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SOIL 101
Many people wonder why they can't grow a great looking lawn or have oodles of tomatoes from their gardens. Chances are it is not your plants, it is your soil. Soil is literally at the root of all plants and if you do not have a productive soil environment, then stop buying grass seed and plants until you fix your soil first!

In order to bring life back into your soil, you must first correct the 7 major potential soil problems: unbalanced pH levels, shallow soil depth, incorrect watering and poor water absorption, soil compaction, mineral and nutrient deficiencies, chemical fertilizers, and erosion.

1. Unbalanced pH Levels
I wish that someone would have told me how important pH soil levels were before I planted my flower beds each year. The flowers would look great for about 3 weeks, then for no apparent reason, would just give up. We had heavy clay soil that I would amend with compost, but I was never happy about the end result - the soil would end up being small clay clumps surrounded by compost for about 4-6 inches deep, then solid clay below. I was very frustrated that it took so much time to improve a small area with only mediocre results.

Soil ph levels can range from highly acidic soil (pH of 6.0 and below) to high alkali soil (pH of 7.0 and above). The plants that we want in our lawns and gardens thrive on a neutral pH level (between 6.0 and 7.0). Some weeds thrive on high or low pH levels. For example, dandelions love a pH of about 7.5. Grass loves a pH of about 6.5. So if your pH is 7.5 or higher, your grass will more than likely never beat out the dandelions. If you bring your pH back to neutral, you've just given your grass the advantage over the dandelions!

Many gardeners will advise you to have your soil pH tested before you begin a garden or landscaping project. I know of many local extension offices that provide this service for free, but most will charge you a fee these days. A reliable pH soil tester will run you at least $75 for the tester and the calibration solutions. The kits that you can buy in the stores for $30 or less will often give you the wrong information, so don't waste your money.

The typical treatment for soils with a high pH level (alkali) is to add gardener's sulfur. The treatment for soils with a low pH level (acidic) is lime. If your readings are incorrect and you apply either sulfur or lime, you run the chance of making things worse instead of better. Terra4m takes the guesswork out of balancing your soil pH. Testing shows that the Terra4m process will bring your soil back to neutral no matter what your starting pH level is. Try our 4 ounce bottle of Terra4m (called "TERRAdrops") on a small flower bed or 100 sq feet of lawn to see the results for yourself.

2. Shallow Soil Depth
Our lawn (if you could call it that) was trying to grow thru dirt, not soil. It was unproductive and had no resemblance to the soil that you find in garden stores. If you tried to drive a stake into it, you would only be able to get an inch deep. Grass and even weeds had a hard time surviving because of the lack of mineral and nutrients available to the root zone. On the other hand, clover had no problem growing and was abundant.

15-20 inches of topsoil would be optimal. If you calculate how many truckloads of topsoil you would need at $100+ per truckload, you start to be overwhelmed by the amount of money and work required to improve your little piece of the planet. If you are one of the lucky people to have this amount of topsoil, your lawn and landscapes require very little maintenance and your plants thrive. Why?

Sand is not soil. It is comprised of small pieces of rock. Pure sand lacks the minerals and nutrients that the plants' roots need to survive and thrive. Clay is also not soil. It is comprised of fine particles that bind together easily, not allowing oxygen or water to pass thru. Plants in clay soil suffer since potential minerals and nutrients may be in the clay, but the plant roots cannot get access to them. Healthy soil is soft, and moisture retentive and contains mineral and nutrients that are easily accessible by the plant roots. Plants thrive and provide organic material for microbial and microbial life that are abundant in healthy soil. A good indicator of productive soil is the presence of earthworms. If you create the environment needed for this ecosystem, the earthworms and beneficial bacteria will come. Earthworms and beneficial bacteria provide nitrogen that grass and other plants thrive on.

Still wondering why we had an abundance of clover? Clover is part of the legume family of plants that get their nitrogen from the air (nitrogen makes up 80% of the oxygen that we breathe). So, if you have clover, your soil is nitrogen poor. Also keep in mind that grass loves nitrogen, but needs to extract it from the soil. If it's not available, your grass is going to suffer.

TERRA Ultra improves sandy soil by delivering live amino acids that 'bind' the sand particles together. This promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria available to the plant's roots. TERRA Ultra oxygenates clay soil at the particle level to allow trapped minerals and nutrients to be available to plant roots. To keep this environment productive, a natural organic fertilizer, such as our TerraFeed fertilizer should be applied at least twice a year.

3. Incorrect Watering and Poor Water Absorption
A lot of folks water frequently, but for short periods at a time. Shallow, frequent watering encourages "thatch". Thatch is produced when the grass propagates with above-soil runners (like strawberry runners) rather than rhizomes under the soil. After a while, there will be so many runners that they weave a mat that chokes out water and air). If you already have a heavy thatch build-up, go to our Lawn Repair page to read how Terra4m can be applied in the fall to remove this thatch.

So, when is it time to water? Grass blades will start to curl before they turn brown (just as most plant leaves). When they start to curl, that is the best time to water. You need to start training your grass to extract nutrients from deep in the soil, not from the top of the soil.

Weed prevention tip: Weeds and weed seedlings love daily watering, so increasing your time between waterings will also help control weeds.

Note that you must have deep soil in order for long, infrequent waterings to work best for you and your landscape. An inch of water applied to soil will water sufficiently to 12 inches deep. If you have heavy clay, water does not absorb readily. Watering infrequently and for long periods on clay is only a waste of water and money. Most of the water either runs off (along with your soil nutrients!) or is evaporated. Using the same watering schedule on sandy soil is also wasteful. In sand, the water absorbs too quickly. Plants need water to be readily available around their roots in order to extract nutrients. If water absorbs too quickly, then the plants don't get a chance to extract the nutrients they need to flourish.

Just as TERRA Ultra improves unproductive clay and sand, the same action allows for water to be absorbed and retained longer in the root zone. The soil stays moist longer, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and releasing minerals and nutrients that are in the soil to the plant roots.

4. Soil Compaction
All landscape, lawn and garden soil are constantly being bombarded by forces, both human and natural, that force the soil particles closer and closer together. Foot and machine traffic contribute as one would expect, but what may not be immediately evident is the effects of rain on soil. Can you imagine being a teeny, tiny little soil particle and you look up to see a water drop coming at you the size of the empire state building? Scary. Slight soil compaction is actually advantageous for seed germination because it promotes good contact between the seed and soil. Excessive soil compaction impedes root growth and therefore limits the amount of soil explored by roots. This, in turn, can decrease the plant's ability to take up nutrients and water.

When I was growing up in South Dakota, my parents would hire someone every 2 years to come and aerate our lawn. They would run this huge drum with spikes over our lawn. End result was a lawn with a bunch of 3-inch holes spaced about 5 inches apart. I didn't really see the benefit since the weight of the drum only caused the soil to compact further together. Watering caused the holes to fill up with water, but most of the water was probably evaporated. Tilling is also a mechanical means of aerating the soil but, as you can imagine, it requires that you either till around your plants or lose them to the process. Plus both methods only aerate so far - as mentioned above 15-20 inches of healthy topsoil is the basis of a good lawn and garden. When TERRA Ultra is applied to soil and watered in, it breaks down the water to provide oxygen into the soil and aerates between each soil particle. After repeated waterings, TERRA Ultra moves deeper and deeper into the soil continuing to aerate when coming into contact with water. Some customers have noted penetration depths of 4 feet and deeper after just 24 hours. Although the penetration depth seen by one application of TERRA Ultra will vary based on the initial soil quality and compaction, this product cannot fail if applied correctly.

5. Mineral and Nutrient Deficiencies
Dead soil does not contain the healthy ecosystem of micro-life, water, and organic matter to sustain plant growth. If these 3 things aren't present in the root zone, then the roots do not have ready access to the required minerals and nutrients and the plant suffers.

Healthy soils need a balance of mineral nutrients. The basic 3 are:
- Calcium (65 to 70 percent is the optimum level)
- Magnesium (12 to 22 percent)
- Potassium (4 to 5 percent) and other trace minerals.

If you use chemical fertilizers, trace minerals are continually being eliminated from the soil. This is due to the fact that chemical fertilizers lack the basic elements needed for lawn health, which allows plants to extract from the soil the necessary elements to allow lawns to grow. Most experts agree that your lawn and plants require from 80 to 120 mineral elements to allow optimum growth. TERRAfeed contains a mixture of over 100 elements, besides the basic 3 (N-P-K). The nutrient rich liquid, TERRAfeed, provides a number of nutrients needed by your lawn due to the excess use of chemicals and bromides.

6. Chemical Fertilizers
Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are just that, chemicals. These fertilizers are causing a toxic buildup of nitrates in drinking water, wreaking havoc in streams, lakes, and even the oceans. Farmers are now aware of the problem and are looking to alternative methods and products. We as home gardeners should be doing the same. If you've continually used chemicals in your lawn or garden, your soil is on drugs. The environment is artificially produced and plants are relying on continual feedings of these chemicals in order to survive. They are dependent on these chemicals since there is no microbial and microbial life left to produce the nutrients that the plants require. Chemical fertilizers destroy these beneficial microorganisms. In addition, chemical fertilizers use salt to deliver the nutrients and minerals to the root zone. This salt builds up over time unless flushed by water. If you have problems with soil percolation or compacted soil, then it becomes difficult to rid the soil of these salts. Salts also cause an imbalance of the pH level in most soils. Ever hear about years ago when people would salt the land so nothing would grow? Now you get the idea. TERRA4M reduces salt levels in the soil and aids in making chemicals inert. Our organic fertilizer, TERRAfeed, is just that, organic. There is nothing scary in our TERRAfeed ingredients in comparison to chemical fertilizers.

7. Erosion
Erosion is loss of soil when transported by natural forces such as wind and water. If your soil isn't able to hold the water that you apply, any runoff contains not just the water, but soil and nutrients along with it. The rate of erosion depends on many factors. Climatic factors include the amount and intensity of precipitation, the average temperature, the wind speed and storm frequency.

Sediment with high sand or silt contents and areas with steep slopes erode more easily, as do areas with highly fractured or weathered rock. If water is able to percolate into the ground quickly, less runoff is generated, reducing the amount of surface erosion.Terra4m can aid in erosion control by binding the soil particles together with amino acids and allowing for soil to absorb water and hold it for longer.

As you can see, all unhealthy dead soils have a cause and effect pattern that continually develops over time. The more we try and help the situation, most of the time we end up making things worse. Healthy soils also have a cause and effect pattern that if established correctly can mean less maintenance time and work and will save you literally hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the life of your landscape. The trick is how to get your soil back to it's original healthy state. The answer is TERRA4M and TERRAfeed.