The Q&A Archives: Condition Of Soil

Question: No matter how much compost, dried cow manure and peat moss I put into the soil, the soil still seems dry and dusty once I have done my initial spring digging. It just doesn't seem to retain water at all. Could I have ruined it permanently by working it too early in the season? Could I have damaged it by adding sand a few years ago? Perhaps overfertilizing has done this? Thank you for any suggestions.

Answer: Water retention is a function of the type of soil particles and the amount of organic matter. All soil is made up of three types of particles: sand, silt and clay. Whichever type predominates will determine what type of soil you have. Sandy soil has excellent drainage, but doesn't retain water as well. Clay soil retains water, but doesn't always drain well. Silt is in between.

If you added alot of sand to the soil, that could contribute to its dryness. I also find that peat moss is hard to keep moist once it dries out. Overfertilizing would show up more as a problem in your plants than in the soil. I recommend adding lots of compost to your soil. Adding organic matter will improve water retention. Spread a generous layer (4-6 inches) on top of the soil and work it in. Do this before each planting season. Organic matter is continually being broken down by microorganisms and needs to be replenished.

Add a 2-inch layer of mulch to the top of the soil each season after planting. Mulch will help retain soil moisture and as it breaks down it will add more fertility and organic matter to the soil. Compost can be used as mulch, or try wood chips, bark chips, straw, forest mulch, etc. Finally, don't work the soil when it is wet, as this can damage its structure. If soil sticks to the shovel, or if it makes a ball in your hand and doesn't break when dropped to the ground, it's too wet to work. I hope this info helps.

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