be elevated or raised. Soil type is very important for this type of garden because of soil compaction and nutrient loss that can occur through draining. In order for a wicking bed to work there is a degree of layering that needs to be done to get the water to wick to the surface. A layer of peat moss or coconut coir works well to act like a sponge to wick the water to the soil. Using a good quality potting soil and compost on top of that will ensure a productive, low maintenance garden.
Soil recommendation: A bottom layer of peat moss or coconut coir with a layer of potting soil and compost. Consistent fertilizing is important to regain nutrients loss through draining. Using a garden soil is way too heavy for wicking beds due to consistent moisture. Soil compaction can occur and prevent root growth.
Whether you have land or not, gardening can be for everyone. Each of the types of gardens listed offer advantages for individual gardening needs. Soil is vital to a successful garden. Choosing the right soil among the many offered is a confusing process even for those of us who garden a lot. Trial and error will eventually lead you to success. Following these few guidelines will help in choosing the correct soil.
In the end good soil equals healthy plants which means happy gardeners!