Whether you’re planting in the ground or in a pot, healthy soil will help produce healthy growth.
If you’re lucky you won’t need to do anything but turn and aerate it.
If you’re unlucky you’ll have lots to fix, or may need to start from scratch.
One of the first things to be aware of is the soil type.
Sandy soils (mostly coarse particles) are terrible at holding water. They can be improved by adding (and working in) broken-down organic matter, as can all soil types.
Clay soil (very fine particles) holds water and nutrients well but can become waterlogged without good drainage. Adding gypsum (which is a natural mineral) can help break this soil type down.
Loamy soil (a mix of fine and coarse particles) is the preferred type in most cases.
Another thing that might be worth checking is the PH of the soil. Small test kits can be quite cheap. For acidic you can add lime. If it’s alkaline, add sulphur.
If you’re planting something leafy that you intend to eat and you’re worried about potential lead contamination (from from old peeling paint for example), you can have it tested by sending a sample away and waiting a couple of weeks for the result.
The best way to mitigate the risk of lead contamination is to avoid planting any food near a building or fence that may be the source of the contamination.
One option if the soil is unworkable for any reason, is to build a raised bed on top of it and then fill that with a mix of materials that new life can thrive in, uncontaminated.
This can be done by erecting boards on their side (held in with short posts or pegs), using bricks, concrete blocks or anything else you can get your hands on, so long at it won’t contaminate the soil itself, defeating the purpose.
The idea is to have a mound of good soil to plant in, but with a neatly defined border. It’s kind of like an outdoor planting pot that’s way too big to pick up and move.
Compost is also great, but if you decide to make your own, remember that it needs time to break down before being used.
When it reaches this stage it is referred to humus, and it is not only rich in nutrients it holds a good amount of moisture and drains adequately as well.
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