How to Remedy Soil and Weed Problem

Compost & Soil
Remedy Soil And Weed Problem

Weeds and soil fertility can tell you a lot about your garden, and it's important to listen! One of the best ways to improve your gardening and to be able to grow strong, healthy plants is to pay attention to problems such as infertile soil and weeds. It's true these two things can help you a lot in improving your garden.

Get to Know the Soil

Soil can tell you a lot of important things about your garden. You need to know that type of soil you have in your garden and what its make up is. If you are unsure about it, check with our county extension office to gather all the needed information.

Keep in mind that "soil fertility" is more than simple ratio of elements. It's not about macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, even though these nutrients do play an important part. The thing is that it's not just about them, so it's important to get the bigger picture about your soil. For example, you need to know how much organic matter is in your soil. This is vital because these organic agents are there to support microbial life and make all the nutrients (macro and micro) available to plants. The best first step in gardening is to help your plants by knowing your soil: it's nutrients and its organic matter.

Again, if you are unsure about the general soil types in your area, contact your county extension office and request information on soil types. This will give you a general idea about the soil. However, this is just that first step. To get the exact picture about the soil in your garden, you will need to perform a soil test. Luckily, these tests are very affordable so you can do them easily. You can find a soil test kit online or in your local garden center.

Soil pH Values

One of the first things you need to know about the soil in your garden is its pH value. Typically, it's important to know if the soil is alkaline or acidic, and it's all about the pH scale. This scale refers to parts of hydrogen ions in the soil. The concentration of these ions affects the availability of nutrients to plant roots, so it's vital to know what your garden soil pH values are.

The pH scale is easy to understand. It goes from 0 to 14. Neutral value is 7, the middle of the scale. Anything below 7 is considered acidic while above 7 is considered alkaline soil.

For example, areas with high rainfall quantity, such as Eastern US or Pacific Northwest, typically have slightly to moderately acidic soil. It comes from leaching of the more alkaline calcium and magnesium salts from the soil.

There are plants that prefer this type of soil, so these plants will be found growing in soil with acidic levels in the pH range of 5 to 7.

On the other hand, areas with little to no rain (deserts being the most extreme) tend to be moderately to highly alkaline. Similarly to acidic-loving plants, there are plants preferring alkaline environment. They will be found in areas where soil is between 7 and 7.5.

Areas with light to moderate rainfall, such as central parts of the US, tend to have pH natural soil (around 7 on the pH scale).

To be sure of your soil's pH values, it's best to get a pH litmus test kit. It is not expensive and it makes it very easy for you to test the soil in your garden.

Get to Know the Weeds

Weeds are annoying, but they can tell you a lot about your garden. They can help you understanding what amendments you need to add to increase the fertility of your garden and make it harder for the weeds to survive. The less weeds the more space for your vegetables and other plants you wish to grow.

Keep in mind that the pH values affect weeds, too. For example, some weeds tend to grow anywhere: it doesn't matter if the soil is fertile or non-fertile. As a result, you will find the same weeds in various soil types. Other weeds prefer certain pH values, so it's something to keep in mind.

In this part of the article on soils and weeds, we'll talk more about the main soil types and what you can do to improve it. There are many different soil problems you may encounter so it's important to perform a soil test to know what you're dealing with and what to do to improve the soil in your garden.

Dry Soil

If the soil in your garden is dry, there are some solutions you can implement. Chronic dry soil is best improved by adding some humus-rich compost. It will help it to retain moisture, which is beneficial for your plants.

You can easily add some mulched leaves and composted manure mixed with about 10 to 20 percent of worm compost. This is a good mix for improving chronic dry soil.

It's best to do this in the fail, so the winter rain can help in decomposition. This action will help a lot to improve the state of your soil the next spring. This is one of the best ways to improve the fertility of dry soil.

Compacted Soil

Another common problem is a compacted soil. It often happens if your garden has a frequent foot traffic, particularly during the time when the ground is wet. Motorized vehicles are particularly bad for the soil, so if you use tractors, lawn mowers and similar machines in your garden you might end up with compacted soil.

To remedy this type of soil, you need to break the top layer of the soil. It's vital to break those 2 inches on the top, and it's best done with a spading fork. Do not use a shovel. Ideally, you should to it sometime in the fall. After you do this, make sure to add 2 inch layer of composted manure and leaves mixed with 10 to 20 percent of worm compost. This will go a long way in improving your soil and its fertility the next spring.

The compost will add microbes and worms, which will work in improving the soil fertility. They will also help breaking up the soil. This is all you need to do to improve the soil. You don't need to use old rototillers or spend hours double-digging to break the soil. In fact, these actions can only do more harm than good. Doing this will only harm the existing microbiology of the soil, fungi in particular, and you don't want that.

Another thing you may wish to consider is adding 23-30 lbs of gypsum per 1000 sq.ft.  It will help to loosen things up in the soil. Keep in mind that gypsum is not a quick agent but it will help in the 2 to 3 years. It can truly penetrate the compacted strata and make the soil loose. Also, it will allow the air and water to get to the newly created spaces, which will improve the soil fertility even further and make the soil better for your plants.

In the spring, you should add some more composted material to the surface of the bed. You can perform planting directly on this top player, by adding a handful of worm compost to each transplant or sprinkling. Go along the seed trench and add compost as you plant. It will ensure the best start for your new plants.

Acidic Soil

Acidic soil is common in areas that receive a lot of rainfall, such as Eastern US and Pacific Northwest. These areas are known with slight to moderately acidic soil. Acidic soil is also common in areas with pine and oak trees.

Acidic soil, if fertile, is not so difficult to remedy. Acidic soil can actually be revealed by the weeds growing in your garden, since there are some plants preferring this soil type. That being said, if you wish to grow plants and vegetables that do not like acidic soil, it's important to remedy it in order to have a healthy garden.

One good thing about having weeds in the garden is that they signal the soil is fertile. It may be acidic and not suitable for all plants, but it does contain enough organic matter. This is a good situation, because it means the only thing you need to worry about is the pH value of your soil.

The best way to remedy highly acidic soil is to have lime added to it. You should put about 7 to 9 lbs of calcitic lime per 100 sq of the garden. It's best to do this in the fall. Since lime is a slow-release agent it takes time to remedy the soil, so you need to do it early so the sol has time to get better before the spring planting.

You can find this type of lime at most garden stores, so it's not a problem to get the best agent for improving your soil.

In case the soil is only mildly acidic, you will need only 5 lbs per 100 sq. feet, so keep this in mind when deciding on the dosage.

There is also a possibility that your soil lacks magnesium. In this case, it's best to use dolomitic limestone. It is very beneficial for remedying soil that lacks magnesium. However, in order to be sue that this is what soil in your garden needs, it's vital to perform a soil test.

Another alkalizer you may wish to try and that is known as being very effective is wood ash. It's best to use ash from a wood-burning stove or a fireplace. This is a very natural agent and it's recommended for remedying your soil.

If you wish to use wood ash, make sure not to use more than 25 lbsof wood ash per 1000 sq. feet. If this seems like too much, or if you want to increase pH values of the garden soil only a little, you may use half of that amount.

In case the soil is not fertile enough, you will also need to increase the humus content of the soil. It's best to use thermophilic or worm composts. Ideally, it should be a mix of both, where worm compost makes 10 to 20 percent of the mixture.

Adding microorganisms through worm compost is very cost-effective. This is a natural way to release those nutrients in the soil and improve the soil's fertility. It's definitely something you need to think about when improving your soil - improving pH values is not enough if the soil is not fertile enough.

Alkaline Soil

Arid and desert areas are known for alkaline soil, so if this is the case for your garden, you will need to improve the soil in order to grow plants.

There are some powerful agents you can add to remedy alkaline soil. The best ones are gypsum, calcium sulphate or powdered sulphur. All these elements are known for lowering pH values of the soil. The exact effect will depend on how alkaline the soil is, and how acidic is the amendment you wish to use. Generally speaking, these agents are effective enough to turn your alkaline soil into a more welcoming environment for your plants.

Another thing you may wish to try is to add some thermophilic compost mixed with worm compost to improve the soil's fertility. It is also known to help with remedying alkaline soil and it can lower pH values of the soil.

In this section of the article, we will talk more about the weeds you may encounter. Weeds and soil problems go hand in hand, so you need to pay attention to both in order to improve your garden and make it into a more welcoming and fertile environment for your plants.

Common Weeds

Here is a list of some common weeds you may encounter with advice on how to get rid of them:

  • Dandelion. Dandelion likes areas low in calcium, but keep in mind: it has a long tap root, which help it aerate the soil and bring up minerals from the subsoil. It makes the young spring leaves full of minerals. This is one of the main reasons why dandelion is such a healthy edible herb. As a weed, it may pose a problem in the garden so you may wish to get rid of it. For an organic deterrent, simply use a fungi-rich compost or compost tea. Apply it to the plant to discourage its growth and get rid of it. The fungi will release a slime, which will dissolve the calcium in the soil, thus eliminating dandelion.
  • Crabgrass. This is a common weed in all areas of the US. It likes low-calcium soil, low levels of organic matter and dry areas. It can signal that your soil is dry and not fertile enough. It can spread quickly from the lawn area to the garden beds with your plants. To get rid of this weed, follow the same instructions recommended for dandelions.
  • Shepherd's Purse. This weed thrives in sunny, rich, moist to dry and disturbed soil. However, it can grow in partially shaded, poor soil, so there is not a rule. Keep in mind that a single plant can produce a few thousands of seeds, and these seeds can remain viable for many years. In order to get rid of this weed, it's vital to pull it up before it goes to seed. Use mulch wherever possible to discourage the growth. This plant stays dormant in the dark so mulch is a good way to prevent its growth.
  • Black Medic. This weed is a type of clover but it has a burr-like seed head. One plant will typically grow in all directions in a distance of two feet or more, though some plants grow in only one direction. This one is relatively easy to get rid of: simply pull it out to remove it. It should not appear again, but if it does, repeat until your garden is free from this weed.
  • Sorrel. This is another clover type of a plant, similar to Black Medic. Their nitrogen-fixing ability is important for soil fertility, but make no mistake: this plant is a weed that can easily take over your garden area. Use a good soaking sorrel to remove them.
  • Mullein. It can be left in your garden. It is good for herbal use. Or you can dig it up after a good soaking in the fall, before it goes to seed.
  • Stinging Nettle. This is an herbaceous shrub. It can be found all over the world, so it's a common weed. It prefers nitrogen-rich soil. This plant can grow 4 feet in height. To get rid of it, you need to dig it out. However, pay attention: you need to wear heavy-duty gloves.
  • Lambsquarter or Pigweed. They are cousins to Amaranth. These plants have seed heads that can produce thousands of tiny seeds. Luckily, these plants have shallow roots, so it's easy to pull them out or hoe them while they are small. It will effectively eliminate them from your garden. It's best to be done in spring.
  • Prickly Sowthistle. This weed has a flower stalk about 12 to 15 inches in size. However, the flower head looks very similar to dandelion's, so it's easy to make a mistake. You can dig it out after a good soaking. It's important to do this before it goes to seed or else you will have a lot of it in the garden. Keep in mind, one plant can generate around 70,000 seeds. You definitely don't want that in your garden. Keep in mind that this is a perennial plant. If you don't get rid of it you'll see it again next spring.
  • Annual Bluegrass. It is known to pop up all over your garden and can easily set several generations of seed in one season. To get rid of them, flip them out of the ground with a 3-pronged hoe. It's important to expose their roots to the sun. This will quickly turn them into a good organic matter for the compost pile.
  • Plantain or Buckhorn. This is a weed that thrives in moist, fertile ground. It has a very short root system, but can strongly hold its ground. It makes it very difficult to pull out if the soil is dry. In order to get rid of this weed, make sure to water the area before you use a weed digger to get them out. It's best to do this before the flower stalk appears.
  • Spotted Spurge. This is a summer annual weed. It is known to grow out in many directions. It has a shallow tap root and it forms a dense mat of vegetation. Luckily, it's easy to pull out so it should not be difficult to get rid of it from your garden.
  • Queen Anne's Lace. This plant is a wild carrot. You can dig it out during its first year. This is preferred, since they don't produce seed in their second year. However, you may think twice about getting rid of this plant. It can serve as a trap for insects that would otherwise attack your flowers and vegetables.
  • Chickweed. It is a very powerful weed: it only takes a few seeds to take over a garden bed! In order to prevent this from happening, make sure to pull them out in May or June. Also, make sure to add plenty of mulch to your bed in the fall. This should discourage this weed from growing during the next year.

Photo credit: Ryan Hyde

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