Houston Garden Soil Conditioners

Whether you opt to amend your existing Houston garden soil “gumbo” or replace it with a more ideal soil blend, you should consider adding garden soil conditioners to increase your soil’s nutrient base and fertility.

The Houston “gumbo” in my yard lacks rocks of any size. At first I was thrilled that I didn’t need to break my back sifting rocks out of the soil like I had to do in my Washington state garden. But soils that lack rocks also lack an assortment of minerals.

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Fortunately, there are organic products you can add to your garden soil to improve its mineral fertility. If these minerals, and the trace elements that tag along with them, are not available in soils for crops to absorb, they won’t magically be manufactured by plants and find their way into you when you eat them.

Texas Greensand

Texas Greensand (Glauconite) is an iron potassium silicate that is green in color, due to the minerals it contains, that comes from marine deposits. It is a natural source of phosphorous, potash, and trace minerals. It also contains about 19 percent iron and about 2 percent magnesium.

Even though its pH is 8.3, you can use it on all plants as an effective green-up. Research has shown Greensand to be better than most iron products in helping plants overcome chlorosis in high pH soils. Always follow the recommended application rates found on product packaging.

Gypsum as a Soil ConditionerMy Houston “gumbo” also has an abundance of clay. As I mentioned before, clay gets a bad rap but is not all bad. Clay is loaded with nutrients your plants will love if their roots can get to them without drowning or suffocating.

We discovered, quite accidentally, that gypsum is a good soil additive and conditioner for breaking up the clay layers in Houston soils.

Our second Christmas in Texas, my husband rented a wall texture hopper and sprayed the Oak trees in our front yard with thinned down joint compound. We had a white Christmas until heavy rains washed it away several weeks later.

But that next spring we discovered the Oak trees in the front yard were healthier, fuller and greener than the Oak tree in our side yard. The only difference in care was getting “white-washed” for Christmas.

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I later learned that Gypsum (calcium sulfate; garden lime is calcium carbonate) penetrates clay particles and loosens the clay structure by creating air and moisture slots. It does not affect the pH of the soil, is not harmful to humans or animals and will not burn your plants.

Spread it over the topsoil (or your lawn) at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per hundred square feet and water it in. It is not necessary to till it into the soil, so don’t work harder than you need to.

You can apply gypsum any time of the year and one application per year is sufficient. Its not a quick fix for clay soils, but over time, it will make a significant difference.

If you have found other garden soil conditioners that have improved your Houston “gumbo,” please share what you’ve learned.

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