If you are passionate about your garden, it will be important to you that you maintain the quality of your topsoil. Everyone has their own tried and tested methods or opinions of what you can do, but at the end of the day, the measures you should take depend entirely on your soil type.
Testing Your Soil Type
There is a very simple test to help you determine your soil type, called the sausage test, or the ribbon test. Simply take a handful of soil from the garden, add water, then squeeze out the excess liquid. Roll your soil into the shape of a sausage, then try and bend your soil sausage into a circular shape.
If the soil keeps it shape for a while, your soil has higher clay content. However, if your soil breaks up quickly, it has a higher sand content. Alternatively, purchase a kit which contains detailed instructions, and then send your sample away for analysis. Once you have established the kind of soil in your garden (some areas may find their soil is a combination), you can begin to look at how you can improve your soil.
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Improving Clay Soil
Clay soil is heavier and chunky, and it needs to be broken down as it does not drain very well. One way you can break it up is by raking it with manure.
This helps with drainage by ‘opening up’ the soil, while also fertilising the soil in the process. Some gardeners prefer to use gypsum or, in the case of acidic soils, dolomite (calcium and magnesium).
Sandy soil is pretty much the opposite of clay soil: it repels water and will not hold water well, if at all. It should be tackled because it will lose all the nutrition and water you put into it until it has been improved.
Organic soil improvers are the best place to start. Sheep manure is easy to apply, but using a mulch will also help. Mulches lie on top, gradually breaking down into the soil, and they will help to hold moisture, fertilise your soil and maintain a stable temperature. An added bonus with mulches is the role they play in preventing and reducing weed growth. You might find you need to add an extra layer now and again as your mulch breaks down.
Adding Nutrients to Your Soil
There are many other ways to improve quality and add nutrition to your topsoil. Among the most popular choices are:
Leaf mould – excellent for adding nutrients and also improves drainage, but it can be difficult to collect enough so it is often used with other soil improvers.
Seaweed mulch – a black soil-like mix that looks great but also contains almost everything that plants need to thrive. May need to be covered by bark mulch in dry areas to prevent evaporation.