Animal manure, leaf mould, spent mushroom compost, garden compost and green manure crops are all excellent additives when dug into the soil. Animal manures are probably the best because they contain useful quantities of nutrients as well. Animal manures and mushroom compost are readily available in bags and sometimes in bulk. Composted ‘green wastes’ are also readily available, or you can make your own compost.
Green manure crops are also a good source of organic matter but few home gardens have space to grow them nowadays. Peat moss is a good moisture-holding material but it contains negligible quantities of plant nutrients. There are concerns about the non-renewable nature of peat moss so cocofibre peat is an environmentally responsible substitute.
All organic materials will eventually decompose in soil and therefore must be renewed from time to time, especially in annual flower and vegetable beds that are continually cultivated. Clay soils benefit from organic matter too, because it improves their structure by binding clay particles into crumbs. This allows better air and water movement. By adding coarse sand to heavy soils you can make a permanent improvement in their texture. Spread the sand to a depth of 5–8 cm, then mix well into the topsoil to a depth of 15–20 cm.
Gypsum can be incorporated into a clay soil and in most cases will help the soil to function more effectively. Add gypsum at a rate of about 0.5–1 kg per square metre of soil. The crumb structure of clay and clay loam is destroyed if they are dug when too wet. Allow the soil to dry out for a day or two before digging. When cultivating any soil, only dig the topsoil. Do not dig so deeply as to bring subsoil (especially clay) to the surface.
A great rule of thumb when it comes to potting mix is it’s worth spending a bit more.
Ditch the cheap bags of potting mix for the best quality you can afford. The investment will be worth it when you see your plants flourish.
Mulch helps reduce moisture loss from soil, protects the soil from exposure to the elements and reduces weed growth.
Organic mulches like sugar cane, lucerne, pea straw, leaf litter and wood chips provide all these benefits in addition to breaking down over time and adding beneficial organic matter to the soil.
Earthworms help break down organic matter into nutrients and minerals that plants can use. The organic matter they recycle is a great source of food for your plants and a natural fertiliser in the garden.
Earthworms also move around creating tunnels and aerating the soil, making it easier for plant roots to grow and access water.
Compost is a fantastic soil improver, and it’s easy to make your own. I tell people it’s a little like making a lasagne! By layering different organic materials and then ‘baking’ (or composting in this case), you’ll be making your own organic soil improver and plant fertiliser.
Organic soil improvers, such as Yates Dynamic Lifter contain organic matter, and when used regularly will help raise the organic matter content of the soil, which improves soil health and brings your soil to life.
Organic soil improvers and plant fertilisers also help improve the moisture and nutrient holding capacity of sandy soil and the drainage of heavy clay soil.
This information is from the Yates Garden Guide: fully revised & updated 44th edition, HarperCollins, $39.99. You can have this information and so much more at your fingertips by purchasing the Yates Garden Guide, available at all leading bookstores and Bunnings stores.