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.
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
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.
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.