Your Vegetable Garden and the Soil that It Grows In

Kim J. Clark

You’ve decided that you wanted vegetable garden, but how do you know if it will grow well in the soil that you have? A successful garden starts with a fertile, well-prepared soil.

You should know your soil type, if you need fertilizer, what type of fertilizer you should use, and your soils pH.

Soil structure

You may think of your garden earth as just dirt. It is actually a mass of mineral particles, living and dead organic matter, air, and water. The size and shape of a soil’s mineral particles determines its characteristics. The smallest are clay particles, the largest are sand particles and intermediate size are silt particles. There are four basic soil types: clay, silt, sand, and loam — a soil composed of all three particle types.

Clay soil is the most difficult type to grow a garden in. It is gummy and unworkable when wet and when it’s dry, it cracks apart. It also allows for poor drainage.

Sandy soils have large particles with large spaces between them which makes for well-aerated soil, but water pours through it taking the nutrients with it.

Loam is a mixture of clay, silt and sandy soils which preserves the best characteristics of each and is considered the ideal soil for gardens. It retains moisture, and provides enough air for root growth.


A soil’s acidity or alkalinity is expressed in terms of pH, determined on a scale of one to 14. Seven is considered neutral, any pH less than seven is acid, and any pH greater than seven is alkaline. The ideal vegetable garden soil is slightly acid to neutral which is about six to seven, but you can grow gardens at pH seven to eight successfully.

Acid soil is the most common in areas that have heavy rainfall. If the pH is less than 5.5, add ground limestone or lime to counteract the acidity. Dolomitic lime is best because it contains both calcium and magnesium. Check with a local nursery to determine the amount of lime necessary to correct the soil acidity in your area.

Alkaline soil is found in areas that have low rainfall, or drainage, and that have natural limestone deposits. There is also a lot of salt in the soil. Fertilize with an acidic fertilizer to reduce mild alkalinity. The garden should be watered thoroughly 24 to 48 hours before fertilizing. This is called leaching. It drains the limestone to below the planting area.

You should always test a garden’s pH before planting. You can purchase inexpensive test kits at garden supply stores, catalogs or online stores.

If you are lucky enough to have loam, you may still need amendments for a successful garden. Again, testing is the best way to know if this is necessary. Some common amendments would include manure, peat moss, compost, and wood products such as sawdust and bark.

As you can see, knowing the type of soil that is in your garden is very important to its success. So, test before you start planting.

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