Saturday, March 10, 2012

Demystifying Soil Amendments

The following blogs are going to be a five part series on Soil Amendments and Components.

Garden Bed Amendments I – Nutritional Amendments

Soil amendments are anything you can add to the soil to improve its nutritional value, water retention, drainage, structure and aeration to create a better environment for plant root development or increase or decrease drainage or slow soil erosion.  Soil amendments can also be considered products that you can use on top of the soil to retain moisture, slow erosion, manage weeds, moderate soil temperature, increase aesthetics and aid in plant growth.  They can be either organic or inorganic.  Some of the following products or components can have multiple tasks that they perform in your soil; however I have tried to categorize them into their main function.

Always follow the label for all products.  We strongly recommend you get a soil test before adding any nutrients to your soil.  This will give you a clear understanding of what might be missing from your garden’s soil.  You can use a company like Agricultural Soil Management, Inc. in Champagne IL to do your soil test or go to for a listing of companies.

Some of the following products are easy to find at your local Independent Garden Center but others may be difficult to find stocked.  Some of these products have suitable substitution that your local Garden Center experts can suggest for you but if you really have your heart set one product or a brand of product you can talk to them and they may be able to special order it for you.
Aluminum Sulfate
            Is a chemical compound
            Lowers the PH or increases acidity of gardens that are not used for edible plants
It increases the amount of nutrients that the plant takes up through its roots system from the surrounding soil
            Can be used as a soil additive or top dressed
            Always follow the directions, do not apply to foliage
            Used to change certain hydrangeas colors typically to a
            blue shade

 Garden Sulfur
            Natural occurring element
            Lowers PH or increases acidity in soil and can be used
            with edibles
            Used often in Organic gardening
            We recommend this product in blueberry production in
            our area

Agricultural Lime/Garden Lime/Agricultural Limestone
 It provides a source of calcium which is an important micro nutrient especially for plants like tomatoes and fall mums
It improves the plants ability to uptake other nutrients such as Nitrogen, Potassium and
Best to add lime to the top of the soil in fall or before planting in spring
            Raises the PH in soil
Phosphorous (N-P-K) in acidic soils
Naturally occurring mineral – Limestone ground
It increases water penetration into soil media

Dolomitic Lime
            Similar to Agricultural lime
            Is a naturally occurring mineral that is mined
            Raises the PH of your soil
Is a carbonate mineral composed of calcium magnesium carbonate
Both calcium and magnesium are necessary nutrients for some plants

Hydrated Lime
            Calcium Hydroxide is an inorganic compound created from limestone and water
            Raises the PH quickly in the soil, but may burn the roots of plants where it is used
            Please make sure your follow your instruction, we recommend Agricultural Lime instead

Ammonium Sulphate
            Is an inorganic salt compound
            Lowers PH or increases acidity
            Contains Nitrogen and Sulfur
            Quick and fast release of Nitrogen, be careful not to burn the plant
            To do this the organic way and slower we would recommend Blood Meal

Magnesium Sulphate/Epsom Salt
            Inorganic chemical Compound naturally coming from the Earth (Epsom, England)
            Helps correct chlorosis (yellowing leaves) of plants, it will make them more green
            May be used to correct magnesium deficiencies
            Lowers the PH or increases acidity of your soil slightly
            Helps plants absorb naturally occurring phosphorous in the soil and other nutrients
            Often used in organic gardening
            Is a sulfate mineral naturally occurring and can be created as a byproduct of
            sulfide oxidation
            May counter act salt spray damage from deicing agents applied to roads for winter
Helps bind organic matter to nutrients in the soil to prevent leaching and be available to the plant for later use
            PH neutral (7.0) but does help correct overly alkaline
            (high PH) or “sweet soils” 
            Loosens clay soils by allowing air and water to flow easier through
            Maybe used in organic gardening 
            Lessens soil erosion
            Adds calcium
            Won’t burn
 Dried Blood/Blood Meal
Releases nitrogen over four months so perfect for one season crops, please follow the label to avoid plant damage
            Provides a natural source of nitrogen
            Great for nitrogen hungry crops like leafy  vegetables
            spinach, corn, brussel sprouts)
            Apply during growing season
Lowers PH or increases acidity
            May act as an animal repellent such as deer and rabbit
Do not apply to beans or legumes (i.e. soybeans) or other crops that take nitrogen out of the air and put it in the soil
May be used in organic gardening
Often used in compost pile
            Please follow the directions and do not over apply

            When you have iron deficiencies you usually have high PH
            Lowers PH or increases acidity
It can be applied as a spray (liquid form is equally effective and is more commonly available) or a pellet which is usually commercially available

Chelated Iron
            Is often in a soluble form for spraying
            Slightly Lowers PH or increases acidity
            Is used as temporary fix for high PH soils
            Used to treat deficiencies causing chlorosis

This is often one of two nitrogen sources for commercial fertilizers (Ammonium Nitrate is the other but it is not sold by itself)
Promotes rapid greening and growth
This releases nitrogen very rapidly

            Is the name nickname for the old fashioned way of soaking plant ashes in a water pot
            Various salts that contain potassium either mined or manufactured
            Source of potassium for fertilizers
Potassium helps the growth of the plant, keeps the plant circulatory system healthy, and helps maintain the plants overall healthiness

Bone Meal
            It is made from crushed bones
            It is often used in organic gardening 
Often used for bulbs, roses and tomatoes
It is a good source of phosphorous and calcium for your plants
It is a slow release fertilizer

            This topic will be covered at a later date thoroughly
May be organic, inorganic, natural or synthetic
            It is often added to the soil to supply nutrients to plants
            Can be a quick release, time release or slow release formulas
It contains the following macro and micro nutrients
six macro nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S);
seven micro nutrients: boron (B), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), and zinc (Zn).

Corn Gluten Meal
            Made from ground corn
Various Universities including Iowa State University believes it could be used as a natural pre-emergence herbicide
            Slowly releases nitrogen and is often used on lawns



Top dress – to apply product on top of the soil or garden surface to either add nutrients, limit weed seed germination or weed growth, retain moisture, deter soil erosion, increase aesthetic beauty

Leaching – Water soluble plant nutrients are lost due to over watering or the soils inability to hold on to those nutrients for later use

PH – is the measure of acidity to basic from #1 to #14

PH neutral – is in the middle of the PH scale at #7

Slightly Acidic – to lower the PH

Slightly Basic - To sweeten the soil, to raise the PH often associated with lime products

N-P-K – Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium are often depicted as number on plant fertilizers (i.e. 10-10-10)

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