Garden Soil: Know Your Soil!

Building healthy and fertile soil is the basis of all organic gardening. By discovering the unique characteristics of your home garden, you can learn how to optimize the potentials of your soil, and grow the best herbs and vegetables that your garden can. You can start by understanding soil in general, and your own garden soil, in particular.

Related Topics: How to Build Healthy Soil

Soil is a living system – an ecosystem – composed of four elemental parts: minerals, gases, liquids, and organic life. Minerals are present in the form of soil particles, formed from the weathering of native rock and plant materials. Gases, particularly atmospheric gases, reside in the spaces between soil particles and provide essential nutrients, such as Nitrogen, to the plant roots. Liquids, mostly water and water-soluble minerals also are present in the pores between soil particles. These too transport critical minerals and nutrition directly to plant roots. Finally and perhaps most importantly, are the vast arrays of micro- and macro-organisms present in healthy soil. This group includes bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, arthropods, worms, and burrowing animals, which form the food chain that fuels all the major processing functions of garden soil.

Different types of soil are classified by methods which essentially describe how they look and from which materials they were formed. Soil scientists use a classification system which divides all the various soils into 12 categories. Each category references the parent rock, the weathering processes involved, the presence of organic materials, and the saturation of the soil with water.

More practical for garden soil, is the simple classification system based on soil texture. This system depends on the relative amounts of each of the major kinds of soil particles; sand, silt, and clay.

Garden soil is opaque to our eyes, but it is full of life. The micro-world hidden between soil particles is teeming with living things, from bacteria to earthworms. This world of prey and predators is a complex food chain that forms a critical web of life for your garden. They decompose organic matter; enhance soil structure; promote root growth; modulate populations of soil pathogens and plant diseases; and makes essential nutrients available to plants. Conventional farming and gardening practices tend to diminish the population of this essential life-force. Organic methods, on the other hand, enhance the soil to sustain healthy populations of soil micro-organisms.

The hallmark of healthy garden soil is its abundance of organic matter. Its importance cannot be overstated, since organic materials in your soil provide so much benefit. It is the primary fuel for the complex ecosystem of soil micro-organisms. It creates a more open and porous soil texture, maintaining good drainage and transport. It helps the soil retain water like a sponge and helps keep the soil moist and cool. And it mitigates excessive soil acidity and alkalinity.

A soil that absorbs water quickly and drains well, and does not crust over or form clods is said to have good tilth. Tilth is the physical condition of garden soil as it relates to seedbed quality, easy seedling emergence, deep root penetration and ease in digging. Good tilth is dependent on aggregation – the process whereby individual soil particles are joined into clusters or “aggregates”. A well-aggregated soil allows for increased water entry, increased air flow, increased water-holding capacity, and resistance to soil erosion.

References to soil chemistry usually describe the alkalinity or acidity, or pH (potential Hydrogen), of soils. The full scale of pH ranges from zero to fourteen, with seven being neutral. Values below seven are considered acidic; number higher than seven are alkaline. In garden soil, the pH is important because the range in which plants can easily grow is limited. Too acidic or too alkali, and essential plant nutrients become chemically bonded to soil minerals and are not available for plant growth.

Brown Thumb: Five Great Ideas To Give Your Landscaping More Green

Many people do not have a green thumb, and it can be difficult to keep plants, grass and landscaping green and healthy. If you are one of these people that has a brown thumb, there are some things that you can have done to keep your lawn green. This can include things like aeration, overseeding or even using artificial grass in places where grass does not grow. Here are five things that you can do to turn your brown landscaping green:

1. Aerating Your Lawn

Aerating your lawn is a great way to help keep the grass green. This is the process of making holes that go to the roots and allowing the root system of your grass to breathe. This makes grass hardier and healthier. This is something that can be done with many tools designed for aerating your lawn. You roll the machine over your grass, which creates holes that aerate the grass. The root system of your grass is then able to develop healthier, which can prevent dead spots in your lawn.

2. Using Hardy Plants in Landscaping Design

Hardy plants can also be a great way to have a green landscaping. You may want to think about using things like monkey grass for borders of your lawn. It can be difficult to control, but it can help to add green to your landscaping. You may also want to consider using evergreen shrubs, which require little maintenance except for the occasional pruning. These types of plants will help to keep your garden green even during the winter season.

3. Make Garden Beds and Landscaping Features in Shaded Areas

Trees can be a great benefit to your home; they can provide it with cool in the summer and add value. They can also cause problems with grass, which needs a lot of sun. You may want to consider making shaded areas flower beds and plant them with shade tolerant plants. You can also plant small trees such as dogwoods, which are tolerant to shade. They even have beautiful flowers that bloom every spring.

4. Add Small Water Features To Your Landscape Design

Water features can also be a great addition to landscaping. They will not only give you something to add to your landscaping design, but they can also provide moisture for plants. Consider using ponds and adding a small stream for the filtration system. This will help provide moisture for plants, and give you a place to even grow aquatic plants. Plants such as lilies are easy to care for and will add color to your water features.

5. Overseeding With Different Grass Species

Lastly, to keep the grass green, you may want to consider overseeding. This is the process of seeding grass with an established root system. It can be done with the same species of grass you have planted or with other species. You can even plant two types for summer and winter growth to ensure that your grass is green all year. Wheatgrass is a great species to use for overseeding if you want your lawn to be green during the winter time as well.

Gardening Tasks for October

The weather is probably getting cooler and the garden might be looking a bit untidy as the last of the late summer and early autumn flowering plants finish.


  • There are probably leaves littering the garden now. Rake them up and make leaf compost with them. Clear them out of flower beds, especially important where there are low growing plants, and off paths as they can be lethal when they get wet and slippery.
  • Keep watching for slugs and snails eating plants. Put down environmentally friendly slug pellets or beer traps.
  • Container Grown Plants
  • Take in pots of tender plants to protect them from frost, if you haven’t already done so – this might be your last chance.


  • This is a good time to plant herbaceous perennials.
  • First cut the foliage off dahlias, about 6ins above the ground, then lift the tubers, taking care not to damage them. If they are damp, allow them to dry then store in shallow boxes. Cover the tubers with peat but taking care that the crown, where the stem meets the tuber, is not covered. Store in a frostfree, dry place like your shed or greenhouse.
  • You might want to lift gladioli corms as they often will not survive a cold winter. Cut off the foliage, then allow them to dry. Store in a frostfree dry place, probably with your dahlias.
  • Plant lily bulbs, if you didn’t do it last month.
  • In areas where the winter is not usually too severe, you can sow sweet pea seeds outdoors for flowering next year.


  • Continue to harvest apples and pears from late varieties as they ripen.
  • If you plan to plant new fruit trees next month, prepare the beds for them now by digging in fertiliser and compost. Avoid planting trees in the same place as a previous tree of the same kind.
  • Plant gooseberries, red and white currants, and rhubarb now.


  • If you have a heated greenhouse, make sure the heater and thermostat, if you have one, is all in good working order—at 6pm on the night a heavy frost is forecast is not the ideal time to discover a problem.
  • Regardless of whether it is heated or not, if you are hoping to overwinter plants there, conserve heat by lining it with plastic sheeting. Do any ventilation separately so they can still be opened. This is especially important if you use an oil heater which can give off fumes and causes condensation.


  • You can take cuttings of lavender and rue now and place around the edge of pots of sand. Keep them in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.


  • If you have trees in your garden, rake up fallen leaves regularly. Put them in plastic bags with holes in, store in an inconspicuous place and forget about them for a year or two. When you remember them, with a bit of luck, you will have some lovely leaf compost.
  • If you didn’t do it last month, scarify, spike your lawn and apply a top dressing. Apply autumn fertiliser.
  • Mow the lawn again, if necessary.
  • If you want a new lawn, October is a good month for laying turf.


  • Deadhead as necessary.
  • If you haven’t cut your roses back by at least one-third, do it now as winter gales can rock them and loosen the roots causing damage and attack by bacteria and fungus.
  • Plant bare rooted roses.

Trees & Shrubs

  • Plant bare rooted trees and shrubs in the beds you, hopefully, prepare last month. If the weather is too bad to plant trees that you ordered and have been delivered, heel them in a V shaped trench so their roots are covered. This way they will survive until you can plant them properly.
  • Remember to put a stake next to newly planted trees to give them support against winter gales. Check the ties are suitable and are not going to cause problems as the tree grows.
  • October is a good month for planting a new hedge. Prepare the bed well with copious organic matter – a good use for your own compost.


  • If you didn’t do it in September, sow cauliflowers under cloches. You can also sow winter lettuce under cloches now.
  • Clear the beds of all plants that have finished and dig over incorporating organic matter like homemade compost.