Autumn is the perfect time to improve the garden soil

Krista Harding
District Extension Agent, Horticulture
Southwind Expansion District
111 S. Butler
Erie, KS 66733
Office: 620-244-3826
Cell: 620-496-8786

Nothing is more important for success in the garden of good soil. The time you spend fertilizing, watering, and tending the plants is necessary, but that time is almost a waste if the soil you are working with is not in good condition. Fall is an excellent time to retire and analyze how well your garden performed over the summer and to improve the soil.

Soil is created when rock is broken down by climate and vegetation over a certain period of time. Soil is nothing more than weathered boulders and rotting remains of plants and animals.

Most floors have three different layers – surface, subsoil and soil. The surface layer is a coarse layer that contains more organic matter than the other soil layers and that receives the most attention from humans. This layer is the most fertile and has the greatest concentration of plant roots. Plants get most of their nutrients and water from the soil surface.

The subsurface layer is finer and stronger than the surface soil and serves as a support for the surface layer. The subsoil layer is a reservoir for water and nutrients for plants, a temperature regulator of the soil and provides air for the roots of the plants. The bottom layer consists of decomposed rock. It is not hard like rock, but it can show the shape or structure of the original rock.

Soil texture refers to the proportional amount of sand, silt, and clay in a soil. Texture and soil structure influence the moisture retention capacity of the soil, the permeability, the absorption and supply capacity of nutrients, soil cultivation and erosion.

Our soils in southeast Kansas are high in clay. The clay in the ground makes the earth stick to your shoes when the earth is wet. Many refer to our soil as “gumbo”.

One way to treat a heavy clay soil and improve the soil texture is to add organic material. Organic material includes things like manure, leaves, and clippings that have been composted. Earthworms, insects, bacteria and fungi use the organic matter as food and break it down into humus. This process makes materials available for growing plants. In a heavy clay soil, the organic matter allows the water to move more freely and loosens the solid clay, making it easier to work the soil.

Organic material can be applied directly to gardens and flower beds at this time of year and composted directly into the soil. Add 5 to 10 cm of organic material and drill it into the ground. When the soil is dry, apply water to start the decomposition process. After about two weeks you can repeat the process with another application of organic material. The organic matter decomposes in winter and the soil is ready for spring planting.

Sand is sometimes suggested as a supplement material for clay soils. However, there are good reasons to be careful when using sand. So that sand can effectively break up a clay soil, the grains of sand must touch so that there is a pore space between the grains that can absorb air and water. If the grains don’t touch, the clay will fill the gap between the sand particles, leaving no room for pores. This is the same principle used to make concrete and the result is roughly the same. In other words – do not use sand!

Before making any changes to the floor, I recommend doing a soil test. Ground tests can be done through the expansion office for $ 13. For more information on how to take a soil sample, please give me a call.

Krista Harding is a K-State Research and Extension Agent assigned to the Southwind District. She can be reached at or 620-244-3826.

K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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