If the soil in your garden is dry and your plants are suffering for it, you are probably wondering why this is happening, and how to fix it. I was wondering the same thing, so I did some research to find out the answers.
So, why is your garden soil so dry? Soil becomes dry and begins to repel water after a long drought or due to a lack of organic material. To improve the soil, add organic material such as compost or manure, and then water slowly for an extended period of time.
Of course, there are some additional steps you can take to improve the soil’s ability to retain water, and to keep your soil moist in the hottest summer months. Let’s take a look at why your soil becomes dry in the first place, and what you can do to fix and prevent the problem.
Why Is My Garden Soil So Dry?
There are two main reasons that your garden soil can end up dry. One reason is that the soil does not contain enough organic material. The second reason is that the soil is dry due to a drought and lack of watering. Let’s explore both of these causes in more detail.
Your Soil Does Not Contain Enough Organic Material
This is likely if your soil is very sandy, or if you have been planting a garden for many years without replacing any organic material.
Over time, the plants will use up the organic material in the soil as they grow. Remember that chemical fertilizers provide nutrients to plants, but they do not replace organic material in the soil.
This organic material, such as compost or manure, is necessary for the soil to be able to absorb and retain moisture. For more information, check out my article on how to make your own compost and my article on compost versus mulch.
Your Garden Has Not Been Watered Enough
Even if you have enough organic material in your soil, a lack of water over an extended period of time can dry out the soil. This is especially true if the weather has been hot and dry (low humidity), with no clouds. In this scenario, water will evaporate quickly from the soil.
It is also possible that you have been watering at the wrong time of day, when the water will quickly evaporate instead of soaking into the soil.
How to Improve Dry Garden Soil to Retain Moisture
Luckily, there are some ways to improve the composition of your soil so that it will retain more moisture for longer periods of time. This will make your garden more resistant to drought, and it will mean less time spent watering your plants.
Add Compost to Your Soil
Putting compost in your garden is one of the best ways to add organic material to your soil. As an added benefit, compost also provides the nutrients your plants will need to grow.
To make compost, you can use either a pile or a bin made out of wood. You can add grass clippings, leaves, or fruit and vegetable scraps to start your compost pile.
Use a pitchfork to turn the pile over every so often. Eventually, you will find that the compost pile is getting warm. The reason is that the bacteria breaking down the material are generating heat.
If you are lucky, you might also see some worms in your compost pile, helping to break down the organic material. If not, you can always transplant them from somewhere else in your yard, or from a neighbor’s garden. (Always ask before poaching your neighbor’s worms!)
After the compost pile has been reduced to what looks like black dirt, you can add it to your garden. Use a pitchfork to blend the compost mix into your soil. This will avoid disturbing any worms that have taken up residence in your garden. Speaking of which…
Add Worms to Your Garden
As mentioned above, you can transplant worms from other areas of your yard or from a neighbor’s yard to introduce them to your garden. You can also buy worms online, or at a bait and tackle (fisherman’s) shop.
For more information, check out my article on how to get more worms in your garden.
Worms are beneficial for your garden because they break down organic material into compounds that plants can use for growth. Worms also aerate the soil, and loosen compact soil.
Soil that is aerated and loose will hold more water, making it less likely to dry out during periods of drought.
If you need to dig in your garden, use a pitchfork, rather than a shovel or tiller. These tools can cut up the worms and kill them, or at the very least, disturb them so that they head for greener pastures.
Add Manure to Your Soil
Manure is the droppings from animals such as cows, horses, and chickens. These droppings contain plenty of the organic material that your soil needs to retain water.
It is a good idea to let the manure sit for a month or more so that the bacteria can properly break it down. Then, you can use a pitchfork to blend it into your garden, along with any compost or other soil additives.
If you live near a farm or know someone who keeps livestock, ask if you can clean out the manure for them. Often, they will have more than they can possibly use in a garden, and they will be happy to have help cleaning up.
If you live near a place where horses are boarded, you can also ask about taking away some of the manure for free. Again, the owners will probably be happy to have you take it away, and they may even load up your truck or trailer for free!
For more information, check out my article on where to find manure for your garden.
Use Mulch in Your Garden
You can also use mulch (wood chips) in your garden to increase organic material over time, and to prevent dry soil. As an added benefit, a layer of mulch on top of your soil can prevent weeds from getting a foothold in your garden.
When you cover the soil with mulch, it prevents water in the soil from evaporating. This will keep your soil moist for longer periods of time, even without watering.
Be sure to avoid mulching too close to your plants. Otherwise, the moisture retained by the mulch can keep the soil too wet, resulting in root rot or other problems for your plants. Instead, use mulch to cover the soil in a ring around each plant.
Add Blood Meal or Bone Meal
Blood meal and bone meal are soil additives that will replace some organic matter, while also providing extra nutrition for your plants.
Blood meal is a good source of nitrogen for your soil, which helps plants to green up (leaves and stems). Bone meal is a good source of phosphorus and calcium. Phosphorus helps plants to develop roots and flowers, while calcium is necessary for plants to transport nutrients.
How to Add Water to Keep Your Garden Soil Moist
Once you have added enough organic material to your soil, and perhaps mulched to help retain moisture, it is time to add water to your garden.
However, length and timing of your watering is critical. If you dump a large bucket of water on the soil at midday, it will likely all evaporate before it can soak the ground thoroughly.
Instead, water your plants in the morning hours, when temperatures are still cool, and the sun is not at its hottest. That way, the water will get a chance to soak deeper into the soil before evaporating.
When you water, go slowly by walking up and down your rows repeatedly, watering each time you walk by. Alternatively, you can use a soaker hose and leave it on autopilot while you go take care of other tasks in your yard.
Additional Ways to Treat Your Soil
There are a few more ways to treat the soil in your garden, depending on the specific type: clay, sandy, or rocky.
For clay soils, you can add gypsum (calcium sulfate) to increase the soil’s ability to hold water.
For sandy soils, you can add organic matter, as mentioned earlier: compost, manure, or mulch.
For rocky soils, you can sift out the rocks using rabbit caging, and then put the smooth soil in raised beds to grow your plants. For more information, check out my article on how to remove rocks from soil.
Alternatively, you can try to build up the topsoil in your garden with horse or cow manure from local farms or stables, along with grass clippings and leaves from local landscapers.
There are many ways to improve your garden soil so that it will hold more water and retain moisture for longer. However, this is an ongoing process, rather than a one-time event.
Think about it: your plants use up organic material from the soil every year as they grow. It makes sense that you will need to replace that organic material every year with compost, manure, and other soil additives.
If you continue to struggle with dry soil, check out my article on some plants you can grow in dry soil (and other poor soil types).
I hope this article was helpful in solving the problem of dry soil in your garden.