It may seem dirty and gross, but soil is vitally important to the Earth we live on. Thousands of microorganisms, fungi, and vertebrates all live in the complex world of soil. Trees and all other plants have adapted over millions of years to live and develop root networks throughout soil. Without soil, the trees would not be here. It is extremely important to have an idea what kind of soil you’re dealing with when thinking of planting. Many problems can be traced back to the soil, and with professional analysis, a soil test, or both, you can figure out what might be wrong, or what could be the best possible plant for that location.
Soil is governed by many factors, but we will focus on a few that are important to most scenarios. The physical properties of your soil are what governs the components of the mixture, and how it reacts with plant growth and microorganisms. There are soils with high amounts of clay, high amounts of sand, or even mixtures. In southeast Michigan, we are largely a high clay soil. Especially in the residential and urban areas, there is almost exclusively clay soils. Clay is beneficial and good for growth, but in the human development of the region, we have compacted and destroyed the natural topsoil. This means the soil is harsher for trees, and with less nutrients to sustain vigorous health. Chemical properties will determine the element and ion holding capacity. A soil that can withhold more ions means there are more nutrients for plants to use in the soil. Another crucial metric to use is the pH scale. Plants generally prefer a pH slightly below neutral, which gives most soils a high nutrient availability. The “optimal pH” would be described as slightly acidic, 6.5 to 6.8 on the pH scale. Unfortunately in southeast Michigan, we are not exactly at the optimal level, many soils vary from place to place. There are areas that are quite basic in pH, with pH higher than 7. In these areas, it may be best to cater your plant selections to what will work. Many types of plants grow well in basic soil, if you do some research or just give us a call, you can find out what the best selection may be. Finally, your biological properties are related to how much organic matter is present in your soil. Organic material is any matter from plants or animals, going into the soil and beginning to break down into its components. When the organic material breaks down, it spreads and enriches your soil. Smaller microorganisms can feed off these nutrients, fostering a larger biological community. Organic matter is extremely important to all plants! Soil requires a good blend of physical, chemical, and biological properties to work at its best. In many places, this is not the case, and knowing this information can help you start to remedy your bare soil.