You don’t always have to look far to see that there is something wrong with your garden. When you add more water and fertilizer to your garden and things don’t improve, it’s time to start looking at your soil quality. There are many different kinds of soil across the United States and not all of it starts out great for growing plants. Quality depends on a number of factors, from environment, weather, geology, and even what has been planted there before. If your crops are having difficulties growing or maturing, check the dirt. Below are some clues as to how your soil is doing.
Wetland plants as weeds. Wetland grasses such as sedges and juncus start appearing as “weeds” in garden areas? They indicate that not only is the soil too wet, but also that it probably needs additional organic matter. This helps build soil structure, opening up soil pores that allow excess water to drain.
Dried, cracked soil surface in summer. Soil structure is too compact? It can be improved by adding organic matter to lighten the soil. This provides room for water to seep deep into the soil.
Blossom end rot-black rot areas at the bottom of tomatoes and peppers. While this can indicate low calcium in the soil, it can also indicate that poor soil structure isn’t allowing the plants to utilize available calcium.
Large-leafed shrubs such as hydrangeas and rhododendrons wilt in hot weather despite added water, or shrub leaves have yellow and brown dead spots. Both of these can indicate poor soil aeration.
Thistles, purslane and Bermuda grass invasions. They signify dry compact, clay heavy soils in need of organic matter.
Not every farm, field or region of the country is the same and so soil strategies are diverse. Finding what has shown to work best in your region is a good place to start. Here are some sources to help:
- Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides information and grants to promote farm sustainability through improving long-term profitability, stewardship and quality of life for farmers and their communities (sare.org)
- Natural Resources Conservation Service has in-depth information on soil quality and soil health (usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/resource/)
- Midwest Cover Crops Council helps Midwest farms share their crop knowledge and resources (mccc.msu.edu)
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