What exactly is good soil?

What exactly is good soil? I used to know, then I have heard too many answers to this question to think that I know any more.
In particular, I am talking about a soil that is natively clay, in zone 4 or 5, used for flowers (both annuals and perennials).
Some people say, ADD SAND. Other people say, No, if you add sand, you'll just lock up the clay and make "concrete" out of it.
Some people say, ADD COMPOST. Other people say, No, if you add compost, you'll lower the pH too far.
And similarly for adding manure, Miracle-Gro, lime, bark, lawn clippings, dry leaves, etc etc etc.
Can somebody who really knows, please settle this?
Thank you very much!
Ted Shoemaker
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Good soil is largely dependent on the kind of plants that you hope will grow on it. A good balance of compost, sand, clay, gypsum, bark, lawn clippings, etc makes good soil for general gardening needs.
Miracle-Gro is good, if you use it with an understanding of what it is. Think of Miracle-gro as the plant world of a candy bar, gets the plant some fast quick energy but not great for the plant in the long run, because it doesn't provide nutrients for the microfauna in the soil.
Snooze
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Ted Shoemaker wrote:

Before you can answer that question, you need to define what it's suposed to be good for!
Good soil for building on? Good soil for acid-loving plants? Good soil for a lawn? Good soil for containers? Good soil for a bog? What you intend to use the soil for dictates what qualities are desired.
Now if you're just trying to make a generally loamy soil out of something with a lot of clay, the folks that say don't add sand are right. Adding sand to clay may help the soil drain better, but think about what happens when you let clay out to dry. It becomes hard. And once it becomes hard, then it's just not going to soak-up much water. But if that's what you want....
Compost tends to eventually become neutral ph in nature. If you add it to a soil with high ph, yes, it will eventually lower the ph, but if you add it to soil with low ph, it'll eventually raise the ph. Of course we're talking long-term changes. But again, if that's what you want...
Adding fresh (not composted) manure, bark, clippings, dry leaves, etc. essentially turns the area into a compost bin. Non-decomposed organic material will tend to pull nitrogen to aid in the decomposition. Eventually you'll end up in the same place you would have if you had waited for everything to compost first. Each fall I do this to my vegetable garden by piling shredded leaves on it, and tilling them in.
Adding more potent stuff to soil, such as fertilizer, lime, sulfur, bone meal, blood meal, etc. may be something you would want to do to adjust for deficiencies in the soil. Generally they won't change the texture or drainage, so in a week or two, a handful of the soil is going to look and feel about the same as it did before you added these things. Whether they're needed or not is something that can't be generalized, and can only be determined by soil testing. And again, part of that answer is going to depend on what it is you want the soil to be good for.
So "good soil" can't be defined until you define what you want it to be good for.
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Warren H.

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Good soil for the majority of plants is one that is neutral to slightly acidic in pH, well draining but moisture retentive with a moderate organic matter content and and a healthy population of soil organisms. The best way to lighten heavy clay soils is with organic matter and the best organic matter is well aged compost. Compost is virtually neutral as far as pH is concerned and nearly all soils will have a buffering capacity that will resist substantially changing the pH anyway. Clay soils have a very high buffering capacity.
You can lighten heavy soils with gypsum or coarse sand but you will need a lot. And the sand must be coarse. Too little sand or too small a particle can contribute to the 'concrete' effect. And neither contribute organic matter, which promotes the populations of soil organisms that assist the plants in metabolising the nutrients in the soil they need to be healthy.
Miracle Gro is a fertilizer. It does nothing to improve the quality or structure of soil and can result in a build up of fertilizer salts if used excessively (as will any chemical fertilizer).
Lime is a de-acidifier used to 'sweeten' very acidic soils. Since the greatest majority of plants prefer a soil that is slightly acidic, unless your soil has a very low pH, adding lime is typically not necessary unless you are growing plants which require neutral or slightly alkaline conditions (like a number of veggies). The exception are lawns, which grow best in nearly neutral soils and lime will help to deter the development of moss in lawns also.
Bark, lawn clippings and leaves can be used as mulches or can be incorporated into the soil to add organic matter or can be added as raw ingredients to the composting process.
Very few of us have the benefit of a "good" soil to begin with - it takes time and continual amending with organic matter to achieve what is considered ideal - a loose, friable soil with varied texture and high fertility.
pam - gardengal
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If you faithfully added well-composted cow manure (an inch or so every single year) and lightly raked it in to the top of your existing soil, over time (say in 3 or 4 years), you'd have a lovely soil that would enable most of the annuals and perennials that do well in zones 4 and 5 to thrive quite well. Depending on where you live, earthworms will do a lot of the work for you, because they will tunnel through the soil and the compost redistributing it more evenly. Even though aged manure is relatively low in nitrogen relative to fresh, it still adds more than most commmercial composts, which are heavy on forest products (shredded bark and sawdust primarily). I say to rake it in, because sometimes compost will sort of clump on the top of the soil, absorbing most of the water, and therefore acting a bit like mulch instead of a soil amendment.

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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (Ted Shoemaker) wrote in message

good soil (for lawns, vegetable gardens, and 90% of ornamentals) is something that has gone through an earthworm 3 or 4 times. so just add worm food and make it comfortable for them to live in there, and wait maybe 3 years. To add depth to your clayish good soil, use green manures with deep roots (the roots form vertical channels when the plant dies).
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (Ted Shoemaker) wrote in message

good soil (for lawns, vegetable gardens, and 90% of ornamentals) is something that has gone through an earthworm 3 or 4 times. so just add worm food and make it comfortable for them to live in there, and wait maybe 3 years. To add depth to your clayish good soil, use green manures with deep roots (the roots form vertical channels when the plant dies).
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HI
There is nothing wrong with a clay loam soil. IT needs compost or peat moss for aeration. The pH may drop, but you need 75% compost and that is just not possible.
Don't add sand as it DOES RUIN A CLAY SOIL. iT IS A NON FRIABLE SOIL.
If you add llawn clippings or leaves feed the soil with a high nitrogen soil. This will feed the bacteriums that decompose the Organic Matter.
Derryl Killan Horticulturalistt Calgary Zone 3 A

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Lawn clippings tend to be rather high in nitrogen as far as non-composted material goes - about 54.7 lbs per ton compared to a high of 31 lbs/T for unprocessed chicken manure. That's why mulching mowers are recommended to reduce fertilizing needs on lawns. Leaves offer considerably less, but still an appreciable amount. There is absolutely no need to add nitrogen fertilizers to hasten decomposition if using uncomposted grass clippings or leaves to amend your soil. Nitrogen fertilizers do not feed soil organisms - they get all the nutrients they need by processing the organic matter (as well as other organisms) and in return, release nitrogen in a form that can be metabolized by the plants.
And as an FYI, bacteria is the plural of bacterium (no 's').

Ted, it still looks like you're getting too many disparate answers to your question :-( You might want to investigate the Soil Biology Primer, a good, basic introduction to soil quality, fertility, tilth and the biomass that lives within it. http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/soil_quality/soil_biology/soil_biology_primer.html
pam - gardengal
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Yeah, like I said . . . I used to know what's going on, or at least I thought so, until I asked 3 people and got 5 opinions. :)
Diversity of opinion is a good thing. I'm not complaining about everyone's contributions. I've just got to figure it out.

Good idea. Thank you.
Ted Shoemaker
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The primary characteristic of good soil is that it drains well and has enough pore space to allow air to penetrate. Otherwise despite good fertillity the plant roots will die. Nothing wrong with clay soil, number one rule is not to work it when it's wet.
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (Ted Shoemaker) wrote:

It depends upon the plant. Every plant likes things a little different. That gives it an advantage over other plants.
Every plant has a pH preference. Some plants like a acid soil others like neutral or basic soils. Some are tolerant of pH and some are not.
Some plants like a soil rich in nutrients and some like a poor soil where other plants can't compete. Some plants like water soluable nutrients, some like organic nutrients and some like mineral nutrient sources. Some plants need certain nutrients and some need to avoid certain nutrients. And some plants don't care.
Some plants like sand, some like a rich loam, some like clay, and some like water. Some like a certain combination of the above and some don't care..
Some plants like a well drained soil, some like an arrid soil, some like a most soil, and some like living in wet soil. Some like a combination of the above and some don't care.
Some plants like a soil rich in microbes and some like a sterile soil. Some don't care and some are very microbe specific.
So good soil only make sense if you know what is going to be planted.
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I live in red clay country (aka NC). Here's my recipe for a new garden bed: Dig up the ground in spring, loosen well. Mix in some peat moss (about 1/2" to 1" thick when spread on the ground). "Soil conditioner" made of minced pine bark also works. Put the plants in and then mulch with about 1" - 2" of pine bark mini-nuggets. As the mulch degrades (I replace mine each year), the soil is enriched in humus.
Clay has plenty or nutients in it. I lime the grass, but never the beds. Some beds are 12 years old and still going strong.
On 29 Sep 2004 12:34:33 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (Ted Shoemaker) wrote:

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