DIRT (mineral particles)
Soil is generally described by the size of its mineral particles: clay, silt, or sand. Sand is the largest, clay the smallest, with silt in between. Sand drains quickly and holds few nutrients. Clay holds water well, drains poorly, and is more nutrient-rich.
Get to know your soil.
AIR and WATER
Air and water fill in the spaces between the mineral particles. They are essential in transporting nutrients to plants and carrying away waste. Too little room between mineral particles results in compacted soil and unhealthy plants.
ORGANIC MATTER and SOIL ORGANISMS
Soil organisms include bacteria, fungi, worms, and other beneficial organisms. These organisms are essential for plant growth — they improve soil structure, make nutrients available, protect from pests, improve water availability, and filter out pollutants.
Creating Healthy Soil
Following these guidelines will result in a healthier landscape:
- Mulch and grasscycle regularly. Covering the soil with mulch conserves water, prevents erosion, and suppresses weeds. In addition, organic mulch improves soil texture and adds nutrients. To learn more, download the River-Friendly Landscaping Guide to Mulch & Grasscycling.
- Prevent soil compaction. Walk on garden beds as little as possible, keep heavy equipment and cars off lawns, and minimize the use of rototillers. Compacted soils prevent air and water circulation, thereby smothering plant roots.
- Protect soil from erosion. Trees, shrubs, and mulch help limit soil erosion. Erosion washes away valuable topsoil and pollutes downstream habitat.
- Don’t overwater. Filling soil spaces with water keeps air from plant roots which can promote disease.
- Limit the use of pesticides. Pesticides can kill beneficial soil organisms as well as pests.
- Conserve topsoil. Topsoil includes organic matter and living organisms that plants need to thrive.