GARDENING |How does your garden grow? By giving soil a little TLC

FOUNDATION: Success really is built from the ground up in the garden.
FOUNDATION: Success really is built from the ground up in the garden.

Gardening success all comes down to soil preparation and no matter what soil type you have, it can be brought into good tilth for exceptional plant growth, with a little effort.

Close examination of soils reveals a complex mix of mineral particles, organic matter, organisms and moisture.

The ratio of the mineral components in a soil will determine its texture which is the single most critical factor in the ability of a soil to grow plants successfully.

Texture is simply the ratio of sand, silt and clay particles found in a soil.

Depending on the size and ratio of these particles, soils will vary from loose open sand to dense heavy clay. It is the latter that tends to give gardeners the most difficulty.

If soil sticks to your shoes and garden tools like glue, forms clods difficult to break up, crusts over and cracks in dry weather and water tends to puddle on the ground after rain, it is likely you have a heavy clay soil.

On the positive side, heavy clay soil has high levels of nutrients and will support many more plants than one might think, because of its density it retains moisture well and tends to be nutrient-rich.

Improving a heavy clay soil will take some effort but any work done will instantly improve the soil structure.

It's best to improve the entire growing bed rather than just the soil of individual planting holes. Start soil improvement by using gypsum at the rate of one kilo per square metre, digging this into the top 10 to 15cm well.

Gypsum works on the clay by breaking it up into small crumbly pieces, making it easier to work with and improves drainage. Lime will also do the same, but it changes the soil pH which can be problematic for some plants.

The next step is to add organic matter in the form of animal manures and composts.

Spread the organic matter on top of the soil. The organic matter needs to be mixed into the top 15cm of soil, digging it in with a shovel and mixing as you go.

On completion the garden bed will be higher than it was originally, but it will settle as the organic matter breaks down over the growing season and you can begin planting immediately.

Given the right treatment and constantly adding more organic matter each season, the soil will continually improve over time and the benefits are enormous.