I have the WORST soil. Other than what I've listed below.. tips?!

The original owners of my home created a beautiful back corner garden, with raised beds and all. I'm assuming this was a long time ago though, because nothing, and I mean NOTHING grows in this dirt. When I purchased the home, the previous (second) owners of the house had turned this into a FIRE PIT! And not one of the cute metal ones like we have on our deck... more like a big dirt hole that they burnt stuff in! :( As a result, the soil is just trash. I spent my first year, last year, trying to add fertilizer, had a ton of rich black soil shipped in, and tried my hardest to grow a garden. Nothing really happened. SO. This year, I have a compost bin, I'm collecting every kitchen scrap, egg shell, leafs, clippings, newspaper, that I can find to compost like crazy. We had the soil tested, and it came back as balanced across all nutrients.. but lacking in all. The soil appears to be extremely sandy, so we've been adding in black soil from a local company and some turkey manure. I am desperate for advice and will try anything!! SOS :)
  8 answers
  • Walter Reeves Walter Reeves on Feb 11, 2012
    So you had the soil tested and it came back OK but low in nutrients........what was the pH level? I'm curious because high pH would be expected in a burn pit and that could cause poor plant growth. You're smart to be adding good soil ....has it had anything added to enrich it beside the turkey manure you mixed in? What have you tried to grow and what has been the response? BTW - I've spent many fun days in Alta/Snowbird!

  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Feb 12, 2012
    It sounds like you're doing the right things, Cassandra. Usually, if you indicate on a soil test what you are wanting to grow, they will include recommendations for amendments. Knowing the pH is important. I recently had mine tested and it came back 7.7 (one of the drawbacks of living on the beach), so I know there will be no camellias or azaleas in my future.

  • Ricardo B Ricardo B on Feb 13, 2012
    If your soil is too heavy with clay or too much sand, you may need to incorporate something that will retain water and at the same time, break up any sedimentary soil that wants to stick together or the sandy soil which wants to drain away the moisture. So, what's that magic stuff? Simple, ORGANIC material! It could be something as simple as mulch. The second part of the equation is good old fashioned elbow grease. You have to take your spade and turn over the soil continually so all the soil is completely mixed together. It's hard, weary, sweaty and painful on the muscles but SO worth it when you see the fruit of your labor come popping out of the ground. I've never been to Utah, but having lived in the Rocky Mountain area, the thin topsoil areas of Florida and the sandy soils of the Texas Panhandle, and the tough clay soils of Michigan and the good old Georgia clay... my solution was always the same... mulch, mulch mulch.

  • Cassandra N Cassandra N on Mar 04, 2012
    This is the soil report I received back: Texture: Sand pH 6.9 Normal Salinity - ECe 0.5 Normal Phosphorus - P 15.1 Low 1-2 lbs P2O5/1000 sq ft Potassium - K 98.9 Low 2 lbs K2O/1000 sq ft Nitrate-Nitrogen - N mg/kg 2-4 lbs N/1000 sq ft* Zinc - Zn 3.04 Adequate 0 oz Zinc/1000 sq ft Iron - Fe mg/kg 7.85 Adequate Copper - Cu 0.77 Adequate Manganese - Mn 4.31 Adequate Sulfate-Sulfur - S Organic Matter SAR Based upon the chart I was given, it appears as though the soil is normal, but not nutrient rich? SO confusing! Thanks everyone for any help you can provide!

  • Cassandra N Cassandra N on Mar 04, 2012
    @ Ricardo: Thanks for the advice- Is there a mulch you would recommend?

  • Cassandra N Cassandra N on Mar 04, 2012
    Also, I tried to grow the following: -Tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes grew, but the plant size did not increase. We did not see a large bounty from the 3 plants I grew. Large tomato plants (early girls, big boy, heirlooms, and black heirlooms) produced nothing more than the size of ping-pong ball, when they're supposed to produce tennis ball size tomatoes. -Green peppers: did not grow. -Pumpkin: did not grow or produce fruit, but did produce a small, thin vine about 4 feet in length. -Onions: did not bulb and produce, but grew small stalks, then died. -Leeks: actually grew and survived somewhat. -Peas: did not grow, vine, or survive: died pretty quick. Also, I am wondering if this year I should set up a soaker hose. We got a few very hot days during our summer last year, and I am thinking it would be beneficial to turn that on very early in the morning before the killer heat. First time homebuyer, first time true gardener (other than containers at my apartment!), and very excited to have a better garden this year. Also, I believe in hard work and sore muscles- so I am willing to do whatever it takes to turn this garden around! Here is a photo of my garden. The grapes grow well, as you can tell, and this was right before I cut them back. I has squash in the back section, tomatoes in the middle, and onions closest to the start of the garden. I planted peas in the raised beds. We had some nice greenery, but nothing really produced any product.

  • Ricardo B Ricardo B on Mar 05, 2012
    My favorite thing to do is go to a dairy farm or horse farm. They usually will let you take all you want of the, um "natural fertilizer" mixed with sawdust/woodshavings for free! I take the loosened soil that I've worked in my yard or garden and mix it all together. If it's heavy clay you're working, I'd say three parts of mulch to one part heavy clay is a reasonable rule of thumb. Remember, all you want to accomplish is to keep the clay from compacting itself together so air and bacteria can do it's work. Any organic matter (compost, manure, mulch) would do as long asit's already decomposed. Some folks use store bought bags of soil conditioner but if it's for a very large area, you may want to see what these By-the-Yard type outfits can provide where they will sell it to you by the tractor scoop.

    • DORLIS DORLIS on Jun 09, 2015
      @Ricardo B I agree with the compost/manure. Sometimes it takes longer, but is better for the soil in the long run

  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Mar 05, 2012
    Cassandra, your soil is low in phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen, but OK in micro nutrients. Where they give an amount, as in "1-2 lbs P2O5/1000 sq ft," that is the recommended amount of the ingredient for you to apply per 1000 square feet of lawn or bed. You need to add these as fertilizer. Adding organic material alone will not take care of the problem.