Know Thy Dirt


If you want your plants to thrive, know your dirt. If it’s poor, amend it. Florida’s soil from the panhandle down through the central state contains clay or sand and must be amended to produce healthy plants. South Florida, your peaty earth makes gardening easy!

Even if you’re a novice Florida gardener, you know that plants need water, sunshine, and nutrients in order to thrive. You probably also know that plants need good dirt.

In this article, we’ll talk about Florida soil—what it’s like where you are, and how you can remedy its problems.

Florida Soils

The dirt around Florida is different in the north, central, and southern parts of the state. There is one common ingredient, though, which is Myakka. Found only in Florida, Myakka contains marine elements that date back to time periods when ocean waters covered the peninsula.

Dirt in the Florida panhandle tends to be mostly clay; in North and Central Florida, it’s sandy, and in South Florida, it contains a lot of peat.

Healthy vs. Poor Soil

Plants need water, sun, and nutrients. Sunshine gets absorbed through leaves. Water and nutrients are absorbed through the roots. Therefore, for robust plants, the soil must contain nutrients and be crumbly enough for roots to access moisture.

South Florida’s peaty soil is excellent for gardeners because it naturally contains nutrients and retains moisture. South Florida gardeners don’t have to do a lot to improve their earth.

North and Central state gardeners deal with sandy soil, which is like a sieve—the rock particles in the soil have gaps between them, so water runs through too quickly for roots to absorb it. Sandy ground also contains virtually no nutrients.

Panhandle dwellers with clay soil deal with material that compacts so tightly that roots and water can hardly penetrate it. Clay soil is the toughest kind of earth to work with.

How to Fix Your Soil

Sandy Soil Solutions

Sandy dirt needs amendments to improve its nutrient content and get it to retain water. If you have sandy earth, mix in a combination of the following: manure, compost, grass clippings, leaves, humus, peat, and vermiculite.

Turn amendments into the earth to a depth of about six to eight inches. Most plant roots don’t grow down past that depth, so amending dirt below half a foot is unnecessary.

If you can amend your soil before adding plants, that is ideal. After the first time, annually mix more organic matter into the soil around the plants.

Over the soil, put a layer of pine bark nuggets, pine straw, wood chips, or hay. This layer helps keep the soil from drying out. As it decomposes over time, it contributes more nutrients to the ground.

Clay Soil Solutions

Clay particles are like small pancakes that compress to form an almost solid layer of material extending many feet down. This layer can be sticky and waterlogged or dry and chunky. In either condition, clay soil is an inhospitable plant host.

Amend clay earth before trying to grow plants. Mix in organic matter to separate clay particles and create a crumbly growing medium. Add grass clippings, shredded leaves, manure, compost, and peat to a depth of eight or more inches. Doing this is easiest when the clay is dry and clumpy. The added matter will break down over time, so plan to refresh it periodically.

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