- Soil and Soil Amendments Guide
- What Is Well-Drained Soil?
- What Does Well Drained Soil Mean: How To Get A Well-Drained Garden Soil
- What Does Well-Drained Soil Mean?
- Creating a Well-Draining Soil
What is well-draining soil?
- A simple test to find out if your soil is well-draining
- What happens to most plants if they don’t have well-draining soil?
- I don’t have well-draining soil in my garden. Help!
- How to create well-draining soil in containers
- Related posts:
Soil and Soil Amendments Guide
To amend soil means to improve it with additional materials. These soil amendments or soil conditioners improve the physical nature of soil. They reduce compaction, aerating the soil to allow water and nutrients to more easily move through it and reach plant roots. Some soil amendments also add nutrients to the soil, help retain moisture and help maintain the correct pH balance.
Common soil amendments include:
- Garden soil is a soil amendment for in-ground use rather than use in containers or raised beds. Work it into your existing soil to improve aeration and moisture retention. Garden soil may also include fertilizer to feed your plants.
- Sphagnum peat moss absorbs water, slowly releasing it for use by plant roots. It lightens clay soil, providing aeration, and adds mass to sandy soil, helping prevent the leaching of nutrients. Don’t confuse sphagnum peat moss with decorative sphagnum moss, which is primarily a floral design product.
- Composted manure is an odorless farm byproduct. In addition to improving aeration and moisture retention, it enriches the soil. Dehydrated manure is a similar product that contains less moisture.
- Mushroom compost is a mixture of straw, peat moss and other organic components, formulated for use in commercial mushroom production. The mixture is used for one round of growing and then packaged as an amendment for the home garden.
- Top soil is intended for repairs to your garden or your lawn – filing holes, leveling ground, correcting eroded areas, etc. Don’t use topsoil for planting or potting unless you blend it with other amendments such as composted manure, vermiculite, perlite, peat moss and aged wood bark.
Additional amendments include:
- Lime – raises soil pH, reducing acidity
- Sulfur – lowers soil pH, increasing acidity
- Gypsum – improves aeration of compacted soil, helping it drain more efficiently
- Perlite – improves aeration and drainage
- Vermiculite – improves moisture retention and aeration
Many gardeners choose to make their own soil amendment by composting. Read Making Compost for tips on creating this nutrient-rich amendment.
What Is Well-Drained Soil?
Almost every gardening book and magazine article you read says you need well-drained soil. What is it? Well-drained soil is a soil where water infiltrates at a medium rate — somewhere between running off and draining as though someone pulled a plug. The best soil is about half air space and half solid mineral, with 2-5 percent organic matter. Under ideal growing conditions, about half of the air space will be filled with water. If the soil is too wet, plant roots fail to get the oxygen they need. If the soil has too much air space and drains too quickly, plant roots dry out.
Here’s a simple test to find out how well your soil drains. Dig a hole that is 12-18 inches across and 12-18 inches deep. Fill the hole with water. If water drains from the hole in 10 minutes or less, you have fast drainage. If the water takes an hour or more to drain, you have poorly drained soil. Improve soil drainage by building raised beds or by adding organic matter to existing soil in the form of well-rotted manure, compost, or peat moss.
I keep reading about plants that need well drained soil. How can I tell if my soil fits that description?
When selecting a plant for your garden it is important to note not only the hardiness zones in which it will survive but also the growing conditions that it needs. Choosing plants that are best suited to the growing conditions that exist in your garden can mean the difference between success and failure. For instance, if you want to grow peonies you will need to provide them with fertile, humus rich, moist but well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. The light requirements are pretty self-explanatory, but the soil descriptions can seem a bit vague, especially well-drained. After all how can you have moist soil that also drains well?
This term refers to more than just how water behaves in your garden. It is somewhat of a catchall for healthy soil. Well-drained soil has a loose structure that allows for rapid movement of water and air through the soil particles because along with moisture, plant roots need plenty of oxygen to survive.
I have heavy clay soil in my garden. Clay particles are tiny and pack together easily so my soil is very dense. Without amendments, my soil retains too much moisture and excludes the oxygen that both plants and beneficial micro-organisms need.
Alternatively some gardeners have sandy soil that does not retain any moisture. Both clay and sandy soil can be amended to improve its capacity to grow healthy plants.
An added benefit of well-draining soil is that it warms up faster than wet soil in the spring. This allows you to get a jump start on the growing season.
You’re ready to add to your landscape and prepared to purchase great fertilizer, too. After all, you don’t want your investment to fail. But there’s more to the foundation your plants need to thrive. Well-drained soil is absolutely necessary, but how do you create it?
Figuring Out the Foundation
Chances are, the soil in your yard is very sandy and full of clay. Most people in the greater-Houston region can say the same.
Because of the naturally condensed conditions we have in the region, it’s necessary to add materials to your soil for most plants to thrive.
Gardening can be deceiving. Perhaps you’ve researched, purchased the right plants for your yard based on the sunlight you get – and you even bought that fertilizer you saw advertised recently! What could go wrong!? Prepare yourself – the truth is, a lot.
There are so many factors to consider when gardening, which is part of what makes it such a challenging and entertaining hobby! It’s like an ongoing science experiment. But, the most important step in gardening is the very first one: the soil!
You must first create the best soil foundation possible for your plants to succeed.
Building a Better Soil
Seasoned gardeners refer to well-drained soil all the time – but what is it? Often times, when homeowners dig a hole to plant something new, they discard the soil dug from the ground. But that native soil is needed, so don’t get rid of it! Instead, use a wheel barrow to place the ground soil in while you’re working. Then, add in some cotton bur compost and expanded shale. You should have equal parts of all three materials in the wheel barrow. Mix thoroughly and voila, well-drained soil!
Expanded Shale = Magic
What is expanded shale? Expanded shale is a lightweight aggregate (similar to a rock), but heated at very high temperatures, so there are small pockets like popcorn. It helps break up heavy compacted soil to move air, water, and nutrients through the soil more efficiently.
Expanded shale is especially beneficial because it absorbs water during wet periods and later releases the moisture during dry times. So, it’s especially useful for gardens in the Houston area exposed to the extreme weather conditions we experience.
Don’t forget to add a high-quality organic root stimulator or fertilizer when you place new plants and trees in the ground. And, of course, thoroughly water in all your new additions.
Stop by the Garden Center or call 281-354-6111 to learn more or pick up some cotton bur compost and expanded shale. We’ll get you growing!
What Does Well Drained Soil Mean: How To Get A Well-Drained Garden Soil
When shopping for plants, you have probably read plant tags that suggest things like “needs full sun, needs part shade or needs well-draining soil.” But what is well-draining soil? This is a question I’ve been asked by many of my customers. Read more to learn the importance of well-drained soil and how to get a well-drained garden soil for planting.
What Does Well-Drained Soil Mean?
Simply put, well-drained soil is soil that allows water to drain at a moderate rate and without water pooling and puddling. These soils do not drain too quickly or too slowly. When soil drains too quickly, the plants do not have enough time to absorb the water and can die. Likewise, when soil does not drain quickly enough and plants are left in pooling water, their oxygen intake from the soil is reduced and the plants can die. Also, plants that are weak and suffering from insufficient watering are more susceptible to disease and insect damage.
Compacted and clay soil can drain poorly and cause plants roots to sit too long in wet conditions. If you have heavy clay or compacted soil, either amend the soil to make it more porous or choose plants that can tolerate wet areas. Sandy soil can drain water away from plant roots too quickly. For sandy soil, amend the soil or choose plants that can tolerate dry and drought-like conditions.
Creating a Well-Draining Soil
Prior to planting anything in the garden, it helps not only to test the soil but you should also test its drainage capabilities. Compacted, clay and sandy soils all benefit from being amended with rich organic materials. It is not enough to just add sand to clay soil to improve drainage because that can just make the soil more like concrete. For areas with poor drainage to either extreme, too wet or too dry, thoroughly mix in organic materials such as:
- Peat moss
- Shredded bark
Nutrient rich, properly drained soil is very important for healthy plants.
What is well-draining soil?
If you’re a gardener, chances are you’ve come across the term ‘well-draining’ soil once or twice.
Most plants, including perennials, annuals, herbs, vegies and fruit trees, love well-drained soil. But what does well-draining soil mean?
Well-draining soil is soil that drains water at a steady rate. Like the character Goldilocks in the fairytale The Story of the Three Bears, most plants prefer soil that doesn’t drain too quickly or too slowly, but is just right. But what exactly is ‘just right’ you ask? Take the simple test below to find out if your soil is well-draining.
A simple test to find out if your soil is well-draining
Dig a hole 30 centimetres deep and wide. Fill it with water. If the water drains from the hole in 10 minutes or less, you have fast draining soil. If the water takes an hour or more to drain, you have poorly-draining soil. If your soil is well-draining, the time the water takes to drain will falls somewhere in between.
What happens to most plants if they don’t have well-draining soil?
If your soil is slow-draining, it gets too wet. Your plant’s roots need oxygen as much as they need water, but if they’re sitting in soggy soil, their oxygen intake from the soil is reduced and they can suffer from root rot, are more susceptible to disease and insect damage and can eventually die.
On the other hand, if your soil has too much air, it will drain too quickly and your plants won’t have enough time to absorb the water. As a result, the roots will dry out and your plant will die. Just like plants that get too much water, plants that don’t get enough water are also prone to disease and insect damage.
I don’t have well-draining soil in my garden. Help!
If you have poorly draining soil, it’s likely you have either clay soil (too slow) or sandy soil (too fast).
Clay soil drains poorly and causes plant roots to sit too long in wet conditions. If you have clay soil, you need to make it more porous. Clay soil can be improved by adding organic material such as compost, rotted manure and mulch, along with gypsum or clay breaker, before planting. Where digging is difficult, laying organic mulch and manure over the soil to break down, assists over the long term. Learn more about clay soil.
Sandy soil tends to be fast-draining. To improve sandy soil, regularly add organic material such as compost, rotted manure and mulch. When planting, work organic matter into the soil before planting and regularly spread organic mulch and manure over the soil surface to replenish organic matter. For new plantings, line the planting hole with several sheets of wet newspaper. This slows water loss for the new plant but eventually breaks down as the plant gets established. You can also apply a soil-wetting agent such as Wettasoil from time to time to encourage water to soak in. Learn more about sandy soil.
How to create well-draining soil in containers
The good news is, all potting mixes are well-draining, so all you need to do is choose a potting mix that’s appropriate for the type of plant you’re potting up.
Bagged potting mixes are pre-packed with the nutrients your plants need, so there’s no need to add soil, compost or anything else. Buying a potting mix is also far more effective and efficient than mixing your own.
Before adding potting mix, ensure the container has enough drainage holes for its size. Resist the temptation to line the bottom of your container with gravel or similar chunky material, as this makes it harder for water to drain from the soil. In the past, adding a layer of pebbles and/or activated charcoal helped with container drainage, however with the massive improvement in the quality of potting mixes, this technique is no longer necessary.
If you have a plant that’s already in a container, give it well-draining soil by taking the plant out of the container and adding new potting mix at the bottom of the container. Or you can move the plant into a bigger pot with new potting mix. If you have a container plant that you notice water runs off, add Wettasoil granules on top of the soil.