Soil in Illinois

As I turn my garden soil each year, I’m always pleased when I see the wriggly worms crawl out from each clump of clay. I’m reminded that each one serves a purpose in improving my soil structure. They help till in a sort of slow way, aid in humus formation by depositing their casts (fecal matter) and their tunneling helps with drainage.
Of course we can’t be totally dependent on the earth worm for a rich nutritious dirt. We humans also have to give back to the earth so that our plants are provided with healthy nutrients.
Like our own bodies, plants need a certain pH level in the earth for health. This make perfect sense. The only sure fire way to get to know your pH level is a soil test. You can purchase these kits from your local garden centers.
While I can’t guarantee their validity, some gardeners use them every year. I have not so far. Maybe I’ll try one this year and post the results to gardening-soilthis page.
I did not. In fact, I never really give much thought to my soil condition. As my gardens progress and each year, whether my gardens scream for it or not, I throw in some manure, shredded leaves from previous years, straw, top soil and a touch of sand. All part of a 5 way mix. (explained further down the page)
Does your garden earth sink from year to year? Mine too. By adding the above, I raise the level to the previous years. I also use the mixture and raise areas of my garden, which gives the layered look when I plant my flowers.


When I purchased our new 1/2 acre property, the WOW factor jumped out of me when I laid my eyes on the huge, and I mean huge compost pile. The pile must have been 15 feet high and 50 feet long. The picture on the right shows the depleted pile as of last fall. Can you see the rich black humus?


As we dug deep into the pile, there emerged a dark black gardeners ‘gold.’ Within the black ‘gold’ remains of shredded bark and leaves broke off and disintegrated into a rich humus. We shoveled and dumped at least 60 full to the brim wheelbarrows into the 3 original flower beds.

My Clay Soil


I own heavy clay soil. Lucky me. The kind where the water just sits. No drainage. Ergo why we dug the ponds and why I amend my garden’s top two inches every year. In my South Garden my plants suffered root rot and mold. Not only did it turn out a shade garden, but I neglected to spot the issue of poor drainage and did not add an extra amount of sand and enough organic material.


Since we chopped down a bunch of trees this year, I have sawdust piles all over. South Garden meet sawdust, sawdust meet South Garden. Like pie and ice-cream, the pair work well together. If you have it, use it as it does work great as a clay buster along with kitty litter, but don’t get the clumping cat litter. Use the regular (if that’s still around) and please…no used litter. Anyone need fire wood?

A Good 5-Way Garden Mix

I am told that most plants enjoy their soil a little acidic. (pH of 6.5) So by adding a 5 way garden mix to my gardens every year or two, I seem to enjoy the balance perfectly. Because I like to mix up my plants, I tend to give the acid loving plants (like my lavender and mugo pines) a little extra boost but I never relegate them to one side of the garden.
A sample of a great 5 way mix…top soils, sand, straw, shredded wood chips, well rotted manure (not fresh, it burns the plants)and remember I still add shredded leaves also

Sandy Soil

If your soil is too sandy, meaning that the water drains out too quickly.Add organic matter such as:
peat straw, small wood chips, shredded leaves and compost. This helps the soil retain moisture and the nutrients.

Soil Tip

Here’s a great tip that I picked up from a fellow gardener. She throws in her tea bags, coffee grinds and ‘pickle juice’ into her compost (yes, I said pickle juice) to retain the acidic value. Interesting eh? Those three items along with all the ‘other’ goodies turns her compost into pure garden gold.

Organic Fertilizers

Rated by some as one of the best organic fertilizers, Turkey Trot consists of composted deodorized granular turkey manure. Even though it says deodorized, the stuff still stinks so be prepared. You don’t need a lot of it to do the job. By sprinkling lightly over your lawn, vegetable beds and flower beds, you will notice a difference. I did. Look or ask for it at your favorite garden center.
Another tip: Insect and pests decrease in a garden as the soil quality increases. The little pests move on to the more diseased/weak plants.

My Conclusion

Finally…do you see a pattern in the above information? Whether your soil base is sandy or clay, just ‘tweak it’ with the above organic amendments to create the perfect balance. Just remember, once you start giving your garden the necessary food to survive…don’t stop! Your garden requires proper nutrition every year, all year long. If you use a chemical fertilizer just know that while you are feeding the plants, you are not putting any nutritional value back into the ground. And as the years pass, your soils nutritional value depletes.

Garden Soil Inoculation

When speaking with my friends I always remind them ‘not to do as I do’ when it comes to walking into my flower beds. After you’ve turned your garden and added that wonderful 5-way mix, be careful not to walk on it too much.
This action compacts the dirt back down again. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I stopped walking into my garden beds and checking up on my shrubs. Now I leave the shrubs alone, at least at the beginning of the season. I yell at them from a distance. Try earthworm castings for your garden soil. It works!

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