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Soil

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Questions related to your soil: (click on the question)

How do I know what soil I've got?

How do I choose a compost?

Your questions answered:

Q: How do I know what soil I've got?

A: If all your cosseting, stroking, kindly words and gentle persuasion aren't paying off and your treasured plant is still in a state of perpetual sulk, then it might just be down to the soil. An often-heard phrase in gardening circles is ‘right plant, right place’ and it’s absolutely right. Shove a plant that needs a particular type of soil in the wrong stuff and it won’t like it. It’s the same with us. If you eat meat would you like to be forced into a permanent vegetarian diet, or vice versa? No - so don’t do it to your plants!

Now - that all important soil. It isn’t just dirt. It’s a complex mix of all things lovely (there’s nothing like a scientific approach - and that's nothing like a scientific approach!) but let’s simplify things. Firstly, your garden soil is either acidic, alkaline or neutral. Keep with me here, it’s important and could save you some money. You can’t tell by just looking at your soil what the acidity is, but a simple soil test kit costing a few quid will quickly do a good enough job. And it’s important not only in guiding you towards the right plant (for the right place!) but it could save you cash as the plants you buy will suit your soil. In other words, they will thrive as opposed to die. You can go a little bit gung-ho and simply look at your neighbour’s plants to guess at the acidity of the soil. If azaleas and rhododendrons in next door’s garden are happy then the chances are your soil will be acidic too. But get a quick test done and be sure.

Now you know the acidity of your soil, you can move onto its type. Soils will fall into one of five distinct types: Clay, Sandy, Calcareous, Silt and Loamy. We can go on at length about soil types, but don’t worry - we won’t. Here’s everything you need in one handy table:

SOIL TYPE

What it Looks like and Problems

Treatment

Clay

Cloddy, blue/grey or red brick coloured, sticky, holds water in puddles during the winter and bakes hard in the summer. Heavy to dig and sticks to your spade (and boots).

The aim is to open the soil up and improve its drainage qualities.

Dig over the area to be planted and then spread over the surface a mix of 50% top-soil, 25% sharp grit & 25% compost. Let the worms get to work. Whenever you plant a new plant dig the hole twice as big as it needs to be and backfill with the same mix.

Sandy

Light, dry and gritty, low in nutrients and often acidic. Plants often die from lack of water or look sickly with yellowing leaves, quickly wilting in dry weather.

The aim is to bulk the soil up and improve its moisture retaining properties.

Apply a light top dressing of well-composted manure and compost every spring and autumn. This will gradually beef up the soil and improve its nutrient and moisture retentive properties.

Calcareous

Often pale and stony, chalky, limey  soil which is extremely alkaline.

Difficult to change. Can add well-rotted compost and top soil but lime will still be present. Use plants that like an alkaline soil.

Silt

Dark brown, light, can be almost sandy, moisture retentive soils with a high fertility. Can be easily compacted and are prone to washing away with rain.

Adding organic matter – compost, this helps the silt particles to stick together.

Loams

A mixture of clay, sand and silt that are neither too clay or too sandy, are fertile, well-drained and easily worked.

None whatsoever. Never move house as this is the creme de la creme of soils.  Great news if you have this soil.

SOIL pH – use a simple soil test to check for acid or alkaline soil.

Acid soil -  pH value below 7.0

Heathers,Rhodedendrons & Azaleas all love acid soil. Most plants grow in neutral to acid soil.

Alkaline soil - pH value above 7.0

Need to check plant labels carefully that they will grow in alkaline soil or use our recommendations.

Neutral soil - pH value bang on 7.0

To be honest, most soils are around pH 7 and most plants are happy in it.

Simply put: garden with nature and plant according to what soil you have.


Q: How do I choose a compost?

A:  I can picture it, you’re at the garden centre stood amongst hundreds of bags of compost, all sorted into neat piles but which one do you need? Copious amounts of information and a twisted neck later you are still unsure of which compost is right! As if that’s not frustrating enough, you have to lug the bags onto your trolley, drag said uncontrollable trolley, usually going in reverse, to the tills, and - if there are no free staff – haul it into the back of your vehicle.

At Great Little Garden, we can help, not only with making your compost choice easier but by delivering it (no uncontrollable trolley in sight) to your doorstep.

Generally speaking, each compost is task-specific eg. Multi-purpose can be used for a variety of greenhouse and garden tasks. See the table below for more information.

COMPOSTS

COMPOST NAME

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

TASK

Multi purpose compost

Dark, nice and crumbly, may have fibres in it. Nutrients will last for approximately 6weeks.

Repotting, planting, soil improvement and container growing

or ‘splits’ when you have ‘split’ a clump of roots and need to grow it on in a pot

Multi purpose

As above

Back-filling planting holes for newly planted plants, growing vegetables

Multi purpose with gel crystals – sometimes has slow release fertiliser granules as well

As above

Container or hanging basket planting

Seed sowing compost

Named bag ‘Seed sowing compost’

Dark, fine texture, free draining, low in nutrients

Seed sowing & growing on seedlings

Choosing the right compost to make your seeds burst into life is critical. Good seed compost will encourage flower and vegetable seedlings to germinate, develop strong roots and healthy stems and leaves

Seed sowing compost

Named bag ‘Seed sowing compost’

Dark, fine texture, free draining.

Is low in nutrients.

Cuttings that have rooted.

A fine, free draining compost prevents the soft stems of tender cuttings from rotting

Too many nutrients will cause too much soft growth

Peat free compost

Dark, fibrous, may dry out quickly.

 

All round greenhouse and garden tasks, but peat is a precious resource coming from bogs which are a very specialised wildlife habitat. Overused by the horticultural industry because its so good for growing. The supply is now limited, so the industry has developed new composts which are either completely peat free or have reduced amounts of peat in them.

Soil based composts

Mix of soil and multi purpose.

Good for potting up large containers and using in raised beds

Ericaceous compost

Dark, crumbly and fine

Lime free, acidic compost with pH below 7 – good for planting any ‘Acid’ loving plants – heathers, rhodendrons and azaleas

House-plant compost

Dark, crumbly and fine

Is multipurpose compost in small quantities especially for people who only need a little at a time.

Tree-planting compost

Dark, crumbly and fine

Soil improver for working into the ground before planting trees and shrubs as an alternative to garden compost

Cactus compost

Gritty, free-draining mixture

Use for growing for cacti and succulents.

Orchid compost

Usually bark-based, very coarse and open textured

For orchids and other epiphytic plants.


So, hopefully our chart helps you to quickly see which compost you need. Finally, just a few tips for care of your compost: despite the tempting offers only buy as much compost as you can use within six to eight weeks, seal after use to stop bugs and weed seeds getting in, and store it where it won’t get waterlogged.

Happy growing and potting and if you need any further advice, please feel free to contact us.