What do you need to know to start to grow? It all starts with soil, the backbone of your garden. It’s made of sand, silt, clay and organic materials. 

Sand, silt, and clay are the mineral components. Sand is the coarsest. Silt is next in size: irregularly shaped particles like sand but smaller. Clay particles are very small and flat. They pack tightly and don’t let water or nutrients pass through. Possibly the most important part is organic matter, which is decayed plant material. It lightens the other components, holds water and supplies nutrients. An ideal mix of these components is crumbly when you squeeze a handful of damp soil and then poke it. Edmonton area soils tend to have a lot of clay, which impedes drainage, so you should add as much organic matter as you can to help break it up. Don’t ever add just sand to clay – you’ll end up with cement!

If you are starting from scratch in a new yard, use 30 cm (12″) of good quality soil mix. Your local nursery can help you in figuring out how much to purchase.

However, if you have an established yard, how do you figure out what kind of soil you have? A simple test you can do is to dig a hole 30 cm (12″) deep. Fill it with water and wait about an hour. If the water does not drain, your soil has poor drainage. The solution is to mix in a combination of manure, compost, peat moss, or coconut coir fibre. Manure and compost will also provide organic material and nutrients.

Having problems growing plants? Consider a soil test! Local nurseries have home testing kids, or you can send a sample to a soil lab. Do not start adding chemicals without doing a test first. Doing so can turn bad soil into something worse, requiring lots of time and money to fix, and possibly killing all of your existing plants. Soil testing is much cheaper; don’t let this happen to you!

This is the second in the series of articles for the beginner by Colleen McKenna

Edited by Webmaster