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Soil Basics

Learn everything you need to know about soil from landscape architect Patrick Weisel in this Howcast video.


We might want to talk a little bit about soil now. So here are a few soil basics. First, what is soil composed of? Well, basically there are three components. There is sand, silt, and clay. Sand is the coarsest of this. We are all familiar with sand on the beach. Silt is a little finer, and it's hard to explain. It's sort of like fine dust that you might find in the street. Then, also, we all are familiar with clay. Clay is the finest particle. It's very important in soil, but you don't want to have too much. In an ideal world you would have something that's called a sandy loam. A sandy loam would have really good drainage, but it would have a little bit of silt and clay as well to hold moisture.

Beyond the composition of the soil you'll also be concerned with what the pH is. pH is the level of acidity or basicness of the soil, and this is very important because different plants like different pH. It's very important to each plant that it's planted in its own pH zone so that it can take up nutrients. Neutral pH is something like 7.6. As you go higher from there you get more basic. As you go lower you get more acidic. Forest plants in the northeast generally like pretty acidic soil. In the midwest, where you have more of a limestone base, they generally like things a little more basic.

So, if you were to get a soil test you would find out what the soil composition is, what it's pH is, and, lastly, you would want to know what the organic content is. That is how much nonmineral material is in the soil. That means not sand, not silt, not clay. Organic material is generally organic debris from leaves and wood and also something we call humus which is broken down organic material which is something like compost. You want to have about five percent organic content in your soil for most plants, and if you're coming in low there you might want to add some compost to bring the organic content up.

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