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17 September 2014
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how to be a gardener - The complete online guide

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1 - Analysing your soil
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SoilSoil is far from dull stuff. It is made up of humus (organic matter) and three different types of particle: clay, silt and sand. It provides a plant with an anchor for its roots, its water and its nutrients.

Did you know?
When you look at a border, all you see is 'topsoil'. Dig down 30cm to 60cm (1ft to 2ft) and things change. You’ll see a clear boundary between the topsoil and ‘subsoil’ – mucky stuff that plants won’t grow in. In some new gardens, especially on estates built on heavy soils, that clay subsoil from footings etc, has been spread over the natural topsoil and then covered with a few inches of indifferent topsoil and then turfed.

It’s worth checking because if the topsoil layer is only a few centimetres thick, subsoil can cause problems:

  • If it's clay - water logging in winter
  • If it's sandy or chalky - dehydration in summer
The 'old faithful' - manureBut don’t despair, reach for the ‘old faithful’ - (well-rotted) bulky organic manure - and you can improve things greatly.

Watch the clipFind out more about the origins of soil and the benefits of organic manure.
1. Know your plot

Assessing your plot
Analysing your soil
 Soil types
 Soil ph
Drawing a survey
Test your knowledge
Go further

Plant lists Plant lists
Plants for different soil types:

Find thousands more plants in the BBC Gardening database.
Video Video
Soil, what's it all about?
Test your knowledge of planting in different lighting conditions. Or find out how to test your soil.
Requires Flash 5

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