Understanding Your Garden’s Soil Quality

Soil QualityUnless you are into hydroponics, maintaining healthy soil is crucial in gardening because the soil is where your plants get most of their nutrients. Many of us  tend to forget the importance of  good soil quality,  whether your plants are grown in pots or on the ground. A healthy soil must have good texture, lots of organic matter and the right pH level (preferably neutral for most plants). There is a common misconception that simply adding fertilizer to the soil on a  regular basis improves soil quality. On the contrary, too much fertilizer can be damaging to plants and it affects the quality of  our garden’s soil.  As soil quality deteriorates, plant growth and productivity also decline over time, and plants become more susceptible to a lot of diseases in the long term.

Tips for Improving Garden Soil Quality

I found a useful article online ( “The Spruce”) that  recommends a few simple tips for improving our garden’s soil quality. (Source:  “Healthy Soil and How to Make it” by Colleen Vanderlinden ).

Test Your Soil

The article suggests some practical techniques to evaluate the quality of our garden soil.  Specifically, the author suggests 4 DIY soil tests to enable us to learn more about the level of life in our soil and what its texture is like.  The first test is the “Squeeze Test” – If you squeeze a handful of moist soil from your garden, and it holds its shape and/or crumbles when lightly poked, this means that you have a good loamy soil.  The second test is the “Percolation Test” – to determine whether the soil drains well or not by digging a 6-inch hole on the ground and filling it with water.  If it takes more than 4-hours for the water to drain completely, then the soil has poor drainage.   The third test is the “Worm Test” – If worms survive in your soil, then it’s a healthy soil. The last test is the “pH level Test”.  Determining the soil’s pH (acidity) level helps us  better understand why some of our plants can not thrive well on certain soil conditions.  Once we determine the soil’s acidity level,  for instance, we can find ways to address our issues by amending the soil, if needed.   Even without a test kit,  you can determine  if the soil is too acidic or not,  by using a simple vinegar solution technique.   However, if you don’t want this hassle, there are gadgets available in garden supply stores that can do the trick.

Add Organic Matter

organic fertilizerAdding organic matter is a sure way to improve your soil quality. Whatever is the current state of your garden soil, adding more compost or organic matter will fix it over time.   I usually add about an inch of compost to the soil  every 3 – 4 months.    Vermicast  is also a good way to condition the soil as it helps induce the growth of beneficial micro-organisms in the soil.  Kitchen scraps, like banana peels, eggshells, coffee grounds and fish parts are likewise helpful because they are rich in nutrients that our plants need for growth and stamina.

Adjust Your Soil’s pH

Most plants thrive best if the  soil pH is neutral.  The more common problem for urban gardeners is that the soil may have become too acidic. This may be a result of too much pollution in the atmosphere that eventually found its way into our soil through the acid rains and urban drainage systems.   So if you suspect that your soil is too alkaline (high pH),  adding compost regularly is the best way to cure this  over the long term.  On the other hand, if you think your soil is too acidic (low pH), adding garden lime will increase pH level. Alternatively,  choose which plants to grow, bearing in mind the plants that thrive well in either acidic or alkaline soil.

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Disrupt Soil as Little as Possible

The same article suggests that we minimize disrupting or tilling the soil when gardening. The more we disrupt the soil, the more we disrupt the eco-system, which includes all the organisms that thrive in our soil.  This works well for me because it minimizes the work that I have to do.  When adding organic matter, just place about an inch of compost material, mixed lightly on top of your garden soil and let the earthworms work it in for you. (Note however that if you use scrap fish parts, make sure to bury them at least 6 inches into the soil to prevent your pets from digging them up.)

Additional notes : Using Additives to Improve Soil Quality

I have also tried other organic methods to improve the quality of the soil.  One of them is the EM (Effective Micro-organisms) technology, which was discovered  by  Professor Teruo Higa in Okinawa, Japan. His theory was that by inducing the growth of beneficial micro-organisms in the soil,  we effectively help the soil regenerate itself. The benefit of using this technique is evident over a longer term period through continued regular use.  In the Philippines, the inocculant (EM1) itself is a bit pricey, so sustaining its use is a little difficult for many home gardeners. A healthy soil contains a lot of organic matter from decomposed plants and animals. A few months ago, I discovered that by using a soil conditioner that is rich in humic/ fulvic acid, my plants grew healthier.    A substance found in the soil, humic acid is created  from decomposed matter which is then turned into humus .  The presence of humic acid in the soil promotes overall fertility, improves water retention, and lowers acidity level. There are a lot of materials online explaining the benefits of this organic substance and some even suggest that this substance is good for both plants and animals, including humans.

A lot of the problems we encounter as gardeners have something to do with the quality of the soil that we use. Understanding soil quality helps us improve our plants’ health over the long term, by addressing the issue at its “root cause” (so to speak).

Happy gardening!

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About Glo de Castro

The author is a lawyer and an executive in a leading real estate company in the Philippines. Urban gardening is one of her hobbies and passion. She created this website because she loves to write about her gardening experiences and share them with fellow gardeners. She also conducts seminars about urban gardening occasionally.

Thank you. Your comments are valuable to me to help me improve my blog posts. Cheers.