Improving soil structure in Houston gardens is a simple process that can be achieved quickly by replacing what you have, or a more time consuming process that can be achieved over a period of a few short years.
[The photo at left shows you what the garden soil looked like when we moved into our new home.]
T1o improve what you already have, your goal will be to do what you can to bring your soil’s composition or texture more in line with the ideal 40-40-20 ratio of sand, silt and clay, mostly by adding organic matter in a ratio of 4 parts soil to 1 part organic matter.
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Secondarily, you’ll want to improve the fertility of your soil by adding a variety of amendments based on the results of a soil pH and nutrient analysis test.
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The process of double digging is labor intensive but if you can alleviate the effects of time, weather and foot traffic that lead to compaction, you’ll only have to do this once and its benefits will last for years.
I opted to use this method to improve the soil texture and structure of my flower beds in the front yard.
[Don’t let the dark top dressing of landscape mulch in the photo above, right fool you. Hiding beneath its surface is classic Houston Gumbo as in the previous photo.]
Start on a small area – one you can finish in 30 or 40 minutes – and gradually work your way through large areas one day at a time. Dig a trench that measures 10 to 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide along the length of one end of your garden area. If you have a Mantis tiller, make your trench wide enough to accommodate it.
Place the soil from the trench in a wheelbarrow for later use. Or haul the soil by wheelbarrow over to a tarp in an adjacent area if you’ll be needing to use your wheelbarrow to haul in soil amendments before replacing the trenched soil. (See figure A below) Realize that the tarp could damage or kill any vegetation, including your lawn, it covers for several days.
Next, incorporate soil amendments like organic matter into the subsoil in the trench. Dig or till them in to a depth of about 12 inches.
Now dig a second trench parallel to the first trench. Place the soil from the second trench into the first trench (see figure B in the diagram above). Mix this topsoil with the amendments added to the bottom of the first trench as you go or use the Mantis tiller when you’ve finished the row to incorporate the amendment rich subsoil with the topsoil.
Repeat the process, using the soil from one trench to fill in the previous trench until you reach the end of the bed and are left with one open trench and the original wheelbarrow full of soil. Finish the process by transferring the soil in the wheelbarrow, or on the tarp, into the remaining trench and mixing it in as before (see figure C in the diagram above).
Obviously, adding organic matter to an existing soil bed, coupled with turning the soil, either by hand or by use of a tiller, and incorporating oxygen, is going to create a higher, raised garden bed.
I opted to “contain” and define my raised flower beds with brick that was leftover from the construction of our house. But raised beds without masonry or wood “sides” work just as well to improve drainage and alleviate another considerable challenge to gardening in the greater Houston area.
Improving soil structure in Houston gardens by working with what you already have is a simple process albeit very labor intensive. Replacing what you have is another option.