Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Healthy Soil Means Healthy Roots, Flourishing Plants

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Healthy Soil Means Healthy Roots, Flourishing Plants

Article excerpt

Soil preparation is not a glamorous part of gardening, but it happens to be the most important.

Robert Geneve, horticulture professor at the University of Kentucky, tells classes that successful gardening is mainly good root management. If roots are in a hospitable environment, they will thrive. That's 80 percent of your gardening job right there.

The makeup of healthy soil remains a mystery to a lot of people, even longtime gardeners. Because it's almost time to pick up our shovels and head outdoors, a short course on soil seems timely.

First, soil in reference to gardening means the top 10 to 12 inches of dirt that's rich in organic matter. Below this level is subsoil, a tough material different in color, quality and texture from the topsoil.

Gardening experts always advise you to add organic matter to your soil - as if your soil is not organic already.

The ingredients might come as a surprise, said Gary Janicke, an agronomy professor who teaches soil classes at Eastern Kentucky University.

If you scoop up a handful of ideal soil, 50 percent of what you're holding is air and water. Another 45 percent is minerals that come from the weathering of rocks; 5 percent is organic matter (animal manure and dead plant and animal tissue).

A 2 percent organic deficiency might not seem like a lot, but "It makes a whale of a big difference," said Vernon Case, coordinator of the University of Kentucky soil-testing laboratory. Soil in Central Kentucky is high in clay and has 3 percent organic matter.

By working in organic matter, you're breaking apart the clay particles, changing the soil structure, making it easier for air and water to circulate and roots to penetrate.

Clay is not all bad. It contains various minerals and trace elements that enrich the soil, so it's not something you want to get rid of completely.

The issue of soil pH, the number that indicates the acidity or alkalinity of soil, is at the heart of any soil analysis. Slightly acidic soil is more conducive to plant growth than alkaline soil because it has greater microorganism activity and greater availability of micronutrients, Case said.

The range of pH goes from 0 to 14. …

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