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soils ain't soils

Soils ain’t soils

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If you’re setting up a new garden and thinking of trucking in a load of ‘organic soil blend’ from your local landscape yard, beware… some blends being sold are complete rubbish. Phil Dudman explains.

Working on Q&A stands at gardening expos gives you a good indication of what’s going on in backyard gardens about the place. You expect to see the regular problems; sooty mould on citrus, azalea lace bug, that sort of thing, but there is another problem that’s being presented time and time again and it’s far more common than it should be.  I’m amazed and saddened by the number of people who bring along their sick, dying or stunted plants, totally bamboozled as to why.

“My soil was rubbish, I couldn’t grow anything so I spent some money on a big load of organic soil mix from my landscape supplier and look, I still can’t grow anything, in fact, things are worse”. It’s truly heartbreaking.

The soil samples are often nothing more than dry dusty dirt with some partly decomposed organic matter mixed in for good measure, not the moist, lively, nutritionally rich organic soil they thought they were paying for. A pH test will reveal a reading as high as 8 or 9 in many cases and when the pH is that high, a lot of essential plant nutrients become ‘locked up’ and unavailable to plants causing poor health.

Some samples I have had the displeasure of analysing had a putrid anaerobic smell about them. One sample I sniffed lingered of mangrove forest… and sifting through I found what appeared to be mangrove roots.

It makes you wonder where these  soils are coming from? Are they good quality topsoils or are they soils that have been dug up by developers of the latest dockside canal estate and sold to landscaper suppliers for nicks? Add a little of manure from the local battery hen farm and some scrapings from the bottom of the old mulch heap, mix it together and call it ‘organic blend’.

I am not suggesting that every landscape supplier is doing this or anyone for that matter. I also appreciate that some suppliers may not understand that the product they were supplied is in fact poor quality. I also know that there are plenty of reputable suppliers that will sell you a good quality product from a reliable source. All I’m suggesting is that if you are shopping around for a bulk soil product, don’t take the salespersons word for it, test it yourself.

At the end of the day, my advice is to persist with improving with your existing soil. If you are going to spend money, use the cash to buy bulk organic soil improvers such as compost and manures.