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
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.
SOIL AMENDMENT INDEX
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.
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.
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
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.
Those 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
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 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