Beneath gardens and lawns is a complex world of unseen creatures and microorganisms that improve the soil and benefit plants just by going about their business. There are worms, insects, mites, arthropods, amoebas and protozoa. The dominant organisms are bacteria and fungi. They all work together.
Compost – Compost is basically free if you make your own and can make a tremendous difference in your soil.
Leaf mold – Also basically free. Leaf mold is the result of letting leaves sit and decompose over time. It is dark brown to black, has a pleasant earthy aroma and a crumbly texture, much like compost. In fact, leaf mold is just that: composted leaves. Instead of adding a bunch of organic matter to a pile, you just use leaves from your property.
Green sand – Available at some nurseries. Green sand is a green mineral compound with a texture similar to fine sand that is commonly used to amend soils. Although it is inorganic, meaning that it does not contain living organisms or the byproducts of living organisms, organic gardeners use green sand as a natural soil amendment and typically find that it improves the general vigor of their plants. It is also called glauconite, green sand is comprised primarily of potassium but also contains iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and about 30 other trace minerals that plants need. It is mined primarily from a wide belt of land running through the state of New Jersey that is thought to have long ago held shallow seas. Over time the remains of that marine environment created this band of rich minerals.
Gypsum – Available at nurseries and garden centers. Gypsum is calcium sulfate, a naturally occurring mineral. It has been touted as beneficial for breaking up compact soil, especially clay soil. It is useful in changing the soil structure of excessively heavy soils which have been impacted by heavy traffic, flooding, over cropping, or simply overly weatherized. One of the main uses of gypsum is to remove excess sodium from the soil and adding calcium. A soil analysis is helpful in determining if you need to apply gypsum as a soil amendment. Additional benefits are a reduction in crusting, improved water run-off and erosion control, assisting in seedling emergence, more workable soils, and better percolation. However, the effects will only last a couple of months before the soil reverts to its original state.
Soil tests are provided by the Extension Office on 14st Street in Bentonville and are free in Arkansas. Just take a sample (about 1 pint) of dry soil and label what is growing in the sample: i.e.: lawn, roses, azaleas, vegetables, perennials, etc. You will receive an email report with an analysis and ph level with suggestions of what should be added to your soil to improve it. Additional SOIL TEST INFO
PH of the Soil
The ideal ph for most plants is 5.5 to 7.5. Acid loving plants prefer a lower ph and other plants like roses and shrubs prefer a high ph level.
Your soil test will include the ph of the soil submitted. You can add dolomitic limestone (lime) to increase the ph and sulfur to lower the ph.
This link to an article in the Washington Post by Adrian Higgins appeared in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette on September 9, 2017 and is a comprehensive study of soil.