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Best Soil Amendments

by Sara Pitzer

There’s an old story about two gardeners who were friends. One lived in the sandhills, the other in red clay country. Whenever the gardener from the sandhills visited clay country, she took home a bucket of clay. When her friend visited the sandhills, the friend always took home a bucket of sand.

It’s a start: sand will help loosen the density of clay and clay will give some body to sand, but if you wet the mixture of sand and clay and then let it stand in summer, the sun bakes you a brick. You need to incorporate organic matter to produce a good, friable soil – that "good garden loam" gardening books talk about so often.

For many years, gardeners worked peat moss into their gardens to fill this requirement, usually to supplement compost, which is more dear than gold to gardeners. Recently, though, soils experts have advised against using peat moss in heavy soil, especially clay, because if the peat dries out it will not absorb water readily.

Your Growise Center has a variety of amendments for soil that are conveniently bagged and easy to use and your Growise Center professional can help you select those best for your garden.

More compost

One of the most welcomed amendments is compost, often produced from rotted leaves gathered in nearby communities. It is similar in texture to what you make yourself and you can buy as much of it as you need. This is especially good for vegetable gardens.

Dried manure

This is inexpensive, easy to use and a lot less smelly than the standard barnyard pile. It also is good for vegetable gardens because it provides a bit of nitrogen.

Top soil

Commercially prepared and bagged top soil contains a mixture of organic ingredients and non-deteriorating elements such as sand. It’s good for patching bare spots in the lawn and adding to borders and shrub areas to increase the amount of soil on the site. Bagged top soil is easy to work into your existing garden soil, too. Your Growise Center professional can help you calculate the amount you need for a given area.

Potting mix

Your Growise Center carries potting mixes for outdoor planters and for indoor houseplants. The mixes for outdoor planters are heavier and will stay moist with less watering than mixes for indoor plants. Potting mixes for indoors contain peat moss, which works well in pots once you have moistened it. Potting mixes usually contain some fertilizer as well as vermiculite or perlite or ground bark. Explain where you will be using potting mix and your Growise expert will recommend the best choice.

Perlite and vermiculite

Like sand, these ingredients are not organic and are often better than sand to loosen both peat moss and garden soil. Perlite white, irregularly shaped granules, is the best choice when you want to end up with a fluffy growing medium that does not hold a lot of water. Greenhouse growers often mix it with peat moss. They use vermiculite when they want a growing medium that will hold more moisture.

Both amendments are used indoors more than in outdoor gardens. Some gardeners don’t like the look of perlite, which tends to move toward the top of the soil, but a light mulch of leaves or pine needles will cover the white granules.

Large quantities of top soil

If you want to make a garden in an area dominated by hardpan, rock or shallow red clay, the best answer often is to create raised beds which you fill with topsoil. Once the bed is filled, you may add bagged amendments to create just the kind of soil you want.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the organic amendments you add to your garden is that you have to keep adding them because organic materials gradually break down. This means you should plan to work some compost or manure into your garden areas every year.

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