The Dirt on Your Dirt!
Coming home to a well maintained, colorful landscape can give one a sense of peace and harmony. Caring for such a landscape can contribute to our health and sense of well being, but it can also be a source of frustration. The way to a beautiful landscape is to start at the bottom and move your way up. Soil health is the basis of a beautiful landscape. If the soil isn’t healthy, plants will not thrive.
Soil health is multifaceted and can affect plants in many ways. Understanding soil texture, or porosity, is and important part of understanding soil health. In Utah, we have many different textures of soil, but they can be simplified into 3 different types:
1. The first is sandy soil. Sandy soil does not hold water or fertilizer very well, but it does have good drainage because there are larger air pockets between the grains of sand.
2. The second is loamy soil. Loamy soil has sand, silt and a little bit of clay. Loamy soil holds water and fertilizer well and has good drainage. It has smaller air pockets than sand.
3. Clay soil holds water and fertilizer but does not drain very well because clay particles fit tightly together and do not have very large air pockets for water to drain through.
Most soils are combinations of these 3 types. The more sand in your soil, the more fertilizer and water will be needed to keep plants healthy. The more clay in a soil, the less water will drain out. If there is too much clay in the soil, water will have a hard time penetrating the clay layer to get to the plants roots. Plant roots also need oxygen. In clay soil, plant roots have a difficult time accessing oxygen because the soil particles are packed too closely together.
Another consideration with soil is the soil profile. In a healthy landscape, the soil profile, or the way soil is layered, will be consistent throughout the property. Care needs to be taken when bringing new types of soil into the landscape. If a one texture of soil is layered over the top of a different texture, water penetration issues can occur. Water moves through soil using 2 methods. One is through capillary action. Think about a sponge and how water is drawn up into it. It does that because the water particles are attracted to the surfaces of the sponge. The same thing happens in soil. Capillary forces in soil are stronger than gravitational forces. The larger the spaces are in the soil profile, the more gravity will take over. When the spaces between soil particles are smaller, capillary action will take over. Be particularly careful when adding smaller particle soils like clay over larger particle soils like sand. The clay profile will need to completely fill with water before gravity can take over and move down into the larger textured sand and this will cause drainage issues. Here is a great YouTube clip that shows how water moves through different textures of soil and how different textures can impede or help water movement https://youtu.be/ego2FkuQwxc.
Stay tuned, next time we will talk about soil PH and salinity issues. I know you are excited!