How To Enrich Poor Soil

How To Enrich Poor Soil

Enrich soil with organic material and biodiversity

Prevent your nutrient-depleted soil from weakening and killing your trees, shrubs, and plants. Knowing how to keep your soil fertile will drive robust growth in your yard and garden. gathered information on how to Identify, enrich, and maintain your soil.

Types of Soil

Your soil is much more than dirt that you dig a hole in to plant something. Before attempting to improve or enrich your soil, identify what type it is:

Sandy Soil – This type of soil is usually formed as rocks like granite, limestone, and/or quartz fragment and breakdown. Sandy soils are poor soil types for growing plants because it has little to no nutrients and poor water holding capacity, which makes it hard for plant roots to absorb water and establish themselves.

Sandy soils are poor in nutrients and does not hold water well

Silt Soil – Composed of broken-down rock and mineral particles, smaller than sand but larger than clay. This soil retains water better than sandy soil and is the more fertile of the soil types. However, silt soil is easily stripped away by moving water currents, adding to potential erosion problems.

Silt soil is fertile but susceptible to erosion

Clay Soil – This soil has the smallest and most tightly packed particles, leaving little to no airspace. Smooth when dry and sticky when wet, clay soil is the densest soil and does not drain well or provide sufficient space for roots to thrive.

Clay soil is dense and does not drain well

Loamy Soil – Often referred to as agricultural soil, loamy soil is a combination of sand, silt, and clay soils. This soil presents a better ability to retain moisture and nutrients while having higher pH and calcium levels.

Loamy soil is agricultural soil and combines the qualities of the other types

Watch this video for three ways to easily test your soil and determine its type.

Soil Enrichment

Grow more healthy, vigorous, and productive plants and trees by enriching your soil. Every soil type can be improved. Here’s how:

To Improve Sandy Soil – Sandy soils contain little to no clay or organic matter, they don’t have structure, and particles won’t stick together, even when they’re wet.

  • Work or till in 4 to 5 inches of organic material like compost or well-rotted manure
  • Grow cover crops in the offseason
  • Mulch around your plants, shrubs, and trees with organic material like hay, straw, bark, leaves, or wood chips. Mulch regulates soil temperature and retains moisture.
  • Each year, add a minimum of 2 more inches of organic material to the soil

Tip: Cover crops may include buckwheat and/or phacelia in summer and vetch, daikon, and/or clovers in fall.

Enrich soil in the off season with clover cover crops

Read Proper Mulching Techniques Around Trees for more information about applying mulch properly.

To Improve Clay Soil – While most clay soils are rich in minerals, they lack a porous quality for roots to push their way through. These soils are also easily compacted by foot traffic and garden equipment. Here’s how to reduce compaction and enrich clay soils:

  • Work or till in 3 to 4 inches of organic material like compost or well-rotted manure
  • Grow cover crops in the offseason
  • Mulch around your plants, shrubs, and trees with organic material
  • Each year, add a minimum of 1 more inch of organic material to the soil

Note: The addition of organic material to clay soils provides better results when applied in the fall.

To Improve Silty Soil – While more fertile than sand or clay soil, silty soils are generally more dense, poorly-drained, and prone to the effects of erosion. Here’s how to help silty soils:

  • Add 1 inch of organic material like compost or well-rotted manure
  • Grow cover crops in the off season
  • Eliminate foot traffic, resting garden equipment, and till only when necessary to avoid soil compaction
  • Each year, add a minimum of 1 more inch of organic material to the soil

Note: The addition of sand and clay to silty soil can have disastrous results when done improperly. You would be better served by allowing the organic material to slowly modify the soil.

How To Improve Soil

Every soil has a unique texture and physical characteristics. However, all soil types can suffer when neglected and abused or be significantly improved with the right management techniques. The following serve to evaluate and improve all soil types:

Test Your Soil – You can find home soil test kits ranging from $15 (basic kit) to $900 (professional kit). Such tests measure the pH (acidity/alkalinity) and nutrient content of your soil.

You can send your soil samples to a North American Proficiency Testing Program (NAPT) participating laboratory by visiting and searching by laboratory name or state.

Also, most state universities provide soil testing services through their Cooperative Extension Service. Likely, they will provide soil testing and fertilizer/amendment recommendations based on test results.

Tip: Contact your state university or search for their extension for pricing and available services.

Watch this video to see how soil is tested in a laboratory.

Increase Soil Biodiversity – Organisms like nematodes, amoeba, fungi, bacteria, and earthworms are essential for the healthy growth of your plants, shrubs, and trees. Soil management practices that increase a soil’s organic matter and its biodiversity include:

Soil can be improved with the addition of biodiversity including earthworms

  • Amending organic material into the soil regularly
  • Moisture control (watering)
  • Careful selection and application of fertilizers
  • Mulch barren soil and around shrubs and trees, including gardens
  • Minimizing or eliminating soil tillage
  • Retaining and improving plant cover and using cover crops to shield the soil

Note: If adding manure to enrich your soil, use composted or aged manure. Fresh manure can “burn” growing plants and grasses.

Tip: Add earthworms to your compost pile. This will significantly enrich your compost, and when adding that compost to your soil, the worms go with it.

Watch this video from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations about soil biodiversity.

Control Soil pH Levels – Soil pH preferences vary between grass, plant, and tree species but most prefer soil pH between 5.8 and 7.2. You can safely adjust your soil’s pH to accommodate your grass, plant, or tree’s requirements by:

  • Lowering soil pH or making it more acidic, amending aluminum sulfate, sphagnum peat, elemental sulfur, iron sulfate, acidifying nitrogen, and/or organic mulches
  • Raising soil pH or making it more alkaline, incorporating limestone, agricultural lime, wood ash, and/or hydrated lime

Tip: Before planting anything, be knowledgeable of your pant’s preferred soil pH and make necessary adjustments to the soil. Frequent soil tests will help you maintain optimal soil conditions for what you are growing.

Watch this video to see how to adjust soil pH.

Enriching Your Soil

In this article, you discovered how to identify your soil type and composition, How to enrich your soil, and how to maintain its health.

Enriching your soil will help you grow healthier grasses, plants, shrubs, and trees, making them less susceptible to disease and insect infestations.

Ignoring your soil’s composition and biodiversity will lead to your landscape’s poor performance, plant death, and difficulty growing anything healthy.


Todd’s Marietta Tree Services

200 Cobb Pkwy N Ste 428 Marietta, GA 30062
(678) 505-0266

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