Healthy lawns and plants begin in the same place: with good soil. In order for vegetation to grow well, it needs to have nutrients and water. Both can be found in soil, but there is much more to it than just “dirt.” Let’s dive into what is soil made of.
What Is Soil Made Of?
Soil is a complex material made of five major components:
- Organic matter
- Living organisms
What Does All That Mean?
Firstly, your soil is actually alive, and like any living thing, it can be healthy or unhealthy depending on various factors. It consists of 45% minerals, 5% organic matter, 25% air and gasses, and 25% water. Now, we can explore these components of what is soil made of a little more closely:
Minerals come from larger rocks that break down into smaller parts. Sometimes, weather and erosion contribute to this breakdown, but it can also be caused by vegetation or living organisms and humans. Some of the most common minerals in soil are calcium, sulfur, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
2. Organic Matter
Organic matter is actually made up of various components. Three major examples of this are stable organic matter, decomposing matter, and small fresh plant parts along with small living organisms. Compost, such as dead plants or animal manure, can be considered organic matter, though they do not make up the soil all alone.
Decomposing matter comes from tree trimmings, dead plants, or other organic material commonly found in a family compost bin. Also included in organic matter are fresh plant parts before they begin breaking down, along with organisms, which can include earthworms or other soil-dwelling insects.
Soil contains various gases. The primary ones include nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen. Oxygen is important for healthy soil as it allows respiration for plant parts to decompose and organisms to sustain life. Sometimes, other gases can be found as well, but these are less common.
Playing an important part in soil, water is necessary for plants to uptake moisture and be nourished. However, there needs to be balance. Not enough water and the soil will dry out. Too much water and it can leach out, taking valuable minerals with it.
5. Living Organisms
There are a variety of living things in soil. This can be bacteria, fungi, algae, and other microscopic living things. It can also include the ants, earthworms, and other small creatures that spend part or all their life underground. Soil organisms can also be microscopic cells that digest composting aspects, like leaves and manure.
These all play a role in maintaining fertility, aeration, drainage, and the structure of the soil. However, some burrowing mammals and insects like grubs can be pests and harm plants that depend on the soil.
Tips for Healthy Soil
If you want to have a nice lawn, good crops, or green plants, having healthy soil is imperative. It is not as simple as simply watering vegetation to ensure it grows well, though. Like any other living thing, plants need enrichment, and that starts with your soil. Here are some tips for having healthy soil:
Healthy soil should have about 25% oxygen. Sometimes, soil can become compacted or obstructed, so aerating can help a great deal. The act of aerating is when you remove a small core of earth from the soil (typically with specialized tools designed to do just that) to allow air to access below the surface. This can help increase that oxygen level, thus allowing the soil to breathe better.
Organic matter can be a valuable source of nutrients for the soil. Kitchen food scraps can break down and provide fuel for organisms to consume. Fresh lawn clippings can add nitrogen, but if they have already turned brown, they can be a good source of carbon as well. Aged manure can also be great for soil treatment, though ideally, it would need to come from animals that do not consume in chemically treated pastures. And finally, for those coffee lovers, coffee grounds can be a wonderful source of soil feed, as well.
Keep It Covered
It may seem counterproductive to the oxygen issue, but soil needs to be covered. It does not have to be covered with something heavy, but mulch or living plants can be used instead. The idea is to keep the soil moist; not enough water is not healthy for it. Keeping water inside of the soil will also prevent having to water as much. Plants do a great job of providing cover, but mulch or grass clippings can also play a good part in keeping the soil wet.
Again, soil needs a good water balance to be healthy. If soil has too much water, plants can become waterlogged and die or become diseased. If there is not enough water, it becomes barren and plants cannot access any of the nutrients. If you live in an area where it rains a lot, you may not need to water as much. However, if you live where it is dry, you’ll want to ensure you’re watering enough to keep the soil moist at all times.
Check Your PH Levels
If soil becomes too acidic or alkaline, it can prohibit both the health and growth of plants. PH levels refer to a rating system of 0 to 14, with 7 considered as “neutral.” Some plants prefer slightly more acidic settings, as do earthworms, but overall, the recommended PH level is between 6 and 7.
How to Test Your Soil
Most lawn and garden stores sell PH testing kits so you can test it at home. You can also send a small sample to a soil testing lab, which can help you learn more about what your soil is comprised of. You’ll also want to know what your soil is made of, such as more clay or sand. These factors can change what you use to treat soil, as some minerals have different reactions to the introduction of new factors.
How to Treat Your Soil
If you find that your soil is not where you want it to be, you can add sulfur to lower the PH level and limestone to raise it. Careful research is necessary to know what your soil needs in terms of adding these to it, however, and sometimes it is best to call in a professional who will be able to teach you the best way to keep your soil balances at healthy levels.
Is Your Soil All It Can Be?
Soil can be complicated, and you can encounter different types of it depending on various environmental factors. It covers the earth in various capacities, and soil systems have been building in certain areas for centuries. Soil covers the earth, but there are more microorganisms in one handful of the earth than there are people alive. Soil is at the bottom of the food chain, and yet we depend on it daily. Different layers of soil exist, but it takes approximately 500 years to produce less than an inch of new topsoil organically.
Soil is extraordinarily complex, and once you begin to learn more about it, it can seem daunting to keep yours in good shape. Our helpful experts at Weed-A-Way are here to help. We have been in business for more than 40 years and continue to work with our valued community to help you get the lawn you want! We love to hear from customers, so if you have questions about our services or would like more information, please contact Weed-A-Way today!