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What Makes Soil Good

What Makes Soil Good

If you want your garden to truly thrive, you need to start with good soil. The soil serves as the source of nutrition for your plants, as well as protection from the elements. If you gain nothing else from this article, I hope you at least take away the fact that not all soil is the same. In fact, there’s a lot that goes into soil mixes that can make it optimal, or completely unsuitable for your plants. So what makes soil good or bad? How do I find good soil for my plants?

What’s Soil Made Of?

Soil is an umbrella term for the upper layer of earth made from organic matter.

It includes minerals, dead plant matter, microorganisms, and various dissolved gases and liquids.

Most gardening soil you find at the store will contain a mixture of different ingredients.

Some of the most common soil constituents include:

1. Peat Moss

Peat moss comes from wetlands and bogs. They’re arguably one of the most important ecosystems on earth.

Most wetlands are characteristically high in dead and decaying plant matter, mostly containing sphagnum moss (also called peat moss). There are an approximately 380 different species of sphagnum moss around the world. They form thick matts of soggy material consisting of both dead and living plant material.

These matts of thick, moist moss make for an excellent growing medium. It has a naturally high capacity for retaining both water and oxygen, and will gradually breakdown to release nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to the roots of your plants. Some of the best peat moss in the world comes from the cool, damp climate of Ireland. These are conditions that are nearly perfect for the growth of sphagnum moss and wetland environments.

2. Perlite

Perlite is made from small pellets of volcanic glass. Unlike the other additives, perlite isn’t used a source of nutrition. In fact, it’s virtually inert and offers plants almost nothing in terms of nutrients. Instead, perlite is used to provide a good level of water retention. It works to allow the runoff of excess water, and to increase water retention in soils lacking water absorption qualities.

Most high quality soils will contain at least some perlite, or another water absorptive buffering agent like vermiculite or peat moss. 

3. Synthetic Fertilizer

Many soil manufacturers choose to add some synthetic fertilizers to their soils.

This is useful because it provides your plants with an immediate source of nutrition. The idea is that by supplying some nutrients initially, the plants can thrive while the organic material in the soil begins to breakdown and release their energy.

4. Organic Fertilizer

This is the additive that separates good quality soil from great quality soil.

The addition of organic matter costs more money to produce, and therefore a lot of cheap soil companies will avoid using it altogether.

Organic fertiliser is what sets soil apart from everything else. It allows the formation of symbiotic bacteria and fungal colonies around the roots of your plants. We recommend always looking for a soil that contains some form of organic matter for best the best results.

Cre soil uses sea kelp as an organic fertilizer because it’s one of the most cost effective and high-quality sources of organic matter available.

5. Loam

Loam is a type of soil made from sand, silt, and clay. It has a high water retention, and has a characteristic deep black color. Loam often forms the basis of a potting or gardening soil. It gives the soil depth and volume and is very abundant around the world. This makes it a cheap filler for many potting or gardening mixes.

Loam is a great addition to soil mixes, but should not be used alone due to its poor nutritional status and high water retention. Poor soils often contain high loam ratios. When used for gardening it often leads to over saturation with water, and root rot.

What makes Soil Good

1.It’s Free From Toxic Chemicals

One of the biggest problems with our soil these days is contamination. Between all the cars on the road, and waste products from industry, a lot of our soil has become contaminated.

There are many different contaminants that can find their way into your soil, including heavy metals like cadmium and lead, as well as pesticides and herbicides. A good soil will address this issue, and discuss the methods used to test their soil batches for contamination.

2.It Has Good Water Drainage And Retention Qualities

One of the most important functions of soil is to maintain the right moisture levels.

Too much moisture and your plants can rot and wither, too little and they will shrivel up and die.

A good potting mix will have a balance between water-retaining additives, and water drainage additives. The goal is to allow the soil to remain moist, but not soaking wet. If water cannot drain properly it will build up and cut off oxygen to the roots.

A good way to test the water retentive qualities of your soil is to soak your soil in a pot with a hole at the bottom. Wait about 30 minutes and then come back. You should be able to squeeze a few drops out of the soil with your hands. If you squeeze the soil and a whole bunch of water comes out, it’s likely retaining too much water.

3. It Allows Oxygen To Reach The Roots

The leaves of the plant take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen as a byproduct.

The roots of plants however, require oxygen to function.

Since the roots are covered by soil, it's important that the soil has micro holes in it to allow the oxygen to reach the roots further down. If the soil is too compressed, it will block oxygen from reaching down to the roots below. This will result in the death of the plant.

A good soil will be light and fluffy and will resist compacting. This allows air to seep in to the deeper layers of the soil where the roots live.

4. It Has High Nutritional Value

One of the main reasons we use soil is because it serves as a complete source of nutrition for the plant.

A good soil will have some synthetic fertiliser to support the plant in the first couple of weeks and some organic fertilizer to provide nutrition long term. Nutrient depleted soils also don’t allow the formation of beneficial colonies of microorganisms around your plants roots. This makes the growing environment less stable, and makes it easier for pathogenic organisms to creep in and start feeding off the roots of your plants.

5. It’s Free From Anaerobic Bacteria

This is perhaps the most obvious way to identify poor quality soil.

Anaerobic bacteria are not very good for plants. They thrive in low oxygen environments and often release toxic byproducts. If you’ve ever been to a swamp or wetland, you may have noticed a foul odour. This is mostly the result of anaerobic microorganisms.

Many low quality soils will contain anaerobic bacterial growth, and will therefore have characteristically bad smell to them. Good soil should smell earthy and fresh.

Conclusion

Soil is by far the most common growing media in the world. It’s withstood the test of time, and remains the most reliable growing medium for plants.

Finding high quality soil isn’t rocket science, but does take a bit of understanding in order to be able to identify some of the key features of what makes soil good quality and bad quality. The bottom line is that if you want good soil, look for something with a good balance between water drainage and moisture retention, contains some form of organic fertilizer, and doesn’t have a bad smell to it.

Your soil should be light and fluffy, and have a nice earthy smell to it.