Sort Out Your
What is soil?
Soil is a complex material and is made up of organic matter and
minerals. The organic component is made up of dead organisms while the
minerals come from the rocks underground. A healthy soil supplies
plants with water, air and nutrients.
What type of soil is in
There are many different types of soil and these can affect what
you're able to grow in your garden.
Sandy soils are light and drain freely. Although they're easy to
cultivate, they dry out and lose nutrients quickly.
Peaty soils are packed with organic matter, dark in colour and are
Clay soils are heavy and can become sticky as they hang onto water.
They are usually high in nutrients but are slow to warm in spring.
Chalky soils are free-draining and quite high in nutrients. However,
they can be shallow and stony and aren't suitable for acid-loving
Silty soils are moisture-retentive and quite rich in nutrients but may
your soil in shape
Taking over a new garden or bringing a neglected allotment back into
cultivation requires different techniques. Here is a guide to tackling
differing plot conditions.
Land covered in bramble, woody plants Cut back to ground level. Rake
off cut material. Leave ground for a couple of weeks to await regrowth.
Spray with SBK Brushwood Killer, Dax Root Out, Bio Glyphosate or
Roundup weedkiller. Ideally continue applications for six months or a
year before planting.
Garden of new house covered in builders' rubble Remove as much debris
as you can. Site will have been badly compacted by machinery and top
soil mixed with subsoil. Dig over to improve compacted areas and blend
parts where sand or cement may have been mixed. Buy in some good
topsoil to cover these parts.
Problem weeds covering soil (for example, ground elder, mare's tail,
couch grass, bindweed) Apply glyphosate or Dax Root Out weedkiller in
spring or summer and a second application if there is regrowth. Avoid
planting in the first year. Dig over ground in the autumn removing
roots as you find them. In the second year during spring apply more
weediller if weeds emerge. At this stage some light planting can be
done. Apply more weedkiller during second summer. By autumn of the
second year you can plant.
Weedy ground (for example, annuals and perennial weeds) Apply
glyphosate weedkiller in spring or summer and then dig over ground.
Alternatively, cover with black permeable membrane or old carpet for a
year to smother the weeds.
Cultivating grassland Spray off with glyphosate weedkiller in spring
or summer. Dig over ground. Alternatively remove turf by hand cutting
square pieces and lifting with spade. You can also hire turf lifting
machines for big areas. Dig over the ground well as it may be
Well-tended ground. In the autumn dig the ground to expose pests to
the birds. It opens the ground to allow autumn rain in and frost to
break up the clods. Winter: Keep off the soil unless you have very
free-draining soil and still need to do further digging. Spring: Hoe
over ground that has been dug in autumn. It should break down into a
crumbly surface. Summer: Hoe between plantings to prevent a hard pan
A great soil conditioner but variable in nutrients. It depends on how
old and well composted the materials are, plus what was put in the
Composting worms make an excellent job of breaking down vegetation
creating a fine crumbly compost that is rich in nutrients.
A good soil conditioner and safer to use than cattle manure due to
less likelihood of disease or chemicals being carried in the muck.
Does not have a high nutrient value.
A quick-growing crop that is dug back into the soil to improve
fertility and soil texture. Examples: lupins, vetches (these increase
nitrogen). Hops Spent hops from the brewing industry are not high in
nutrients but make a good soil conditioner. Poultry droppings Good
levels of nitrogen and phosphates. Break down relatively quickly. Do
not use fresh poultry manure. Store undercover for a few months before
applying 8-12oz per sq yd. Seaweed A good conditioner if you can get it.
Rich in potassium: good for flowering and fruiting plants. Mushroom
compost It is sterile and perfect for soil improving but high in lime
and the nutrient content is variable.
is nature's way of fertilizing and improving the soil and is a
wonderful way to recycle garden waste. It can make a great deal
of difference to a garden's productivity by supplying nutrients,
increasing the soil's water, air and nutrient- holding
capacities and improving the drainage. Good quality compost will
also add beneficial organisms to the mix and these are essential
to keep the soil healthy.
time to make some is in Spring, because it will rot down faster.
use a heap or a bin - many local councils run recycling schemes,
so give them a call, or make your own bin.
need for a simple heap:
draining material, garden waste, fresh manure and soil
A piece of
carpet or tarpaulin
For a bin
you will also need:
Four x 1.2m
(4ft) high fence posts
Wire netting or planks
hooks and eyes
prepare the compost area
the ground four 10cm x 10cm (4in x 4in) posts to enclose an
Area about 1 m sq m (40sq in.)
the soil with the back of a spade to consolidate it.
tack wire netting to the posts, or nail planks around them,
leaving the front side easily detachable so you can get the
finished compost out.
the drainage material
bottom put a 10cm (4in) layer of coarse material, such as straw
Put in a
15cm (6in) layer of garden waste and water if its dry. Put in
alternate layers of different materials, like a sandwich.
It must also be layered to
heat up effectively. On top of each layer add a
sprinkling of manure or soil to activate the rotting process.
helps to introduce the bacteria and fungi (or heat') needed to
break down the organic
paper (although not shiny magazine type paper) cotton and wool
fabrics Uncooked vegetable trimmings, peelings and tea bags.
of perennial weeds, old bedding plants, soft hedge clippings,
dead leaves, lawn mowings.
material like prunings and Brussels sprout stems. These need to
be put through a shredder first. Synthetic fabrics. Food scraps,
meat or bones. Diseased plant material. Soil pests. Any weeds
with seedheads. Perennial roots. Dog or cat waste
leaves, tough hedge clippings, woody prunings, sawdust, wood
Comfrey leaves, young weeds, grass cuttings, chicken manure,
pigeon manure, moisture, proprietary compost activators like
has to heat up to work properly. To do this it needs to have a
certain critical mass, a
cubed is good. Cover it with a sheet, an old bit of
carpet, polythene or tarpaulin and leave it for about three
months to rot down.
uncover, open the front, take all the compost out, then put it
back again. This process adds air to the mix and helps it rot
further three months
will be brown, crumbly and sweet-smelling and ready to use in
v Organic Feeds
humans, plants need nutrients to grow and stay healthy. The most
important are: Nitrogen (N) important for leafy growth,
phosphorus (P) required for rooting. and potassium (K)
encourages flower and fruit production and helps ripen young
plant feeds will show a ratio of N:P:K and this indicates the
levels of these nutrients in the fertiliser. As a general rule,
a high-nitrogen fertiliser
encourages leafy growth. A fertiliser high in phosphorus is good
for root growth and hardening of the stems. Potassium is
important for flowering
fruiting. Other important nutrients are magnesium, calcium and
also need minor nutrients or trace elements in smaller
quantities and these include iron, manganese, copper, boron,
zinc, molybdenum and chlorine.
proprietary fertiliser will contain all of these in varying
quantities depending on what it has been created for. A balanced
feed will contain equal amounts of N:P:K and also the other
minor nutrients. A basket and container feed will usually
contain more potassium as it is formulated for plants that are
being grown for their flowers.
Food No 2 (Chempak)
High in nitrogen
Balanced feed. Equal amounts of N:P:K
Ideal for the whole garden
Good nitrogen and potassium levels
plus the other essential nutrients
Ideal for the whole
A good fertiliser blend with all essential nutrients
Ideal for the whole garden
Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food
Contains a blend of all essential elements
Ideal for the whole garden
High potassium and added magnesium
Tomato feed but also for other fruiting
crops and flowers
Westland Ericaceous Concentrated
A balanced plant food also rich in iron
Formulated for acid loving plants like
azaleas and camellias
High percentage of nitrogen but also the
other main nutrients and trace elements
Helps to green-up leaves
Iron in a form that can easily be taken up
Good for greening up plants and as a
Sulphate of potash
Sprinkle around fruit trees or flower beds in
Sulphate of ammonia
For borders and vegetable plots: Fast
acting, ideal for borders in spring to
are made from animal,
mineral or plant sources and are popular with gardeners who
prefer to use more natural plant feeds. Unlike some of the
man-made chemical feeds, many of these organic products take a
while to break down in the soil and so release their nutrients
have been processed and made into proprietary organic feeds will
have been tested for nutrient content and have been sterilised,
so you can be sure you are getting a good quality product that
choose to use raw organic materials, such as chicken droppings,
then the nutrient content can be variable. Fresh chicken manure
is also very strong and will require storing for some months
before you use it - and even then it should be used sparingly or
it could damage plants.
High in phosphate,
contains small amounts of nitrogen
Perfect organic feed to add to soil when
planting. Phosphate encourages root
fish and bone
High in phosphate but not as much as straight bonemeal.
Makes a reasonable balanced feed
Also contains nitrogen and good amounts of potassium
for many uses, especially borders in spring
High in nitrogen
Ideal early season feed
for plants that need a
boost to growth
High in phosphate and some potassium
A mineral alternative to the animal-derived
Low in nitrogen but higher in phosphates
Encourages root growth rather than top
Organic Gardening Catalogue) growth, ideal
late in the season
Gardening Tomato Fertiliser
High potash levels
Ideal for feeding tomatoes from flowering
Organic Gardening Catalogue) stage
Pelleted chicken manure
High in nitrogen but contains other nutrients and trace
elements A good all round feed for borders and
Tomato & Vegetable Feed
Good percentage of
all main nutrients plus trace elements.
A good liquid feed for all vegetables
Eight per cent soluble seaweed solids,
Works like a tonic and is a great plant
such as growth stimulants and trace elements
"pick me up"
Nature's Answer Natural Liquid Plant
A good balance of
the main nutrients plus trace elements
Ideal for all flowers and vegetables