The condition of your soil is crucial to a healthy vegetable garden, lawn or ornamental garden. There are several things you can do to give your plants the best chance of growing strong and producing. What does soil condition mean, and how can you improve it?
Soil Condition is Stickiness
Soil texture refers to ratio of sand to silt to clay. Soil condition refers mostly to aggregate structures. Aggregate refers to how the soil sticks together. The clay in the soil forms aggregates. Sand makes nearly no aggregates (stickiness); silt makes a little bit. The particles of clay stick together and form structures called aggregates. Aggregates can take many shapes and forms. The more desirable aggregate is called the crumb structure.
How Soil Porosity Affects Plant Health
Porosity is the fraction of the soil profile that is filled with air. Soil is made from a combination of solid materials, minerals, organic matter, and air. If porosity is reduced, the plant will suffer. This is because all plants consume oxygen through their root system. Plant leaves absorb CO2, but not oxygen. So if a plant has poor root-to-air exchange, which means poor porosity in the soil, then they don’t get enough oxygen into the root system.
The metabolic processes and the physiology of the plant consume oxygen. It’s like a fire: without oxygen, a fire won’t burn. Whenever a plant’s physiology metabolizes to produce energy, it is — biochemically speaking — related to the actual business of combusting wood or any other combustible material. And this requires oxygen. Sufficient porosity in the soil results in a stronger, healthier plant.
How to Improve Porosity
Porosity is improved by increasing organic matter and through certain types of tillage practices. Worms create porosity. Increasing the biological life in the soil increases porosity. So does adding compost. Microp is a soil conditioner made from blue-green algae that adds life to the soil and increases porosity.
If water runs off the soil and doesn’t get absorbed properly, this is called “poor water infiltration.” This is a symptom of low porosity. Tillage is important to open up your soil. In some situations, adding life to the soil using Microp can reduce the amount of tillage needed.
How Much Water Can My Soil Hold?
Water holding capacity of soil depends mostly on the form of aggregate in the soil.
- If the soil has a compacted structure, where all the clay particles are stacked on top of each other very tightly, there is no air space within the aggregate. This means the porosity is low and the plants will suffer.
- If the soil has a crumb structure, the clay is opened up. Organic matter causes this to happen. This results in good porosity, providing more oxygen to the plants’ roots.
Wet Conditions and Dry Conditions
Water in the clay particulate is stored in pores. The most desirable size of the pores depends on whether the soil is exposed to primarily wet conditions, or primarily dry conditions.
Under dry conditions, having very small pores is extremely critical to good porosity. The small pores act like little sponges, and they retain the water.
Under wet conditions, large pores are best. They drain water very well.
Good soil porosity means a good distribution of both large pores between aggregates and small pores within aggregates.
In addition to oxygen, a plant also needs nutrients, and it needs to retain these nutrients. Nutrient retention is part of managing the soil condition. Creating soil conditions that favor crumb structures helps increase nutrient retention.
Soil Conditioning Helps Your Garden
Soil conditioning is an ongoing project for any gardener. Helping encourage crumb structures in the soil has an all-around positive effect on the soil condition. Good tillage practices and adding as much organic matter as possible helps increase porosity. This gives your plants the soil environment they need for strong growth, beauty and the production of fruits and vegetables.