Your soil is where your plants live. It’s where they eat, breathe (actually, transpire), fight diseases, and anchor their location in this world. Nothing is more important to your plants, and to your gardening, than your soil.
Soil is a fascinating mix of mineral and organic matter, air, and water. The mineral components come from dissolved rock matter; organic components come from decayed plant and animal sources. Air and water circulate within the spaces between the solid mineral and organic particles.
Minerals supply nutrients and give shape to the soil. Organic matter also supplies nutrients and effects how well plants are able to use the other three basic components minerals, water, and air.
Improving Your Soil
For most of us, the best thing that we can do for our lawn and gardens is to improve our soil. It is nearly impossible to take anything (other than rocks and weeds) out of your soil. The way to improve your soil is to add the right things to it.
Consider improving your soil in the following areas:
pH Values – the Chemistry of Your Soil
The standard measure of soil acidity is pH; a scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 1 representing the most acid, and 14 being the most alkaline (or basic). A value of 7 indicates neutral soil. The acidity or alkalinity of your soil it affects how well the soil microbes perform as well as how well the plants roots absorb nutrients.
All garden soils tend to become more acidic over time, because acids are created when organic matter decays. Thankfully, most garden plants tend to do perform very well in slightly acidic soils at about 6.5 on the pH scale, the point at which minerals are most soluble and therefore readily available to the plants as nutrients.
If a soil test indicates that you need to adjust the pH of your soil, the best soil additives are pelletized lime to make the soil more alkaline and less acidic, or sulfur to make the soil more acidic and less alkaline. See Understanding and Improving Your Soil for more information on adjusting your soil’s pH.
Soil Texture – the Particle Size of Your Soil
The two extremes of poor soil texture are heavy clay soils, comprised of very small particles that stick together and impede water, air, and nutrient circulation; and, sandy soils, which have very large particles which do not hold sufficient moisture and nutrients for most garden plants.
To improve heavy clay soils, add sand and compost. Sand will improve circulation and compost will add nutrition and improve the texture. See the article on composting for additional information on making great compost.
To improve sandy soils, the single best soil additive is compost, which will significantly improve texture, while adding nutrition and disease-preventing properties to the soil.
When adding sand, compost, or both, you’ll need to till the soil to help mix the components. This is where your Mantis Tiller really comes in handy. Till the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches for most garden applications.
When adding compost or sand to established lawns, sift the compost to select the smallest possible particles, and use the Mantis Aerator attachment to help the sand and compost work its way into the soil. (Note you should only use the Aerator attachment if your established lawn consists of “northern” grasses. Don’t use the Aerator attachment on established Bermuda or Zoysia grass lawns.)
You can do two good things to ensure that the grass plants that make up your lawn have the best possible environment to use available water and nutrients: aerating and dethatching.
Soil Nutrition – Your Soil’s Food for Plants
For garden soils, the single best additive is finished compost, which will provide a wide range of nutrients, improve the soil’s texture, and provide disease-fighting amendments. When adding significant amounts of compost, till the compost into the garden soil with your Mantis tiller.
For improved lawn soil nutrition, the best additive is sifted compost or a well-balanced organic fertilizer. Chemical fertilizers can be used to add nutrition, but you’ll need to be careful to avoid adding too much nitrogen, and you need to be very careful to apply chemical fertilizers evenly to preclude “striping” the lawn.