It is a fact that gardening in a soil that is waterlogged is almost impossible. Drainage is a crucial element for consideration when estimating the quality of whatever type of soil. Soil organisms and plant roots have to breathe, so they are dependent on the air that permeates between the soil particles. Drowned earth that is so saturated with water, fills up all soil pores and does not leave space for air, therefore, no oxygen. Occasionally “poor” soil is just caused by poor drainage, not necessarily missing important nutrients.
Wherever the water table is quite high (close to the surface), even a moderate quantity of water can get a garden flooded. “Puddling” occurs when there is so much water that finer specks float to the surface. There the muddy cocktail will be gummy and heavy and later might crack as it dries. Puddling is an indication of soil needing added organic matter.
Drowning is the surest way of cutting the air supply to the soil. But there is a different way that’s equally dangerous. This is also known as compaction, and it happens when people drive machinery or walk over the same patch each and every time. In time, more and more tiny air pockets get pressed out. What was once reasonably good topsoil can, in just a brief time, can become a bit dense to support sound plant growth. Soils containing plenty of clay are particularly susceptible. Recurrent compaction can produce an impenetrable layer called hardpan concealed beneath the surface; in extreme circumstances, roots will not be able to break through this layer. When you find a well-worn track where grass doesn’t grow in otherwise healthy lawn, this should be compacted soil. Soil that bears puddles long after it rains, particularly where there is not a low spot, is some other sign of compaction.
When you have a drainage problem, try to find out what’s causing it. Garden spaces can at times be drained by excavating ditches to channel the water out, and low spots could be filled in by altering the grade of the land. Redirecting a downspout that is near a house could solve the problem. Setting up below ground drainage pipes functions only if the pipes are inclined correctly; even when installed by a seasoned person, the pipes may shift or fill in a matter of time and stop functioning. Is compacted soil the one causing poor drainage? After digging down and seeing a compacted layer of hardpan below the surface, among the best solution is to break up the impenetrable subsoil so water can pass through. If you have a grave drainage problem and relocating the garden isn’t a choice, just build yourself raised beds
There are occasions when soil is lacking moisture, and this forces the growing and decomposing processes to come to a full stop. There are several ways to lose water:
1. It goes downward — percolates — under the soil, and so moves off laterally when it gets to the water table. Very rapid percolation, in the case of sandy soil, makes nutrients to drain away.
2. It can run off the top of the soil that won’t absorb moisture thoroughly, oftentimes bringing some of the soil together with it as erosion. Compacted soils or those low in organic matter might throw off more water than they absorb.
3. Evaporation or transpiration. Plants transpire much like people perspire; it’s essentially the same thing — living things give off moisture to the atmosphere.
The better way to manage water and air is to keep soil profusely stocked using organic matter. Organic matter and humus promote the shaping of good soil structure and help steady soil crumbs so they can resist cultivation and hammering by rain. By growing the number of pore space, organic matter betters drainage and air flow. At the same time, organic matter works like a sponge to hold water (and nutrients) from draining away a bit rapidly in gravelly or sandy soils.
Downey, Earl F.. Improving your garden through soil management . New York: Crown Publishers, 1955.
Prange, Nettie May Gifford. Key to success: general principles of soil management.. S.l.: General Books, 2010.
Stirzaker, Richard. Out of the Scientist’s Garden A Story of Water and Food.. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing, 2010.
Copyright © 2011 Athena Goodlight