Soil - The Foundation of Healthy Plants

Bennett Joffrion, Fletcher, Jr., Bobby H.  |  10/30/2007 1:47:30 AM

Soil-The Foundation of Healthy Plants

A wide variety of soil types are in Louisiana. Talk to your parish county agent about what the soil is like where you live. A soil test, available through your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office, will tell you a lot about the type of soil(s) your site has.

Improving the Soil
It is best to use plants that are compatible with the soil you have on your site. To grow some types of plants, such as bedding plants or vegetables, you will need to add organic matter, such as compost, to the bed each time you prepare it for planting. Organic matter retains moisture, improves drainage, provides nutrients and attracts beneficial organisms like earthworms. Other sources of organic matter include aged or composted manure, leaf mold (partially decayed leaves), peat moss, composted finely ground pine bark and soil conditioner.

Add organic matter to a prepare a bed for planting by spreading a layer 2 inches to 4 inches thick over the bed and then mixing it into the upper 8 inches using a tiller, shovel or digging fork.

In beds with permanent plantings, such as shrubs, apply organic matter as mulch 2 inches to 3 inches deep around existing shrubs in spring. Check the mulch in late summer or fall, and replenish as necessary to keep the recommended depth (see Maximize Mulch and Recycle Yard Waste for more information on mulching). As mulch decays, it gradually will be incorporated into the soil of the bed by the action of earthworms.

Soil pH
The pH of the soil indicates how acid or alkaline the soil in your garden is. The pH of the soil has a strong influence on how readily available mineral nutrients in the soil are to plants.

You can determine the pH of your soil by having it tested through your local LSU AgCenter Extension office. Home soil test kits are available as well, but you must use them carefully to get accurate results.

Knowing your soil’s pH also will help you make better use of plant reference guides, which often utilize this information along with other requirements for plants listed. Most plants are adaptable and actually will tolerate a wide range of pH levels. They will do best, however, when planted into their preferred soil pH. The soil pH can be modified, but this is really only a temporary solution, so it is best to choose plants that are adapted to the native pH of your soil.

Compacted Soil
Many new homes are built on a raised platform of compacted fill dirt brought in by construction companies. Such compacted soils don’t provide a healthy environment for plant roots and may limit healthy growth. To deal with this situation, loosen the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches and incorporate generous amounts of organic matter to landscape beds before installing the plants.

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