When you go to the garden center, you see bags of topsoil. You might think that’s just what your garden needs to produce better vegetables or flowers. That’s not always the case. In some instances, your garden soil may just need some fertilizer and other amendments to give you a bountiful harvest of
fruits and vegetables or a garden filled with bright, healthy blooms.
Sponsored LinkAre You a Business Owner?Get a Free Google Business Listing. Be Found on Search, Maps & More.www.google.com/businesTopsoilTopsoil is just what the name implies: It is soil removed from the surface of the earth. Depending on the location, topsoil may go as deep as 12 inches.
Topsoil has organic matter in it from whatever grasses, leaves or bark that have decomposed on it. As a farmer works native topsoil, any organic matter from the surface changes the color of topsoil to a darker color than the subsoil that is below the normal depth of cultivation. Topsoil taken from
agricultural land may have chemical additives, such as weed killers.
Topsoil Textureopsoil varies by location depending on its texture. Most topsoil has a textural classification. The most common is loam. Loam has less than 52 percent sand, 28 to 50 percent silt and 7 to 27 percent clay. The various combinations affect how well the topsoil mixture drains water.
Nurseries offer the following topsoil textures: silt loam, silty clay loam, clay loam and sandy clay loam. Each is different based on the percentage of sand, silt and clay in the mixture.
Click Here!Garden SoilGarden soil is similar to the dirt that exists in your garden. It has its own texture composition of sand, silt and clay mixed into it. Soil from your garden and from the garden center is similar with variations based on the texture. Either kind of garden soil may have amendments,
such as fertilizer or compost, added to it. The amount of amendments depends on which ones have been added to the soil over the years. Ideally, purchased garden mix should have a pH of 6 or 7 to help keep soil from becoming too alkaline or acidic.
Soil TestingWhen you decide your garden’s soil could use a boost, combine garden and topsoil to reap the benefits of both. Run a soil test on the garden soil in your garden. You can pick up a soil test kit at a local Cooperative Extension office or contact a soil testing company, depending on your
location. Follow the directions on the package for testing the soil. Return the soil sample to the extension office where they analyze it for what fertilizers and amendments the soil actually needs. Use the results of the test as your guide to improving garden soil or purchasing topsoil.
Combining Topsoil and Garden SoilDon’t plan on just dumping on the topsoil. To add topsoil, first till the existing garden soil thoroughly. Add a couple inches of the topsoil best suited for your garden over the top of the garden soil. Till the garden again to create a mixed layer of new and existing soil.
Cover the garden with a final top layer of topsoil. By creating layers, the plants are better able to adapt to the new soil.
Soils which contain high levels of particular clays, such as smectites, are often very fertile. For example, the smectite-rich clays of Thailand's Central Plains are among the most productive in the world.
Many farmers in tropical areas, however, struggle to retain organic matter in the soils they work. In recent years, for example, productivity has declined in the low-clay soils of northern Thailand. Farmers initially responded by adding organic matter from termite mounds, but this was unsustainable in
the long-term. Scientists experimented with adding bentonite, one of the smectite family of clays, to the soil. In field trials, conducted by scientists from the International Water Management Institute in cooperation with Khon Kaen University and local farmers, this had the effect of helping retain water
and nutrients. Supplementing the farmer's usual practice with a single application of 200 kg bentonite per rai (6.26 rai = 1 hectare) resulted in average yield increase of 73%. More work showed that applying bentonite to degraded sandy soils reduced the risk of crop failure during drought years.In 2008,
three years after the initial trials, IWMI scientists conducted a survey among 250 farmers in northeast Thailand, half of whom had applied bentonite to their fields. The average improvement for those using the clay addition was 18% higher than for non-clay users. Using the clay had enabled some
farmers to switch to growing vegetables, which need more fertile soil. This helped to increase their income. The researchers estimated that 200 farmers in northeast Thailand and 400 in Cambodia had adopted the use of clays, and that a further 20,000 farmers were introduced to the new technique.
If the soil is too high in clay, adding gypsum, washed river sand and organic matter will balance the composition. Adding organic matter (like ramial chipped wood for instance) to soil which is depleted in nutrients and too high in sand will boost its quali
ty.Soil is used in agriculture, where it serves as the anchor and primary nutrient base for plants; however, as demonstrated by hydroponics, it is not essential to plant growth if the soil-contained nutrients can be dissolved in a solution. The types of soil and available moisture determine the species of
plants that can be cultivated.
Soil material is also a critical component in the mining, construction and landscape development industries. Soil serves as a foundation for most construction projects. The movement of massive volumes of soil can be involved in surface mining, road building and dam construction. Earth
sheltering is the architectural practice of using soil for external thermal mass against building walls. Many building materials are soil based.
Soil resources are critical to the environment, as well as to food and fibre production. Soil provides minerals and water to plants. Soil absorbs rainwater and releases it later, thus preventing floods and drought. Soil cleans water as it percolates through it. Soil is the habitat for many organisms: the
major part of known and unknown biodiversity is in the soil, in the form of invertebrates (earthworms, woodlice, millipedes, centipedes, snails, slugs, mites, springtails, enchytraeids, nematodes, protists), bacteria, archaea, fungi and algae; and most organisms living above ground have part of them
(plants) or spend part of their life cycle (insects) below-ground. Above-ground and below-ground biodiversities are tightly interconnected, making soil protection of paramount importance for any restoration or conservation plan.
The biological component of soil is an extremely important carbon sink since about 57% of the biotic content is carbon. Even on desert crusts, cyanobacteria, lichens and mosses capture and sequester a significant amount of carbon by photosynthesis. Poor farming and grazing methods have degraded
soils and released much of this sequestered carbon to the atmosphere. Restoring the world's soils could offset some of the huge increase in greenhouse gases causing global warming, while improving crop yields and reducing water needs.
Waste management often has a soil component. Septic drain fields treat septic tank effluent using aerobic soil processes. Landfills use soil for daily cover. Land application of waste water relies on soil biology to aerobically treat BOD.
Organic soils, especially peat, serve as a significant fuel resource; but wide areas of peat production, such as sphagnum bogs, are now protected because of patrimonial interest.
Geophagy is the practice of eating soil-like substances. Both animals and human cultures occasionally consume soil for medicinal, recreational, or religious purposes. It has been shown that some monkeys consume soil, together with their preferred food (tree foliage and fruits), in order to alleviate
Soils filter and purify water and affect its chemistry. Rain water and pooled water from ponds, lakes and rivers percolate through the soil horizons and the upper rock strata, thus becoming groundwater. Pests (viruses) and pollutants, such as persistent organic pollutants (chlorinated pesticides,
polychlorinated biphenyls), oils (hydrocarbons), heavy metals (lead, zinc, cadmium), and excess nutrients (nitrates, sulfates, phosphates) are filtered out by the soil. Soil organisms metabolise them or immobilise them in their biomass and necromass, thereby incorporating them into stable
humus. The physical integrity of soil is also a prerequisite for avoiding landslides in rugged landscapes.
Main article: Soil retrogression and degradation
Land degradation refers to a human-induced or natural process which impairs the capacity of land to function. Soils degradation involves the acidification, contamination, desertification, erosion or salination.
Soil acidification is beneficial in the case of alkaline soils, but it degrades land when it lowers crop productivity and increases soil vulnerability to contamination and erosion. Soils are often initially acid because their parent materials were acid and initially low in the basic cations (calcium, magnesium,
potassium and sodium). Acidification occurs when these elements are leached from the soil profile by rainfall or the by harvesting of forest or agricultural crops. Soil acidification is accelerated by the use of acid-forming nitrogenous fertilizers and by the effects of acid precipitation.
Soil contamination at low levels is often within a soil's capacity to treat and assimilate waste material. Soil biota can treat waste by transforming it; soil colloids can adsorb the waste material. Many waste treatment processes rely on this treatment capacity. Exceeding treatment capacity can damage
soil biota and limit soil function. Derelict soils occur where industrial contamination or other development activity damages the soil to such a degree that the land cannot be used safely or productively. Remediation of derelict soil uses principles of geology, physics, chemistry and biology to degrade,
attenuate, isolate or remove soil contaminants to restore soil functions and values. Techniques include leaching, air sparging, chemical amendments, phytoremediation, bioremediation and natural degradation.
Desertification is an environmental process of ecosystem degradation in arid and semi-arid regions, often caused by human activity. It is a common misconception that droughts cause desertification. Droughts are common in arid and semiarid lands. Well-managed lands can recover from drought
when the rains return. Soil management tools include maintaining soil nutrient and organic matter levels, reduced tillage and increased cover. These practices help to control erosion and maintain productivity during periods when moisture is available. Continued land abuse during droughts, however,
increases land degradation. Increased population and livestock pressure on marginal lands accelerates desertification.
Erosion of soil is caused by water, wind, ice, and movement in response to gravity. More than one kind of erosion can occur simultaneously. Erosion is distinguished from weathering, since erosion also transports eroded soil away from its place of origin (soil in transit may be described as sediment).
Erosion is an intrinsic natural process, but in many places it is greatly increased by human activity, especially poor land use practices. These include agricultural activities which leave the soil bare during times of heavy rain or strong winds, overgrazing, deforestation, and improper construction
activity. Improved management can limit erosion. Soil conservation techniques which are employed include changes of land use (such as replacing erosion-prone crops with grass or other soil-binding plants), changes to the timing or type of agricultural operations, terrace building, use of erosion-
suppressing cover materials (including cover crops and other plants), limiting disturbance during construction, and avoiding construction during erosion-prone periods.
A serious and long-running water erosion problem occurs in China, on the middle reaches of the Yellow River and the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. From the Yellow River, over 1.6 billion tons of sediment flow each year into the ocean. The sediment originates primarily from water erosion
(gully erosion) in the Loess Plateau region of northwest China.
Soil piping is a particular form of soil erosion that occurs below the soil surface. It causes levee and dam failure, as well as sink hole formation. Turbulent flow removes soil starting at the mouth of the seep flow and the subsoil erosion advances up-gradient. The term sand boil is used to describe
the appearance of the discharging end of an active soil pipe.
Soil salination is the accumulation of free salts to such an extent that it leads to degradation of the agricultural value of soils and vegetation. Consequences include corrosion damage, reduced plant growth, erosion due to loss of plant cover and soil structure, and water quality problems due to
sedimentation. Salination occurs due to a combination of natural and human-caused processes. Arid conditions favour salt accumulation. This is especially apparent when soil parent material is saline. Irrigation of arid lands is especially problematic. All irrigation water has some level of salinity.
Irrigation, especially when it involves leakage from canals and overirrigation in the field, often raises the underlying water table. Rapid salination occurs when the land surface is within the capillary fringe of saline groundwater. Soil salinity control involves watertable control and flushing with higher
levels of applied water in combination with tile drainage or another form of subsurface drainage.[The percentages listed above are for land area free of ice. "Soils of Mountains", which constitute the balance (11.6%), have a mixture of those listed above, or are classified as "Rugged Mountains"
which have no soil.
The above soil orders in sequence of increasing degree of development are Entisols, Inceptisols, Aridisols, Mollisols, Alfisols, Spodosols, Ultisols, and Oxisols. Histosols and Vertisols may appear in any of the above at any time during their development.
The soil suborders within an order are differentiated on the basis of soil properties and horizons which depend on soil moisture and temperature. Forty-seven suborders are recognized in the United States.
The soil great group category is a subdivision of a suborder in which the kind and sequence of soil horizons distinguish one soil from another. About 185 great groups are recognized in the United States. Horizons marked by clay, iron, humus and hard pans and soil features such as the expansion-
contraction of clays (that produce self-mixing provided by clay), temperature, and marked quantities of various salts are used as distinguishing features.
The great group categories are divided into three kinds of soil subgroups: typic, intergrade and extragrade. A typic subgroup represents the basic or 'typical' concept of the great group to which the described subgroup belongs. An intergrade subgroup describes the properties that suggest how it grades
towards (is similar to) soils of other soil great groups, suborders or orders. These properties are not developed or expressed well enough to cause the soil to be included within the great group towards which they grade, but suggest similarities. Extragrade features are aberrant properties which prevent
that soil from being included in another soil classification. About 1,000 soil subgroups are defined in the United States.
A soil family category is a group of soils within a subgroup and describes the physical and chemical properties which affect the response of soil to agricultural management and engineering applications. The principal characteristics used to differentiate soil families include texture, mineralogy, pH,
permeability, structure, consistency, the locale's precipitation pattern, and soil temperature. For some soils the criteria also specify the percentage of silt, sand and coarse fragments such as gravel, cobbles and rocks. About 4,500 soil families are recognised in the United States.
A family may contain several soil series which describe the physical location using the name of a prominent physical feature such as a river or town near where the soil sample was taken. An example would be Merrimac for the Merrimack River in New Hampshire, USA. More than 14,000 soil series
are recognised in the United States. This permits very specific descriptions of soils.
A soil phase of series, originally called 'soil type' describes the soil surface texture, slope, stoniness, saltiness, erosion, and other conditions.A horizontal layer of the soil, whose physical features, composition and age are distinct from those above and beneath, are referred to as a soil horizon. The
naming of a horizon is based on the type of material of which it is composed. Those materials reflect the duration of specific processes of soil formation. They are labelled using a shorthand notation of letters and numbers which describe the horizon in terms of its colour, size, texture, structure,
consistency, root quantity, pH, voids, boundary characteristics and presence of nodules or concretions. Few soil profiles have all the major horizons. Some may have only one horizon.
The exposure of parent material to favourable conditions produces mineral soils that are marginally suitable for plant growth. That growth often results in the accumulation of organic residues. The accumulated organic layer called the O horizon produces a more active soil due to the effect of the
organisms that live within it. Organisms colonise and break down organic materials, making available nutrients upon which other plants and animals can live. After sufficient time, humus moves downward and is deposited in a distinctive organic surface layer called the A horizon.
Main article: Soil classification
Soil is classified into categories in order to understand relationships between different soils and to determine the suitability of a soil for a particular use. One of the first classification systems was developed by the Russian scientist Dokuchaev around 1880. It was modified a number of times by
American and European researchers, and developed into the system commonly used until the 1960s. It was based on the idea that soils have a particular morphology based on the materials and factors that form them. In the 1960s, a different classification system began to emerge which focused on soil
morphology instead of parental materials and soil-forming factors. Since then it has undergone further modifications. The World Reference Base for Soil Resources (WRB) aims to establish an international reference base for soil classification.Lignin is resistant to breakdown and accumulates
within the soil. It also reacts with amino acids, which further increases its resistance to decomposition, including enzymatic decomposition by microbes. Fats and waxes from plant matter have some resistance to decomposition and persist in soils for a while. Clay soils often have higher organic
contents that persist longer than soils without clay as the organic molecules adhere to and are stabilised by the clay. Proteins normally decompose readily, but when bound to clay particles, they become more resistant to decomposition. Clay particles also absorb the enzymes exuded by microbes
which would normally break down proteins. The addition of organic matter to clay soils can render that organic matter and any added nutrients inaccessible to plants and microbes for many years. High soil tannin (polyphenol) content can cause nitrogen to be sequestered in proteins or cause nitrogen
Humus formation is a process dependent on the amount of plant material added each year and the type of base soil. Both are affected by climate and the type of organisms present. Soils with humus can vary in nitrogen content but typically have 3 to 6 percent nitrogen. Raw organic matter, as a reserve
of nitrogen and phosphorus, is a vital component affecting soil fertility. Humus also absorbs water, and expands and shrinks between dry and wet states, increasing soil porosity. Humus is less stable than the soil's mineral constituents, as it is reduced by microbial decomposition, and over time
its concentration diminshes without the addition of new organic matter. However, humus may persist over centuries if not millennia.
Climate and organic matter
The production, accumulation and degradation of organic matter are greatly dependent on climate. Temperature, soil moisture and topography are the major factors affecting the accumulation of organic matter in soils. Organic matter tends to accumulate under wet or cold conditions where
decomposer activity is impeded by low temperature or excess moisture which results in anaerobic conditions. Conversely, excessive rain and high temperatures of tropical climates enables rapid decomposition of organic matter and leaching of plant nutrients; forest ecosystems on these
soils rely on efficient recycling of nutrients and plant matter to maintain their productivity. Excessive slope may encourage the erosion of the top layer of soil which holds most of the raw organic material that would otherwise eventuall
Cellulose and hemicellulose undergo fast decomposition by fungi and bacteria, with a half-life of 12–18 days in a temperate climate. Brown rot fungi can decompose the cellulose and hemicellulose, leaving the lignin and phenolic compounds behind. Starch, which is an energy storage system for
plants, undergoes fast decomposition by bacteria and fungi. Lignin consists of polymers composed of 500 to 600 units with a highly branched, amorphous structure. Lignin undergoes very slow decomposition, mainly by white rot fungi and actinomycetes; its half-life under temperate conditions is about
six monthsMost living things in soils, including plants, insects, bacteria, and fungi, are dependent on organic matter for nutrients and/or energy. Soils have organic compounds in varying degrees of decomposition which rate is dependent on the temperature, soil moisture, and aeration. Bacteria and
fungi feed on the raw organic matter, which are fed upon by amoebas, which in turn are fed upon by nematodes and arthropods. Organic matter holds soils open, allowing the infiltration of air and water, and may hold as much as twice its weight in water. Many soils, including desert and rocky-gravel
soils, have little or no organic matter. Soils that are all organic matter, such as peat (histosols), are infertile. In its earliest stage of decomposition, the original organic material is often called raw organic matter. The final stage of decomposition is called humus.
In grassland, much of the organic matter added to the soil is from the deep, fibrous, grass root systems. By contrast, tree leaves falling on the forest floor are the principal source of soil organic matter in the forest. Another difference is the frequent occurrence in the grasslands of fires that destroy large
amounts of aboveground material but stimulate even greater contributions from roots. Also, the much greater acidity under any forests inhibits the action of certain soil organisms that otherwise would mix much of the surface litter into the mineral soil. As a result, the soils under grasslands generally
develop a thicker A horizon with a deeper distribution of organic matter than in comparable soils under forests, which characteristically store most of their organic matter in the forest floor (O horizon) and thin A horizon.
Humus refers to organic matter that has been decomposed by soil flora and fauna to the point where it is resistant to further breakdown. Humus usually constitutes only five percent of the soil or less by volume, but it is an essential source of nutrients and adds important textural qualities crucial to soil
health and plant growth. Humus also hold bits of undecomposed organic matter which feed arthropods and worms which further improve the soil. The end product, humus, is soluble in water and forms a weak acid that can attack silicate minerals. Humus is a colloid with a high cation and anion
exchange capacity that on a dry weight basis is many times greater than that of clay colloids. It also acts as a buffer, like clay, against changes in pH and soil moisture.
Humic acids and fulvic acids, which begin as raw organic matter, are important constituents of humus. After the death of plants and animals, microbes begin to feed on the residues, resulting finally in the formation of humus. With decomposition, there is a reduction of water-soluble constituents,
cellulose and hemicellulose, and nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorusSulfur is essential to the formation of proteins and chlorophyll, and essential to plant vitamin synthesis. Most sulfur is made available to plants, like phosphorus, by its release from decomposing organic matter. Deficiencies
may exist in some soils and if cropped, sulfur needs to be added. The application of large quantities of nitrogen to fields that have marginal amounts of sulfur may cause sulfur deficiency in the rapidly growing plants by the plant's growth outpacing the supply of sulfur. A 15-ton crop of onions uses up to
19 lb of sulfur and 4 tons of alfalfa uses 15 lb per acre. Sulfur abundance varies with depth. In a sample of soils in Ohio, United States, the sulfur abundance varied with depths, 0-6 inches, 6-12 inches, 12-18 inches, 18-24 inches in the amounts: 1056, 830, 686, 528 lb per acre respectively.
The micronutrients essential for plant life, in their order of importance, include iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron, chlorine and molybdenum. The term refers to plants' needs, not to their abundance in soil. They are required in very small amounts but are essential to
plant health in that most are required parts of some enzyme system which speeds up plants' metabolisms. They are generally available in the mineral component of the soil, but the heavy application of phosphates can cause a deficiency in zinc and iron by the formation of insoluble zinc and iron
phosphates. Iron deficiency may also result from excessive amounts of heavy metals or calcium minerals (lime) in the soil. Excess amounts of soluble boron, molybdenum and chloride are toxic.
Nutrients which enhance the health but whose deficiency does not stop the life cycle of plants include: cobalt, strontium, vanadium, silicon and nickel. As their importance are evaluated they may be added to the list of essential plant nutrients.
Soil organic matter
Main article: Soil organic matter
Soil organic matter is made up of organic compounds and includes plant, animal and microbial material, both living and dead. A typical soil has a biomass composition of 70% microorganisms, 22% macrofauna, and 8% roots. The living component of an acre of soil may include 900 lb of earthworms,
2400 lb of fungi, 1500 lb of bacteria, 133 lb of protozoa and 890 lb of arthropods and algae.
A small part of the organic matter consists of the living cells such as bacteria, molds, and actinomycetes that work to break down the dead organic matter. Were it not for the action of these micro-organisms, the entire carbon dioxide part of the atmosphere would be sequestered as organic matter in
Chemically, organic matter is classed as follows:Sawdust 250
Some micro-organisms are able to metabolise organic matter and release ammonium in a process called mineralisation. Others take free ammonium and oxidise it to nitrate. Particular bacteria are capable of metabolising N2 into the form of nitrate in a process called nitrogen fixation. Both
ammonium and nitrate can be immobilized or essentially lost from the soil by its incorporation into the microbes' living cells, where it is temporarily sequestered in the form of amino acids and protein. Nitrate may also be lost from the soil when bacteria metabolise it to the gases N2 and N2O. The
loss of gaseous forms of nitrogen to the atmosphere due to microbial action is called denitrification. Nitrogen may also be leached from the soil if it is in the form of nitrate or lost to the atmosphere as ammonia due to a chemical reaction of ammonium with alkaline soil by way of a process called
volatilisation. Ammonium may also be seques
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