The best plants are grown in gardens where the soil is not ignored, but regularly improved with soil conditioners and manure. Plants are healthier and live longer as a result of additional supplies of compost, manure and fertilizers. Get the soil in good heart before you plant, and your plants will grow faster and establish more quickly.
There are two basic types of soil additives: those that are bulky and which make a difference to the feel and structure of the soil when they are added to it, and those that are in powder, liquid or granular form and which are more concentrated in terms of the nutrients they contain. The bulky types are usually known as soil conditioners and the concentrated plant foods as fertilizers.
All soils benefit from the addition of bulky organic matter. Heavy clay soils will be made less sticky because the organic matter holds their clinging particles further apart and so allows water to escape more easily. As a result, drainage is improved and the soil becomes easier Co cultivate.
On sandy soils, where drainage is rapid and moisture retention is poor, organic matter acts as a binding agent, sticking the particles together and as a sponge helping the soil to hold on to water.
Chalky soils tend to be thin and poor, and the organic matter here gives them more body and helps them hold on to plant nutrients.
Even loamy soils need helpings of organic enrichment to keep them 'in good heart'.
You could ask why it is necessary to enrich soil with manure, compost and fertilizer when, in the wild, plants seem to thrive without it. The answer is a simple one: in nature nobody tidies up. Fallen leaves are allowed to rot down and provide the plants with nourishment, thanks to the activity of soil bacteria. Because of the plenitude of organic matter, these bacteria are present in abundance. In addition, the same plants grow in the same spot indefinitely, usually at a comfortable wide spacing, and nobody complains if they do not flower profusely or crop heavily. The plants are also native to this country and there before accustomed to growing in the conditions available.
In a garden, where tidying up removes much of the potential soil enrichment, plants from all over the world are grown cheek by jowl, competitiveness ferociously for water and nourishment. 'Man-made' varieties have been bred to flower over a long period and, in the case of vegetables, to produce a heavy crop. They can do this only if we make sure their roots can grow in earth which provides them with sufficient nourishment.
A term used to cover all kinds of animal manure. Stable manure is the most common and available in town as well as country. This mixture of straw and dung needs to be well rotted before it is dug into the soil. Stack fresh manure for three to six months before digging it in. The reason for this is that fresh manure needs frantic bacterial activity in the soil to rot it down into a form that can be absorbed by plants. Soil bacteria feed on nitrogen, a valuable plant food that is needed to promote growth. If the manure is fresh, the bacteria will use up supplies of nitrogen, making them unavailable for plants, which then become starved.
Well-rotated compost in which mushrooms have been grown contains lumps of chalk, so is best not used on chalky soils because it will only make them more alkaline. On the other hand, it is a valuable soil conditioner on acid soils, but avoid using it where lime haters, such as rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and heaters, are to be grown.