Once you’ve tested your soil, you may have some work in front of you
to get it ready for planting. Depending on what’s wrong with your soil,
amending – a fancy word for “fixing” - can be an easy fix…or a pretty
complicated one. Here are some common soil problems and their solutions:
Problem: Soil is too acidic. The
lower the pH level, the higher the acidity. While certain plants
require a more acidic soil, most do best between 5.8 and 6.5 pH.
lime, poultry manure, or wood ash to your soil can make it more alkaline
and raise the pH to a healthier level. If you’ve already got plants in
the ground, add a little at a time – 5-10 pounds of lime per
100 square feet of soil – and wait at least three months to re-apply,
to avoid shocking the plants.
Problem: Soil is too alkaline. Again, all plants prefer slightly different pH levels, but if your soil is above 6.5 pH, it’s likely too high.
sulfur is a popular choice for adding acid to soil, since it’s safe for
plants and relatively inexpensive. However, it is slow-acting. Iron
sulfate is a bit more expensive, but faster. Many gardeners swear by
coffee grounds as an inexpensive, safe and readily-available way to
lower pH levels.
Problem: Soil is lacking in essential nutrients. Nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are vital for healthy plants.
Solution: Add organic matter or inorganic fertilizer. Organic
matter can include anything from compost to bone meal to lawn
clippings, depending on your specific needs. Inorganic fertilizer is
inexpensive and works quickly, but instead of actually amending the
soil, it simply feeds existing plants, and can damage soil over the long
Problem: Soil is too sandy or too dense. Remember that clay soils can have a hard time draining, while sandy soils often don’t effectively deliver nutrition to plants.
Solution: Adding peat moss is an inexpensive and effective way to loosen up clay soil, while compost can build up and enrich sandy soil.
Now that you know the basics for amending soil, it’s a good idea to read up on your specific issue in more detail. Over-amending soil can do more harm than good, as can using the wrong amendment. This article does a great job explaining how to amend, sensibly.
And if it turns out your soil is going to be very difficult, expensive or time-consuming to amend, don’t lose heart! Remember that container gardening and raised beds are both gardening options that may make your life easier – and your good-soil dreams come true.