Soil and water

The secret is in the ground: sand, silt, clay and the percentage game | Millennium

Do you dream of gardening? Me too!

This year I’m staying on top of everything from weeds, fungicides, insect control, transplanting and harvesting – that’s the plan anyway.

Starting your garden with healthy soil is the basis for a successful outcome. Soil composition varies from garden to garden, but all soils contain a mixture of solid materials of sand, silt and clay. The soil profile is divided as such: solid materials make up 45-50% of the soil and hopefully 5% is organic matter. The remaining 50% is a combination of water and air and 25% of each is perfect.

Right after a rain, the 25% of the pore space designated for air is probably filled with water. Depending on the amount of rain or watering, it may take hours or days for the airspaces to return. During this time, the roots of the plants absorb water, but after too long they can start to drown.

If you read me regularly, you’ve probably heard my plea to stop the daily watering, and that’s why. If you continue to fill all the air spaces with water every day, the plants can become oxygen starved and the soil too saturated.

An exception for daily watering would apply to containers and baskets as they empty quickly and can dry out quickly.

New transplants may need a sip of water daily until the root ball begins to expand into the soil; maybe about a week.

Temperature, wind, soil profile and the amount of daily sunlight all determine how often you will need to water. The best soil to have is described as a loamy soil. It contains equal parts of sand, silt and clay.

Soil with more sand would be called sandy loam. Sandy soils drain faster than soils with more clay. Sand particles are large and clay particles tiny in comparison. Water moves more slowly through the tiny, flat clay particles and can cause poor drainage for plants.

If you were to describe soil particles in a size comparison, a single sand particle would be a volleyball, a silt particle a marble, and a clay particle half a flattened pea.

Personally, having done large scale gardening (acres) in both soils, I would take sandy soil over clay any day. Heavy clay soil can also be difficult to till because it tends to stay in large, hard-to-break chunks.

If you manage to get it planted, it is also very difficult to cultivate by hand. It’s like trying to crash into a field of golf balls. Soil amendments can be added to the soil to change its composition. Some of the amendments are sand, humus (finished compost), perlite, vermiculite, peat and other moss and bagged earth.

Adding several centimeters of humus each year is beneficial for growing green manures. The humus attracts earthworms which help create the pore/air spaces in the soil. If you have heavy or compacted soil, consider plowing in amendments.

If your soil is very feasible so no need to add stuff. Here’s how to check if it works; when it thaws outside and the ground seems dry, take a handful of soil and squeeze it in one hand. When you open your hand, the soil should stay in a ball, but a little tickle with your other hand should break it up – it’s the perfect soil texture! If it collapses when you open your hand, your soil might be too sandy or maybe too dry at that time. If you can’t get it to break, your soil might be too rich in clay or too wet for the test.

You should be able to tell by rubbing the soil in your hand if it is rich in clay. Not exactly a science experiment, but it’s a starting point.

lady’s mantle millis

One of my favorite border perennials is Alchemilla mollis, commonly called lady’s mantle. With a height of up to 18 inches, this plant is more functional than showy, but not all plants have to take center stage!

Lady’s Mantle could best be described as an all green coral bell plant, Heuchera. Lady’s mantle blooms in spring with tiny yellow/green sprays on slender stems rising just above the foliage. The foliage remains healthy throughout the growing season.

Its unique feature is the way morning dew or water bead on the leaves, like tiny round balls. It thrives in full sun to partial shade with medium water requirements and well-drained soil. A neutral looking plant like this would pair well with other showy flowers. Garden filler!