Why Do Plants Need Soil? – The Ultimate Nutrient Source

While little can be done about the climate, the soil is where a gardener can show their talent. But why do plants need soil? Well, for starters, plants are dependent on the ground for several different reasons, and the good thing is that you can achieve a lot if you handle it correctly.

Does your garden soil has everything that it takes to ensure the healthy growth of plants? What kind of soil should you have if you wish to see a lush green garden overflowing with juicy fruits and vegetables every harvest season? Read on to find out how to make the most out of your soil.

Why Do Plants Need Soil In The First Place?

Starting with the most crucial question, why do plants need soil? There are a couple of basic things that the plants need from the ground they’re planted in. The availability of all these things is essential for plant growth. In other words, the soil is vital for plant growth.

Understanding what benefits your plants get from the soil will help you figure out how to amend it for healthier growth in your garden. Here’s what ground offers your plants:

1. Nutrients

Together with the primary nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, plants get several minor nutrients from the soil. All these nutrients contribute to plant growth and come from either the decaying organic matter present in the ground or minerals that are a part of the soil material.

If the soil is low on nutrients, you’ll need to add the lacking nutrients through fertilization, depending on the plants’ specific nutrient requirements.

2. Support

Soil gives material for the roots to grasp on. It helps the plant stand upright on the ground. Aerated soil is good for the plants, but excess aeration weakens the support it provides to the plants. Plants or trees growing in an overly-aerated soil will easily get uprooted in a storm.

3. Moisture

We all know that plants need water to grow, so if you want to know more about water’s role and why it helps plants prosper, read our post – Why Do Plants Need Water? A Simple Guide to This Wet Wonder.

After a watering or a rainfall, water is gradually absorbed in the soil, becoming available to the roots. Most plants grow best in evenly moist soil. Waterlogged soil isn’t good since it makes the soil compact, blocking the roots’ air supply.

4. Air

Plant roots need oxygen to grow. Soil includes pores that get filled with water after a rainfall or irrigation. When the water drains, the air is pulled into these pores and made available to the roots. Large pores quickly allow air in them, while the small pores are ideal for holding water. A mix of different pore sizes makes for a perfect structure for the soil.

5. Microbial Environment

Nutrients inside the organic material aren’t directly available to the plants. They need to be processed by living organisms such as earthworms, fungi, and bacteria. Soil is home to countless microbes that consume organic matter and convert it into forms that are usable to the plants.

Know Your soil: What Types Of Soils Are There?

For containers and raised beds, you can create the plants’ ideal conditions by choosing the best soil. But, with a large garden, it’s not so simple. You’ll need to understand the type of soil you have to make the most out of it.

Is Sandy Soil Good For Plants?

Sandy soil is the one that appears gritty. It’s easy to till, drains quickly, and will warm relatively soon in the spring. Since it drains fast, useful nutrients are also frequently washed away. You’ll need to amend the soil regularly with organic material to maintain a continuous supply of nutrients. Mulching can help preserve the moisture in the ground and keep the temperatures low during hot weather.

What Plants Grow Best In Sandy Soil?

Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, parsnips, squash, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and lettuce. Flowers like roses, hibiscus, and tulips also grow well in sandy soil.

Is Clay Soil Good For Plants?

Clay soil feels lumpy and sticky when it’s wet and is very hard to cultivate when it’s dry. On the downside, clay soil lacks proper aeration and isn’t ideal at draining water either. On the plus side, it’s rich in nutrients. If drainage is improved, clay soil is perfect for many plant varieties.

What Plants Grow Best In Clay Soil?

Summer vegetables grow well in clay soil. Trees, both fruit and ornamental, will thrive in this type of ground, and so will shrubs.

Is Silty Soil Good For Plants?

It has a soapy, soft texture and offers excellent moisture retention. The soil is rich in nutrients and pretty easy to cultivate. Drainage capacity needs improving with the help of organic matter to make it ideal for garden plants.

What Plants Grow Best In Silty Soil?

Fruits and vegetables thrive in silty soil if proper drainage is maintained. Perennials, vines, grass, and shrubs also do well in this type of soil. Moisture-loving plants such as birch and cypress are excellent for silty soil.

Is Peaty Soil Good For Plants?

Dark in color, peaty soil is the type that has large concentrations of peat. It’s usually damp and acidic with the excess peat in it. The acidic environment slows down the soil’s microbial activities, resulting in a lower supply of nutrients. It usually requires drainage channels because the soil tends to retain water. Amending it with organic matter can help it maintain a steady supply of nutrients. Add lime to reduce acidity since most plants do well in soil with a neutral pH.

What Plants Grow Best In Peaty Soil?

Acid-loving plants like sweetcorn, cucumber, and blueberries will find it best, without the need for amending with lime. You can also use it to plant other vegetable crops like legumes and brassicas after raising the pH level. Shrubs, like rhododendron and heather, do well in well-drained peaty soil.

Is Chalky Soil Good For Plants?

Usually found over a limestone or chalk bedrock, chalky soil is often stonier than other varieties. The soil drains very quickly and is alkaline. The alkalinity in the ground usually leads to stunted growth and yellowing leaves in the plants. It will need to be amended with proper fertilization to lower the pH. Amending with humus will help improve the soil’s ability to retain water.

What Plants Grow Best In Chalky Soil?

Certain vegetable crops such as cabbage, beets, and spinach are well-suited to chalky soil. Trees, shrubs, and flowers like lilac, Californian poppies, spindle bush, and weigela are also perfect.

Is Loamy Soil Good For Plants?

Loamy soil, or the gardener’s dream soil, is the perfect mix of sand, clay, and silt. This soil type is characterized by its fine texture and slight dampness and is ideal for gardening. It’s rich in nutrients, offers the perfect balance between moisture retention and drainage, and is easy to work with. It warms up quickly in the spring but won’t lose moisture too fast during the hot summers. The soil is slightly on the acidic side and will need to be amended regularly with organic matter.

What Plants Grow Best In Loamy Soil?

Most vegetables, climbers, perennials, and shrubs grow well in a loamy soil. Radishes, eggplants, pole beans, spinach, and sweetcorn are especially fond of loamy earth.

How To Test Your Soil For The Soil Type?

But, if you don’t know what soil type you are dealing with, how can you test that? Let’s talk about that now!

Water Test

Test the soil in dry conditions and then test it again after watering. If it’s rock solid when dry, sticky when you give it water, and takes a long time to drain, it’s most likely clay soil. If it’s light when dry and drains quickly upon watering, you’re most likely dealing with sandy or loamy soil.

The Squeeze Test

A simple squeeze test will give you a better idea of the kind of soil you’re dealing with if the water test leaves you in doubt. Take some dirt in your palm and squeeze it. Here’s what you can make from the results:

  • If it feels spongy to squeeze, you’ve got peaty soil in your hands.
  • If the soil is rough and falls apart when you open your fist, it’s probably sandy soil.
  • Whenever it easily forms a ball and stays in shape when you open your fist, it’s clay soil.
  • If the soil is smooth in texture and holds shape for a bit before falling apart, it’s silty loam.
  • When the soil is sticky and gritty to touch and holds shape for a little while before falling apart, it’s loamy soil.

The Acid Test

Most plants prefer the soil pH to be somewhere between 5.5 and 7.5 (optimally 6.0 to 7.0). Microbial activities are at their best at this neutral pH, which means plants can benefit most from the soil’s valuable nutrients at this pH.

The natural pH of the soil may not lie within this ideal range. It’s usually anywhere between 4.0 to 8.0. Areas that get hard water will often have soil that tends to be alkaline. In contrast, soft water areas typically have slightly acidic soil.

But, you can’t be sure unless you test your soil. Thankfully, you’ll quickly find a pH testing kit at any gardening store. These kits come in a range of different varieties. Some can be pushed into the soil to display the results. More advanced types come with sample tubes and charts for more accurate results. Follow the instructions on the kit to find out the pH.

Once you know the soil pH, you can amend it to suit the plants’ requirements. Adding lime makes the soil alkaline, while sulfur or aluminum sulfate makes the soil acidic.

The Optimal Soil pH For Most Plants Is Between 5.5 To 7.5
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Nutrient Testing

You’ll need to buy a soil testing kit or have your soil tested professionally to assess the concentrations of nutrients in your garden soil. Other than the nutrient levels, a soil test will also tell you the soil’s pH.

Test the soil regularly during the growing season since the nutrient concentrations will change as the plants use them up and with other factors. Once you know the existing nutrient concentrations, you can fertilize effectively to build the perfect soil for your plants.

How To Improve Your Garden Soil?

Regardless of the type of soil you’ve got in your garden, adding organic matter such as compost or manure improves its structure and nutrient content. It’s beneficial for clay soil types since it will break up the particles, improving drainage and aeration.

As for the sandy soil, the same organic matter will help bring the particles together and improve the soil’s ability to hold moisture and nutrients. Greensand supplements are an excellent natural mineral popular for enhancing the structure of sandy and clay soil.

An annual organic matter application is recommended to maintain a continuous supply of nutrients to the crops and enhance the soil’s texture.

If the soil lacks specific nutrients, you can choose a specialized chemical or organic fertilizer to rectify the deficiency. Rock dust, for example, is a recommended source for adding phosphorus to the soil. Compare the NPK ratio of different fertilizers, which tells you the levels of the three primary nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Choose the one that will benefit the plants you are growing and is suitable for the type of soil you have.

You can also use organic fertilizers such as these, but I want to notify you that the links below are affiliate links, so if you buy them through the link below, we might receive a small commission, and if you do, thank you already in advance:

Final Words

Hopefully, now you’ll have a better idea of why plants need soil. Soil is the foundation of all your gardening experiments. Consider it as the starting point of a beautiful adventure ahead. Unless you take a strong start, you can’t expect to see a thriving garden at the end of the road.

Know your soil well and nurture it well since it’s the home for all your lovely plants. A nutrient-rich garden with the perfect pH and texture will support a lush garden that you can be proud of.

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