Soil comes in many forms. Some types are suitable for growing plants of all types, while other types are only able to support limited varieties of plants, or none at all. The good news is that even poor soil can be conditioned, effectively bringing it back to life. If you have a compost heap, you have everything required for healthy soil, and organic fertilizer is available at your local garden center.
Why Should You Test the Soil?
Acidic soil may be too harsh for many plants. Some types, such as cacti, thrive in highly acidic soil, but a majority of plants prefer soil that is more balanced. Most gardening experts will tell you that the best soil for most plants ranges between pH values of 6.3 and 6.8, but they will caution you to find out what your plants require before making adjustments.
Check Moisture Content
If the soil is too wet, plants may suffer from rotting roots and never grow the way you had expected. As a rule of thumb, squeeze a handful of soil, and then open your palm. If the soil is crumbly, it may be too dry for proper growth, and if the soil clumps together with a shiny wet sheen, it is probably too wet. Ideal soil should clump together but excess water will not be pressed out by squeezing. If the soil is too wet, provide for better drainage.
Correct for Acidity Imbalance
If the pH balance in soil is too high, it can be adjusted by adding lime. This is a naturally occurring mineral, available in the garden center, that is mixed directly into the soil. If you have a compost heap, the pH balance is generally self-controlled by the bacteria and other processes at work in the compost. This eliminates the need for adding lime, nitrogen, or other minerals or nutrients and makes a wonderful additive to condition even the most stubborn soils.
If You Have Clay Soil
Clay soil can be a nightmare to work with, but it doesn't have to be. The major problem with clay is that the granules are so small they pack together and prevent minerals and nutrients from mixing into the soil. The solution is to take compost or potting soil and mix it well into the clay. Once compost and clay have been well mixed, clay becomes an excellent foundation for planting, providing adequate support for large plants and allowing small ones to produce healthier root systems.
Recognizing Good Soil
Good soil is typically a dark color, moist and rich. Soil composed of sand or clay can be conditioned to make good growing soil, but is frequently lacking in vital minerals that must be infused into the soil. For the best gardening results, start a composting bed and use natural fertilizers to condition bad soil as needed. Good soil is not hard to achieve but it may take a little work to get it started. Once established, however, healthy soil contains organisms that will help to keep it healthy for a long time.