Good soil is the foundation of successful gardening. It helps develop strong roots, robust top growth, and a healthy plant. Learning to manage soil is an important and often overlooked aspect of flower gardening. Proper soil structure provides the necessary balance of nutrients, air and water for optimum growth.
A soil test should be taken in the garden every three to five years to monitor the soil fertility level. For complete information on taking a soil test refer to other InfoLine topics. The soil test reveals the soils pH level and nutrient levels needed for plant growth. From the soil test recommendations can be made to determine the types and amount of fertilizer to apply for a healthy garden.
Adding organic matter is the best way to improve clay soils typically found in the Kansas City area. Common examples of organic matter include compost, peat moss and animal manure. Materials such as grass clippings and leaves can be used but are best composted first. Sand is not recommended as a garden soil amendment in clay soils.
For best results when preparing or renovating an existing garden spread three to four inches of organic matter over the area. Till or spade it into the soil. The ideal soil would be amended to a depth of eight to twelve inches, providing for a deep, healthy roots system. This process can be repeated yearly in annual beds. Amend perennial garden soil as plants are replaced or divided.
As the organic content of the soil increases, the soil will become easier to till and will develop a crumbly structure that quickly drains while holding moisture for plant uptake.