If you are growing crops, you must ensure that the soil can provide the nutrients plants need to grow healthy. However, not all garden soils can support plant growth. The texture could be too loose or dense. The structure might not hold moisture long enough for plants to absorb. Some soils could be too alkaline or acidic.
A soil test will reveal the properties of your garden soil and determine its deficiencies. After soil testing, you can use soil conditioners to correct its structural issues. What are soil conditioners, and how do these products improve soil health? Is it necessary to use soil conditioner in your garden soil? Read this guide to find out.
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What is a Soil Conditioner?
What are the Benefits of Using a Soil Conditioner?
What is a Soil Conditioner?
Soil conditioner is a soil amendment product used to alter or improve the physical properties of soils. If the soil is too dense and compacted, soil conditioner can loosen its texture and improve drainage. If the soil is too sandy and loose, soil conditioners can improve its texture and boost water retention. Soil conditioners can improve or enhance soil fertility and promote healthy plant growth.
Soil conditioners can be organic or non-organic. Organic soil conditioners are made from natural materials and organic matter. These materials include compost, aged manure, or worm castings. Non-organic soil conditioners include perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss.
Generally, organic soil conditioners are used to improve soil fertility. Materials like compost, aged manure, and worm castings improve the soil's structure and increase water-holding capacity while releasing nutrients that beneficial microorganisms break down for plants to absorb.
On the other hand, non-organic soil conditioners are used to improve soil structure, aerate the soil, and prevent soil particles from being washed away.
What are the Benefits of Using a Soil Conditioner?
Wondering why you should use a soil conditioner in your garden? Below are the benefits of using soil conditioner in your garden:
Loosen heavy, dense soils: Some plants cannot thrive in dense, clay soils. The consistency is too dense, so clay soils hold more moisture. This leads to root rot. Soil conditioners help loosen waterlogged, dense soils, improve water drainage, and boost aeration.
Improve drainage: Loose soils tend to drain water too quickly. The plants have less time to absorb moisture, leading to dehydration. Mixing soil conditioner in loose soils boosts their water-holding capacity. Soil conditioners can also minimize watering requirements.
Boosts aeration: Plants need adequate oxygen to grow healthy. If your garden soil is too compact, soil conditioners can boost porosity, promoting air circulation. By amending the soil with soil conditioners, you can achieve the best soil density that suits your crops.
Provide essential plant nutrients: Applying soil conditioners can release locked nutrients by feeding microorganisms in the soil. Beneficial microbes like bacteria, fungi, and nematodes break the nutrients from soil conditioners down into a form that plants can absorb quickly, called microbial waste.
Soil Conditioner Composition or Ingredients: Soils supporting plant growth typically comprise 50% organic or non-organic materials, 25% air space, and 25% water space. Without air and water in the soil, beneficial microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and nematodes cannot thrive. This can cause a domino effect that ultimately leads to plant death.
Soil conditioners are either made with organic or non-organic materials. These materials include:
Organic Soil Conditioners
Compost: Derived from composted organic matter like yard waste (fall leaves, grass clippings, etc.) and kitchen waste (fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells, etc.). This material is similar to soil in texture and is used to improve soil structure and fertility.
Aged Manure: Derived from animal dung, mostly cow, horse, and chicken manure. The manure is composted or aged to kill pathogens. Aged manure improves soil structure while boosting soil fertility.
Worm castings: Derived from earthworm wastes, worm casting is added into the soil to boost fertility. Worm waste releases nutrients that plants can absorb easily.
Coconut coir: Derived from a byproduct of coconut processing. Coconut coir is an eco-friendly, sustainable alternative to peat moss. It improves soil structure and boosts the soil's ability to hold water.
Bone meal: Derived from animal byproducts, bone meal is made from ground-up animal bones. Bone meal is high in essential nutrients phosphorus, and calcium, which plants need to grow healthy.
Blood meal: Derived from animal blood, blood meal is an excellent source of nitrogen. As a soil conditioner, blood meal improves soil fertility.
Seaweed extract: Derived from marine plants, specifically seaweeds and kelp, seaweed extract is a rich source of essential nutrients and bioactives that plants need to grow healthy.
Non-Organic Soil Conditioner
Peat moss: Collected from peat bogs, peat moss, is made from decomposed plant matter. As a soil conditioner, peat moss boosts soil structure and improves water retention. However, this product has caused the destruction of peat bogs in various parts of the world, so it is not eco-friendly nor sustainable.
Vermiculite: A light, fluffy mineral that can withstand high temperatures. Vermiculite is used to improve the soil's ability to hold moisture. It can break up compacted soils and boost air circulation.
Perlite: A volcanic rock with a light and fluffy texture. It is used to improve soil texture and boost air circulation.
Greensand: A type of sandstone that's packed with essential nutrients plants need to grow healthy, such as magnesium, potassium, and iron. Greensand is often used to boost soil fertility.
Gypsum: This mineral is added to the soil to improve its overall structure. It also loosens dense soils and boosts water penetration.
How To Use a Soil Conditioner in the Garden?
Usually, soil conditioners are used as a top dressing for the soil surface. However, you can mix the product into the soil to boost fertility. It's essential to check the current needs of your soils and the plants you plant to grow to determine what amount to use for the garden.
Ideally, you want to mix the soil conditioner before planting the crop to promote robust root development. To use on established plants, apply it on top of the soil as a dressing and water it.
How much soil conditioner to add to the soil?
In terms of application, the right amount of soil conditioner in your garden will depend on various factors, such as the kind of soil in the garden and its deficiencies. Start by conducting a soil test to determine your garden soil's deficiencies and issues.
Once you've chosen the right soil conditioner to use, check the manufacturer's instructions. For example, if you used ECOgardener's seaweed extract, below is the right amount to use as a soil conditioner:
- Mix 1-2 tablespoons of seaweed extract with 1 gallon (3.8 liters) of water.
- Apply the solution evenly to the soil around the base of the plant.
- Repeat application every 2 to 4 weeks.
The general rule is to add 2 to 3 inches of soil conditioner for 6 inches of soil. Some soil conditioners are quite potent, so applying the right amount of product to enrich the soil is crucial.
Bone meal, seaweed extract, and blood meal should be used in small quantities to avoid over-fertilization. Always start small as often as possible and monitor the results. If the plants respond positively, you can gradually add more as needed.
Humic acid fertilizer is also an excellent soil conditioner. If you're using ECOgardener humic acid soil conditioner, apply 1 to 2 lb per 50 square feet. This product can be used alone or mixed with other fertilizers.
Soil conditioners are used to provide the best growing environment for plants. Using natural soil conditioners is the best way to go, especially if you’re into organic farming. Soil conditioners are not made equally, so it’s important to choose a reputable supplier for this product.