Key Soil Types and How to Improve Them
One of the biggest determining factors on how well your plants will do is the type of soil they are being grown in. Here Madingley Mulch, who supply soil improvers and conditioners to gardeners in Cambridge and further afield, identify the major soil types gardens in the UK fall into, their advantages and disadvantages, and what steps to take to ensure your plants, fruits and vegetables flourish.
These are the most common types of soil in the East of England. Clays are sticky when wet and can easily be rolled or shaped. These properties also help it to hold on to both water and nutrients well, which is particularly good for thirsty or difficult-to-grow plants.
However, clay soil does have its downsides. Because it retains water so well, it makes it slow to drain and prone to being waterlogged. Clay is also slow to warm up in the spring and compacts easily, which can stop plant roots from developing and breaking through the soil. In addition, clay has a high alkaline content which can be hard on plants.
Without any intervention, hydrangeas and hardy geraniums do well in clay soils.
Other Soil Types
Sandy Soils – these have a high proportion of sand and not much clay. They feel gritty to the touch and fall through the fingers. They drain quickly after rain, which makes them easy to work with. However, they dry out quickly and are low in plant nutrients. Geraniums and buddleja are happy in dry these dry, infertile soils.
Silt Soils – these have a slightly soapy, slippery texture. They are fertile, fairly well-drained and hold more moisture than sandy soils. However, they can easily form a crust and become hard and difficult to work with and cultivate. Moisture-loving trees such as willow, birch, dogwood and cypress will thrive in this soil, as will most fruits and vegetables, provided the drainage is good enough.
Loam Soils – these are a mixture of clay, silt and sand particles and are known as the ‘gardener’s best friend’. This is because they hold water well, which makes them drought resistant, are faster to warm up in the spring, and also retain nutrients well. However, they may contain stones, which don’t help when it comes to cultivating and harvesting. Most plants, though, should thrive in it. The only real downside is that loam soils are quite rare in the UK and East of England.
What Should You Do?
If you have any of the above soils then you should add mulch or organic matter as this will help looser soils stay together, and in the case of clays, will break them down into crumbs. This will greatly widen the choice of what you can grow successfully in your garden.
Mulches also have the added benefits of suppressing weeds and retaining moisture, which will give your plants a better start in life. Mulches are best applied in mid to late spring or in the autumn. Additional help is also available for clay soils in the form of our 6mm horticultural grit, which will help break it up and unlock some of the nutrients.
A spent mushroom compost is also a good idea. This is because it will improve the drainage and structure of the soil, which is particularly useful if you are trying to grow vegetables. We also supply this from our base on the outskirts of Cambridge. In addition, we have our own exclusive soil improvers, Tony’s Tonic and Denise’s Delight, which boost your topsoil by adding valuable nutrients.
If you are worried about not being able to grow grass, try one of our lawn top dressings. This has a loam blend that includes sharp sand and peat that will encourage grass, whether it’s being grown from turf or seedlings.
Soil Improvers in and Around Cambridge from Madingley Mulch
If you would like to know more, you can check out our products and pricing by clicking on this link.
If you want to place a large order and don’t live close by, don’t worry. This is because we operate a regular weekly delivery service that goes to Huntingdon, Saffron Walden and Newmarket and even further afield. For more details on this, click here.
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