IN ANY GARDEN, THE BORDERS AND PLANTINGS BEGIN WITH THE SOIL. EARLY SPRING IS THE BEST TIME TO GIVE YOUR VISION THE FOUNDATION IT NEEDS.
Rarely do homes come with a backyard all set with ready made ideal soil conditions. Most often the soil is rocky or heavy or both. Fortunately we don't have to be stuck with what we get. We can change the conditions and usually it is not that difficult to do.
The ideal soil is loose and workable. There is something satisfying and even rewarding about plunging your fingers and hands into soft cool soil. This most often does not come naturally. Some soils are referred to as sandy for one obvious reason. Others are said to be 'heavy,' but what does that mean? Heavy soil bakes in the sun and becomes solid and hard to work with.
The composition of soil consists of three basic elements; sand, silt (organic material) and clay. The ideal garden soil contains these elements more or less in equal parts. The notorious 'heavy' soil is mostly clay. Too much of any of these elements makes the soil something less than ideal.
SAND--breaks up the clay, preventing it from binding together into a solid impenetrable mass. It helps to aerate the soil and allows water to penetrate and carry nutrients to plant roots. Too much sand negates the clay's ability to retain water and store nutrients.
SILT--is the organic element that is often thought of as the cure-all for soil ills. Silt aerates the soil, helps with water retention in sandy soils and provides a nutrient rich environment for plant roots. It breaks up clay adding nutrients to the soil. Organic materials are most beneficial after they are composted. The composting process draws nutrients from the soil rather than adding them.
CLAY--is generally underappreciated, especially where there is too much of it. Clay gives the soil stability and helps to retain water. It retains nutrients vital to the plants. Too much clay makes the soil tight or heavy, binding up the nutrients making them less available to the plants.
ROCKS--seem to reproduce in some gardens. Small or tiny rocks, if there are not too many can be beneficial, similar to sand. Larger rocks are more of nuisance and eyesore than anything else. They need to be raked or carried away; not because they are harmful to the garden, but because they're usually just in the way.
SOIL PREPARATION in early spring is the key to a season of enjoyable and satisfying gardening. There is a quick and easy soil composition test. Take a handful of moist soil and squeeze it into a ball. If it retains its shape, but crumbles easily in your hand, it is probably good. If the ball falls apart and won't hold a shape, you have either too much sand or too much compost; it should be obvious which. If the ball is a lump you are not able to break, you have the infamous 'heavy' soil and will want to incorporate sand and compost, but especially sand to about the depth of your shovel.
With your soil properly amended and balanced your plants will love it and you will be able to look forward to a season of gardening pleasure as opposed to just another year of yard work.