Understanding and maintaining soil health
Follow me on social media 💕
If you’re studying your RHS Level 2 Diploma in Horticulture, then soil science is something you need to wrap your head around pretty fast. Hopefully, reading through this should help you on your way and give you some great sources for information to beeline for that pass mark.
The freedom of gardening lies within the feeling of independence and how the choices we make in that process will affect how and what we grow.
I’ve always maintained that you should grow what you enjoy, and part of that enjoyment comes from research.
Getting to know your soil
Don’t worry – I’m not going to try and introduce mindful mud bath experiences in the forest, or even getting that messy in fact. This is much more about how knowing small and basic blocks about your soil, will change your gardening experience for the better.
In this series of blogs, I am going to be breaking down the basics and also pointing you towards valuable sources of information to kickstart knowing and understanding your growing space more.
Finding out your soil pH is a great way to start getting up close with your growing space. The pH will indicate what plants are suitable for your space as to whether it is more alkaline or acidic.
You can buy home kits that take a reading of your soil from amazon & are easy to use.
Scott H. Smith is a passionate gardener and great source of information on all things gardening, and he has some great, easy to understand content on soil science:
- Hort Skills: DIY soil testing
- Scott Smith gets down to the nitty gritty of soil pH
- Beechgrove Garden Episode 13 2023
In short, you’re going to need to plant for the garden you have, not the garden you necessarily want. Most soils in the UK have a pH of 6.5 – 7.
You can also see the UK Soil Observatory Map (UKSO) if you want to explore your area further and delve deeper into the wonderful world of soil.
The RHS have great advice on how to identify your soil type here and also give a great starter guide of plants for your soil. On this page, you’ll find everything you need to know and can simply test for your soil type at home with their guide.
Maintaining good soil texture is also key. By texture, we talk about the proportion and arrangement of soil separates – sand, silt and clay. The arrangement of the soil separates is referred to as aggregates and root development and growth of plants depends on the soil structure (the arrangement of aggregates and the air/water content in the pore spaces between the clods).
In short, a crumb texture is suitable for horticultural use due to the balance of pore spaces and soil aggregates, and this provides the perfect home for roots.
Whether you decide to cultivate your soil ‘traditionally’ (I say this in the loosest sense – it’s more what people associate with traditional) or use other traditional methods such as no-dig, that’s also your choice but there again, it’s all in the research and the more you know, the better gardener you are.
Start your no-dig journey off with Stephanie Hafferty for informative inspiration and learn about the benefits of no-dig and start your rabbit-hole journey into soil science.
The no-dig method breaks down incorporated organic matter via soil organisms, plants and fungi. There is no need to dig or disturb the soil and therefore it maintains a healthy soil structure as the ecosystem in the soil naturally maintains its own health. In return, it retains humus – the complete and last stage of the breakdown of organic matter which is dark in colour and rich in nutrients. I like the think of it as the soil’s vascular system and the humus is the blood and life of the soil.
- Improves soil fertility
- Increases water holding capacity (how much available water the soil retains)
- Provides for soil organisms
- Improves soil structure
- Easy access nutrients for plant roots
Your soil is everything you need to start building your own ecosystem empire. The more you know, the more you can grow. This is just skimming the surface of information available out there, and this is a great start if you’re looking to understand your garden a little bit more or are new to gardening.
Cultivatable soil is one of the most important things for human life so it needs to be treated with respect and we must do all we can to save what little there is on this earth. Maintaining your soil health is essential. Only 37.6% of the earth’s land surface is arable and this has decreased by nearly a third since 1961.
In the next edition of simplifying plant science, I’ll be talking about plant selection for attracting wildlife in your growing space.
 Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2013) – “Land Use”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/land-use’ [Online Resource]