The dirt on dirt
Soil, while truly the most abundant resource on earth, is not the most exciting topic of conversation. However, the ground beneath your feet plays a significant role in your everyday life, whether you live in an area ripe with rich agricultural earth or a seemingly barren sand-laden desert. Here, our online nursery examines the different types of dirt and what plants - if any - grow best in each.
Clay is an excellent material for water retention. It is slow-draining and has an exceptional ability to hold nutrients. Because of its tiny particles - clay particles are typically less than .002mm in diameter - it warms at a slower rate than loose topsoils. Clay also retains heat well, making it an ideal additive to gardens growing a variety of tomatoes and peppers, peas and leafy vegetables. Flowers, such as heleniums, roses, and asters all thrive in clay soil. Most ponds and culverts contain some mixture of clay and other rocks and soils.
Like clay, silty soil retains water well and is smooth to the touch. Silt lacks some nutrients but is fertile enough to grow milkweed and most fruits and vegetables. This type of soil compacts easily and may require aeration in order for plants to thrive.
Loam is the perfect soil for gardening. It is a textbook balance of clay, silt, and sand with traces of humus - the long-lasting remnants of decayed organic matter. Loamy soil areas collect and retain water in quantities suitable for agricultural cultivation. Its pH and calcium levels are ideal to sustain carrots, potatoes, and radishes and stable enough to support vining plants like tomatoes. Perennials such as roses and marigolds grow well in loam.
When you think of sand, your mind may automatically be drawn to beautiful beaches and carefree days. However, sand is one of the most difficult types of soil in which to grow. Because of its large particles, sand does not hold water at ideal levels to support extensive root systems. There are, however, certain flowers and plants that don't mind these conditions. These include cistus; hibiscus; and tulips in the flower family and watermelons; peanuts; and certain fruit trees.
A soil rich in organic material, peat is dark in color and sometimes referred to by farmers as “black gold” for its ability to retain nutrients and moisture. Peaty soil is an excellent additive to container plants as it helps protect from damage from both drought and oversaturation. Peat is slightly more acidic than other soils and is used to regulate the pH balance of home gardens. A number of mosses and shrubs grow well in soil that contains high levels of peat.
Saline, or salty, soil is typical of extremely dry climate. It does not offer a sustainable environment in which to grow. Its high salt content often leads to stunted growth, inhibited germination, and difficult irrigation. Salty soil is easy to spot as it's covered with a telltale layer of white powder on the surface. It is difficult to correct salty soil with the addition of other types of dirt; salt is pulled to the surface in dry weather and seeps back into ground indiscriminately.
Chalky soil is found over limestone beds. It is difficult to work with as it becomes sticky when wet and dries out easily in warm weather. Chalky soil has a low presence of moisture and contains high levels of lime. With a pH balance in excess of 7.5, it is an alkali agent which can stunt plant growth. Plants that do find themselves living in chalky soil may have an odd yellow hue. Fortunately, many flowering shrubs live long and happy lives in an alkali environment. If you have chalky soil you can add alkali neutralizers such as compost, peat, and manure for growing garden vegetables or other nursery stock.
The process of soil formation is unique based on the land in your region. Certain climate effects, including moisture and erosion, play a part in the types of nutrients and minerals found in soil. Geologic, chronologic, and biologic factors also have an impact in soil makeup. Since soil is essentially made up of broken down rock particles and organic material, it also breeds certain bacteria, many of which are beneficial and necessary to sustain life. Environmental hazards such as pollution and over-farming may damage the soil.
If you plan to garden, having a basic understanding of your soil conditions is vital. Most home and garden centers offer a plethora of options for enhancing sub-par soil. You should think of your soil as a living, breathing organism that requires care, just like plants. Creatures, like worms, are crucial for healthy soil as are certain types of fungus. To ensure the grow-ability of your soil, always use natural pesticides and treat your lawn with respect.
Our online nursery experts can help you decide what stocks grow best in your area. For more information, call us at 931.692.4252