North Coast California Gardening Soils
- Back to the Soils Main Page (this page)
- What You Should Know About Organic Materials
- The Differences Between Topsoil and Subsoil
- How To Improve Your Soil
- Inorganic Materials as Helpful Additions
- Recommendations for Lawn Soil
- Facts on Soil Acidity and Alkalinity
- Humus, Composts and Mulches
- How Mulches Save You Work and Benefit Your Soil
- Fertilizers, Commonly Called Plant Foods
- Merits of Organic and Chemical Fertilizers
- About Foliar Feeding
- Maintaining Your Soil
The soil in your yard is a mixture of many things inherited from its past. Included are bits of rock, living and dead plants and animals--mostly of microscopic size--, air and water. What types these are, and their proportion in the general mixture, decides your soil's characteristics.
Good points and bad ones relate back to the soil's history. For instance: Did it originate as leaf mold on a forest floor? Was it washed into your part of the country by a glacier? What type of rock was the "parent" that produced most of its mineral content? Has it been heavily cropped as farmland, or was it dug recently from a deeper layer during excavations for your house? Such things determine secondary characteristics too, such as whether worms and microorganisms are abundant, whether fertility has accumulated, and whether cultivation is easy.
No matter what sort of soil you have, there are a number of things you can do to improve it for a particular purpose, or for future use. But because your soil is likely to be different from others, you must decide what to do about it on the basis of its own characteristics.
Importance of Soil
Soil plays a big part in the way plants grow because of its relationship to the roots. Though plants obtain some of the raw material for their growth from the air, they depend on roots to gather most of the necessary moisture and fertility. This is where the soil comes in. Roots make use of it not only for anchoring plants and holding them in place, but also as a storehouse for food elements and water.
Since roots are alive and need oxygen, the soil needs to be porous; air for the roots to "breathe" is dragged into the pores of the soil behind water that drains through it.
Microscopic organisms in the soil perform useful duties, such as decomposing dead plants and thus unlocking nutrients for reuse, trapping nitrogen from the air and changing it into a form (nitrates) that plants can use, effecting transformations in the soil where many elements are temporarily "fixed" and then released later in different form. Huh? What'd he say? He said, you need life in your soil to make food available for the plants. Conditions in the soil should therefore encourage these workers, your crew!
Ideally, your soil should be of crumbly and porous structure so that provisions for air and water are perfect. Its particles should be of a type able to absorb and hold vast fertility. It would be nice, too, if there were no weed seeds, insects or disease spores in it! However, the only way to have all of this would be to gather special ingredients, and mix and sterilize them as a florist does his greenhouse potting soil. A more practical approach is this: if the soil in your yard is particularly poor in some respect, correct the major difficulty as best you can, concentrating your effort where it will do the most good.