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Soil in some areas can be of very poor quality, often being 'heavy soil' that is too high in clay content. As a result, decent drainage and good growing conditions are lacking.

Growing conditions for plants can be improved if the existing soil is amended with organic material to create better 'tilth.' The most commonly used soil amendments, like compost, peat moss, mushroom manure and sand, are described below.



Leaf compost is ordinarily available from municipalities that collect leaves in the fall. Leaves are usually gathered using large truck mounted vacuums or in biodegradable bags. Piles are usually turned-over with large front end loaders periodically to encourage aerobic decomposition.

Ready to use compost

Compost provides an excellent means of introducing organic matter into your vegetable garden and flower beds. Compost is usually sold by the cubic yard or truckload.


Peat Moss

In most cases, the name is more accurate as "moss peat" or "sphagnum moss".  Most of these products originate from peat bogs in Canada, and are tightly "baled" in plastic wrappers, and sold by the cubic foot.  3.8 cubic foot is the most commonly used size.  Since bales can hold up to 100-times their weight in water, care should be exercised when lifting bales that have gotten wet, to prevent muscle strains.  Gloves should also be worn when handling peat moss due to possible health problems with Sporotrichosis.

Peat is one of the primary ingredients in the "soil-less" potting mixes used by greenhouses and nurseries.  It is generally free of any destructive plant pathogens which could hinder seed germination and plant growth.  Since peat moss is acidic, countermeasures should be taken when using it with plants favoring a higher pH.  Soil mixes for growing Rhododendron, Azalea, Pieris japonica, and Mountain Laurel are much improved by mixing 4 cubic feet of peat moss with every cubic yard of topsoil.

Even though old-timers used peat moss to topdress lawns, the practice is generally not recommended.  When peat moss is dry, it is hard to wet, and visa versa.

Mushroom Manure

Soil amendments improve gardening resultsThose of us who garden in Pennsylvania are lucky to have a ready supply of "mushroom manure"!  This product begins with the horse manure that is cleaned out of stalls at horse farms or racetracks.   It is then trucked to the mushroom mine where it is further processed by adding straw and chipped corn cobs, among other things.  After being spread in the mushroom beds it is steam pasteurized.  Following one crop of mushrooms it is removed from the mine and stockpiled.  It is then transported to landscape supply yards for delivery to garden centers.

Mushroom manure is an excellent mulch for flower beds and as a replacement for straw mulch on new lawns.   It can also be mixed 50-50 with topsoil (50% topsoil + 50% mushroom manure) to create great flower growing media.  If your neighbor grows award-winning flowers, chances are he or she uses mushroom manure as a mulch, or mixed with the soil.

Mushroom manure can be used as a mulch in place of shredded wood mulch but it should not be used around 'acid loving' plants due to its higher pH
Mushroom manure mulch in a shrub bed

Mushroom manure is the opposite of peat moss, in that it has an alkaline pH. Therefore, countermeasures should be considered when using it around acid-loving plants, such as Rhododendron and Azaleas.


When using sand as a soil amendment, it is best to use "mason's sand" or "sharp sand", since it will have better drainage characteristics than river sand.  (Builder's sand has angular edges compared to the more rounded edges of river sand)  Sand is often used in "flats" to root ground cover cuttings such as ivy and pachysandra.  One strong disadvantage of sand is its heavy weight.


Lime and Liming


Soil pH


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