Archive for August, 2011

Healthy Soil Part 2

Healthy Productive Soil for Great Plants


You need to think of your soil as a living, breathing entity in the same way as you would any animal.  For complete health both animal and plants need air, water, sunlight and a food source for nutrients.

Healthy soil is a living thing with about 5% of the organic matter in the soil being live organisms ( ) of some type that work within the soil to provide plants what they need to grow and be healthy.  Because of this need for life in your soil, it is necessary for you to continually add fresh organic matter to your soil.  The amount of organic matter to needed varies widely depending on climate and type of soil.

Let us look at each of the major components needed:

Air: Your soil needs to be open enough to allow air to penetrate and be available to the beneficial biology in the soil so they can function.  If you have a heavy clay soil you need to make sure that you get enough organic material and some sand into it to keep it from getting hard.

Water: Moisture is needed for all life and your soil is no different, it is used by both plant and soil biology.  In this case the type of soil you have is important, a high percentage of sand and the water moves through very rapidly and makes it difficult to keep moisture available for life.  Too much clay and your soil harder not allowing water to penetrate so it just runs off before it can be absorbed.  Here again the organic material you add can do wonders.  It will add bulk to sand and will open clay up to allow moisture to penetrate.

Sunlight: Sunlight helps warm the soil so that the much of the beneficial soil biology can function.  Soil biology activity follows seasonal patterns as well as daily patterns with the greatest activity, depending on your climate, in late spring when temperature and moisture are optimal for growth.

Food Source For NutrientsFood sources, plant nutrients, are divided into two groups. The first group is the Non-Mineral nutrients that include hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. These depend on water, air and sunlight so the only real control you have is the amount of water plants receive.  There is a minimum of 13 mineral nutrients, which come from the soil, and are dissolved in water and absorbed through a plant’s roots.  There are not always enough of these nutrients in the soil for a plant to grow healthy which is why we  use fertilizers to add the nutrients to the soil.   Soil biology plays a major part in this cycle in that they take these nutrients and change them into a form that the plant roots can absorb.

Balance: Healthy productive soil is something that takes continuous work to keep all the needed parts balanced. I break it down into four major categories.

  1. Soil Structure – At one end of the spectrum you have sand, which is made up of small pieces of rock, at the other end you have clay.  Both in pure form are not good for growing plants.  Sand is so porous it will not hold water and clay is too dense for water and air to penetrate, but clay increases the soils ability to bond chemically and hold nutrients.  The best scenario is a mix of both and the correct mixture depends on your climate.
  2. Organic Material – A must for healthy soil.  With out it you do not have soil biology.  You need organic matter in all phases of decomposition at all times to keep the soil biology active and producing or converting the nutrients that plants need.  The warmer your climate the more organic material you must add. You need organic material in all three stages to keep your soil healthy.  When adding organic matter you need to take into account the carbon-nitrogen ratio (C:N).  If you apply organic material that has a C:N ratio higher than 30 to 1 the decomposing process is going to pull nitrogen out of the soil, exactly what you DON’T want to happen.
  3. Plant Nutrients – This can be broken down into four categories of Primary, Secondary, Macro and Micronutrients.
  •  Primary – Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K).
  • Secondary – Calcium (Ca), Sulfur (S), Magnesium (Mg).
  • Macronutrients – Silicon (Si).
  • Micronutrients (Trace Elements) – Boron (B), Chlorine (CI), Manganese (Mn), Iron (Fe), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Molybdenum (Mo), Nickel (Ni), Selenium (Se) and Sodium (Na).

The amounts of these nutrients vary with the type of plants you are growing and the soil pH.  Some plants want an acidic soil with a pH of 5.0 or lower, others need an alkaline soil with a pH of over 7.0.  These nutrients function differently at higher or lower pH levels, so pH changes can cause plants to become starved of one nutrient and have an over abundance of another.  It is very difficult to keep all nutrients in balance at all times so I use foliar sprays to compensate for some imbalances.

  1. Soil Biology – This category is so very important and can be destroyed by misuse of synthetic fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides.  Healthy soil with a good balance of nutrients and plentiful supply of organic material can produce the beneficial soil biology to grow healthy plants that can resist insects and disease. This biology breaks down the minerals and organic matter to forms that plants can use.  They work with plant roots to extend the roots ability to gather food and moisture.  When they die they become food for plants and other biology.

Summery: Any time you harvest anything from your soil you are removing nutrients; vegetables, flowers, grass clippings or anything else you remove is depleting the soil and you need to replenish it.

TurfPro liquid and AgriPro Dry products can help you keep your soil healthy by adding a wide range of trace elements that are readily available to soil biology and plant roots. They both can furnish a wide range of beneficial soil biology to aid in keeping your soil healthy and they are one of the few products that contain lignin. Lignin can hold many times it weight in water and can naturally help to keep your soil moist.  Our products are verified 100% for organic growing.

(For more great information on the Soil Health Wheel click here.)