One of the biggest challenges a gardener can face is growing plants in polluted soil. Many things can pollute soil, including chemicals that remain from past uses of the ground, flooding, and sewer back-up. If you think your soil is polluted, it is important to conduct a soil test. You can buy a do-it-yourself soil test, but if you are worried about serious contamination, it might be best to have a professional evaluation of the soil.
For heavily polluted or contaminated soil, especially with deadly chemicals, it would be best to dig up the area and dispose of the existing soil, and then replace it with new. This can be very costly, but depending on the level of pollution, may be the only choice.
If you discover that the soil is only moderately polluted, there are ways you can remedy the situation on your own.
Step 1 - Do a Soil Test
Finding out what your soil lacks or has an abundance of is the first thing that must happen so you can take appropriate steps. By knowing this, you will know what to add to make the soil healthier.
Step 2 - Add Organic Materials
One way to improve your soils health is to add organic matter, such as compost, manure, leaves, or grass clippings. Use a tiller of spade to work the matter into the top 6 to 4 inches of soil. By adding the organic material, you will encourage micro organisms to move into your soil, and you will attract worms which act as natural aerators in soil.
Step 3 - Add Nutrients
Depending on the results of your soil test, add lime to lower pH levels or sulfur to raise the pH level. Add fertilizer to increase nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.
Step 4 - Improve Drainage
If your soil has poor drainage, it will be harder for it to shed it's toxins. The compost will help with drainage, but you can also add gypsum and coarse sand to soil to make it less dense. Pea gravel may also be used. Work the materials into the soil well.
Step 5 - Bring in the Micro Organisms
You can add your own micro organisms to the soil to help speed the process. Many of the thrive in contaminated soils, and will suck up and metabolize the pollutants for you.
Step 6 - Grow Plants that Clean the Soil
There are several plants that can help clean up the soil. Sunflowers will draw toxins out of the soil with their roots, and have been used for years as natural detoxifiers. Another plant that will help the process by the same method is ferns. Ferns and sunflowers both work as natural leeches, and will suck up many of the chemical pollutants left behind in the soil.
Step 7 - Continue to Work the Soil
Keep the soil tilled, watered, and fertilized. Between the improved drainage, the micro organisms, the pollutant eating plants, and your care of the soil, it will soon be healthy and ready to garden.