Soil is the most important gardening essential, it is the key to a healthy garden, it’s a living community made up of invisible micro-organisms, nutrients, water and air, all of which contribute to plant growth. Plants grow by absorbing nutrients from the soils and the soil provides plants with an anchor. Well fed plants produce bigger and longer lasting flowers that bloom abundantly. Attention to your soil is the best way to keep the garden looking its best. To get a good garden you need to have a balance of organic materials mixed in the soil so it can drain quickly without becoming waterlogged. Most soils need to be improved. There are basically 4 soil types in Perth….Sand, Loam, Clay and Gravel.

Sand tends to hold little water but has good aeration. Clay tend to pack tight so that water does not drain well and little or no air can penetrate. A loamy soil is ideal for most gardens as it is a combination. Gravel is found in the hills of Perth and is reddish, hard small particles of rock,  hard to dig into.  Soil texture affects how well nutrients and water are retained in the soil. As water drains from sandy soils it often carries nutrients along with it, taking goodness away from the plants, this is called leaching.

You can improve your soil easily by adding organic material to it on a regular basis. You can add compost, we sell it by the bag or make it yourself and work it through the soil. There are products which can be added to soil like Peat, Sphagnum moss, Perlite, Vermiculite, Gypsum and Sand to improve the quality of the soil for certain purposes.  Peat is made up of the remains of plants that have partly decayed under water in bogs or marshes. Peat moss doesn’t have alot of nutritional value but holds water and fertiliser really well and improves soil structure. Sphagnum moss is a bog moss mainly used in mixes for orchids and as a backing for Elkhorns or Staghorns. Can be used in the base of hanging baskets too as it absorbs and retains moisture, it has almost no nutrient value though. Perlite is volcanic rock that has been ground to a fine, medium or coarse consistancy. The fine grade is useful for seed raising mixes, it helps give an open texture to the potting mix and absorbs water and minerals. It does not decompose and lasts for years, holds moisture without becoming boggy and is free of disease, weeds and insects. Vermiculite is a mineral when expanded under heat, then forms flakes, that can absorb and retain exceptionally large amounts of water and nutrients. Vermiculite is a useful material for rooting mixtures and occasionally used in Potting mix. It helps lighten heavy soils.  Gypsum is a mineral which works to loosen compacted clay soils thus improving nutrient uptake through better root structure. When soil is dense plant roots have a difficult time extracting food from it. Should be used in conjuction with organic fertilisers.It provides calcium and Sulphur. Coarse  Sand  is a valuable addition for opening up Potting mix. Do not use sand from the beach which is likely to contain harmful salts unless it has been specified washed. We sell peat as coco-peat compressed blocks which when added to water expand and can be mixed in the soil. We sell Sand as a component of our Potting mix and soil improver. Vermiculite, Perlite, Gypsum and Sphagnum moss we sell in bags.

To see if your soil is draining well, dig a hole and fill with water, if it drains away in an hour you have good drainage, if it takes a day you have slow drainage. If it sits overnight or longer you have poor drainage.

Soil PH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of the soil. The scale is 1-14 with 7 being neutral, below 7 is acidic and above 7 is alkaline soil. Some plants like to grow in acid soil others prefer alkaline soil and many others aren’t fussy. When the PH is wrong for a plant it won’t absorb nutrients. Adding lime and dolomite to the soil raises its PH, adding iron sulfate to soil can lower its PH or just use plants that are hardy and don’t need specific soil needs.

Tips for improving soil :

  1. If you have clay soil add gypsum, this is a natural product which helps drainage
  2. Dig in lots of organic products like manures, composts, and peat on a regular basis. We sell Sheep and Cow manure at our nursery in 25L bags. We sell Compost as well which is classed as a soil improver, it is mixed at our premises and has straw, manure, liquid manure, sawdust and mushroom farm compost in its mix.
  3. Mulch around the garden to retain moisture in soil underneath from the scorching sun, it looks neat and tidy, and controls weeds. Don’t put mulch too thick as when the sprinklers come on, the water can’t sink in, but then too lightly and it will blow away. Also don’t spread it close to the stem of the plant or again water can not get down to the roots. Mulch comes in many forms, black, brown, red, thick, thin, bark, sugar cane, pine fines, wood chips, gravel, scoria, river pebbles, pea straw, lucerne hay, wet newspapers with compost on top, all are effective so it comes down to personal preference. You can buy it in bags from Garden centres, we sell 2 types of mulch, a Tropical mulch which is black and made of uncrushed karri bark and screened peat in a 30L bag and a red Kimberly Mulch 50L bag. Alot of mulches do fade over time and decompose into the soil so probably need to be re done every 6 months.
  4. Buy a soil tester if you are having problems with soil or plants. You can purchase one at our nursery.137
  5. You can add a soil improver to your soil when planting if the soil is old and has no nutrients left in it or if you have pulled out some old plants which have taken all the goodness out of the ground. Similarly new soil which has had nothing planted in it before will need nourishing. Landscape mixes can be brought in bulk at Soil yards if you have a large area to do or buy by the bag at our nursery
  6. When you buy a plant in a pot it will be in Potting Mix, you can also when planting in the ground, dig a bigger hole and firm in some Premium Potting mix around the root base so when the roots move they will head into good soil. Our Premium potting mix which we mix ourselves and sell at our nursery has slow release food in it, sawdust, pine bark, and compost/soil conditioner.
  7. You can add soil wetter granules or liquid soil wetter to the soil to help penetration, or use water gel crystals in the hole at the time of planting. We sell both these products at the nursery.
  8. Check sprinklers to make sure they are all working and not blocked, and are pointing in the right direction so as not to be watering the road instead of your garden!
  9. If the soil is compacted, you can use a garden fork to aerate the ground or use a shovel or digger to turn over the top layer of ground. If you have compacted lawn you can hire a spiker from a Hire yard for a big area.
  10. If your soil is damp and has mushrooms growing in it, you have a fungal problem and the area will need to be dried out. Maybe cutting overhanging plants to let more light in and add sawdust or sand to dry out the soil.
  11. If you have ants in the ground leaving mounds of sand you will need to buy an ant killer product as they can, if in large proportions, dig under the plants and cause them to loosen and weaken. We sell Ant dust and granules and Ant concentrate can be brought and sprayed on, if you can find the nest, start there.
  12. Be careful when using bagged products as they may harbour soil borne or airborne diseases which you may inhale when you open the bag. Some people like to wear protection masks and or gloves. Always wash hands after being in the garden. Clean your garden utensils and steralise them so no disease gets transferred elsewhere
  13. If you find insects in your soil when digging through it like nematodes, snails, slaters try to get rid of them then if you are unsure of the quality of the soil, dig out that patch of soil and replace it with fresh clean soil.