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Preparing the ground for new gardens and testing the soil

Garden Preparation beyond design

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Garden Preparation
There’s more to preparing the ground than just clearing out the builder’s rubble or the previous owner’s carefully nurtured specimens if you want to get your own plants off to a good start. Much can be done to improve the soil’s balance and quality.

What type of soil?
Before choosing your plants, you need to know what type of soil you have, and how it may be improved. Look at its colour, and feel the texture. It may be a heavy clay that sticks to boots, a pale, chalky soil, or gritty sand. The ideal is loam, a mixture of sand, silt, clay and humus that clings loosely together when crumbled. And the more closely you can persuade your soil to resemble the ideal, the happier your plants will be.
Heavy clay with poor drainage can be lightened by adding grit or coarse, sharp sand and organic matter, such as garden compost. If the soil is sandy or chalky and dries out quickly, dig in plenty of humus-forming materials such as well-rotted farmyard manure to encourage moisture retention.

THE ACID TEST.
Soil may veer towards the acid or the alkaline, whatever its structure, and while most plants can grow in either condition, some have a preference or need for one or the other. To determine which type you have, test the soil with a simple chemical kit or meter and probe, both of which can be obtained from a garden centre.
The level of acidity or alkalinity is measured on a 0-14 scale known as the pH scale; 7.0 is neutral and numbers below that indicate an acid soil, while numbers above indicate an alkaline soil. Most garden plants prefer a soil which is slightly acid, 6.5 on the pH scale. You can raise the alkalinity by adding lime, or increase the acidity by adding moss peat or animal manure to the soil. As a general rule, sandy and clay soils are usually acid, though common boulder clay and some sands are alkaline, as are chalky soils.

VITAL INDREDIENTS.
There are kits available which determine what nutrients are present in the soil, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Humus is necessary in all soils and decomposed organic material (such as compost) needs to be added regularly to improve the soil structure. This can be done every other year or even every third year. Either spread the organic material thickly over the surface, and allow worms and other creatures to pull it down, or incorporate it while digging.


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