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A Quick Guide to Amending Your Soil

By Chad Garbet
Published: December 1, 2016 | Last updated: April 27, 2021
Key Takeaways

No one wants to grow their plants in poor soil. However, even if you have the best soil, you can always add certain things—or mix together mediums—to help your plants grow.

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Everyone strides to get the best soil to grow the best plants, but there is always a way to make it even better. Making the soil a better medium is called soil conditioning or soil amendment. These conditioners add things to make plant growth better.

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Some conditioners include lime, peat, diatomaceous earth, clay, vermiculite, hydrogel and shredded bark, which all increase the water retention. Conditioners that add to the soil’s nutrients include manure and composts.

I make a special mix of soil, and it works wonders for my soil plants. The soil I use is a usually a type of pro mix after I add all my fertilizers like black worm castings, kelp, seaweed and some powdered minerals. This is to make sure the soil has a good nutrient value for plants. Also, the organic fertilizers will take a while to breakdown, so the plant will be fed slowly over a period of time.

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The water retention is the next step, and rocks are an easy fix for that. I prefer to use diatomaceous earth, a porous, silica-rich stone that retains water and helps drain it too. My mix also contains another water retention aid: coco coir. Coco coir has great drainage and keeps perfect water retention, as well as helps hold in precious nutrient values while keeping the soil aerated.

All in all, the ratio I use to about 50% soil and fertilizer mix, 25% diatomaceous earth and 25% coco coir. I have never seen soil-based tomato plants grow so fast and lush as they do in this mix, and I have used a lot of different soil throughout my gardening lifetime.

Growing a soil garden in the summer is always a great escape from everyday life. Build a small getaway and let your plants flourish in the soil mix and you will have a lush jungle or some vigorous veggies in no time.

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Just remember that the nutrients in the soil does deplete, so try to stay on top of fertilizing the soil and to turn the soil over after your garden is done for the winter and again in early spring. This will keep the soil aerated and help distribute the nutrients evenly throughout the soil mix.

Hydroponics also has a pretty big list of grow mediums, including diatomaceous earth, coco coir, coco polymer, rock wool, clay pebbles, and perlite. These mediums are all usually used alone; however, strange combinations are always fun to try (it’s important to have fun while you garden). That being said, knowing about growing mediums before doing so is always a good idea—you can’t be too sure before putting seedlings into a medium.

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The hydroponic grow medium that I prefer is a form of diatomaceous earth. Its high silicate content is a major benefit to plant cellular structure, and it has very good water retention. It’s also a natural pesticide that causes pests to dehydrate.

My second choice is coco polymer. While it’s usually a bit unstable and plants can have a habit of falling right over, polymer holds perfect moisture retention—not too wet and not too dry—that is perfect for plant growth. If you try mixing the polymer with the diatomaceous earth, you will find it doesn’t mix very well (all the rocks will wall to the bottom and the polymer will come out on top).

There is a solution to this, however; using equal amounts of each medium, first put down a layer of polymer, then a layer of diatomaceous earth, followed by more polymer and finally finishing with more diatomaceous earth on the top. This builds shelves for the roots to expand into the coco polymer, resulting in huge healthy root masses.

All growing mediums have benefits and their downfalls. This is why some gardeners like to mix things up (some people have even tried soil and hydroponics). There is no limit to the combinations. Taking the time to make the best grow mediums always pays off in the end; experimenting with grow mediums can help expand one’s garden knowledge and lead to the greatest garden ever grown.

It’s also fun to try new things, even though they sound a bit out to lunch. Try something bold and make your own mix, and enter the world of the new and strange; you might find you quite like it.

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Written by Chad Garbet

Profile Picture of Chad Garbet
Chad Garbet considers plants to be the most fascinating things on our planet. Trying to get information about growing plants out to the general public is his goal. Chad wants to see jungles inside our major cities and on every corner on every street.

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