Soil Aeration Info – Why Does Soil Need To Be Aerated?
The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that there are many different types of soils. There are soils with good drainage, soils with poor drainage, and so forth. These differences depend on factors such as elevation, slope type, soil type and other factors. When it comes to soil aeration, one of the most important things is knowing what kind of soil you have. For example, if your soil has good drainage but poor air pockets, then you need to make sure that the air pockets don’t get too big before trying to aerate the soil. If your soil has poor drainage but good air pockets, then you probably want to try some aerating techniques.
Another thing that needs to be noted is that not all soils are created equal. Some soils have better drainage than others, and some soils have bad drainage. Even within the same soil type, there may be slight variations between areas of the soil. One of the reasons why these differences exist is because different kinds of plants require different amounts of nutrients from their soil. Plants grown in certain parts of the world may need more or less nutrients than those growing elsewhere in the world.
In other words, different plants place different demands on the soil.
In addition to these factors, it’s important to consider the way in which you grow plants. If, for example, you use plants that require lots of nutrients, then you may end up placing more strain on the soil than someone who grows plants that require less nutrients. This is just one of many scenarios that ultimately determine how much drainage a particular piece of soil may need.
1. Large air pockets can cause the soil to dry out too quickly.
One of the immediate effects of large air pockets in soil is that it can dry out too quickly. This, in turn, can place your plants at a greater risk of dying from droughts. Fortunately, there are various ways in which you can go about fixing this problem. One of the easiest ways is to add water-retaining mulch around the base of your plants.
2. Large air pockets can cause plants to become lighter than the surrounding air.
This, in turn, can cause certain plants to be tipped over by strong winds.
Certainly, there are some plants that can handle strong winds, but why put them through unnecessary stress?
3. Air pockets can cause weeds to become more difficult to remove.
Weeds are known to thrive in areas with air pockets within the soil. If you have a lot of weeds, then aerating your soil may help to eliminate these undesirable plants.
4. Air pockets can sometimes cause inconsistent watering.
This is especially true if you use sprinklers to water your plants. Air pockets can cause the water to pool in certain areas and not others. This can result in over-watering in some parts and under-watering in others.
5. Air pockets can cause inconsistent feeding of nutrients to plants.
When using chemical plant foods and other types of fertilizers, air pockets can cause uneven distribution of these substances. This can also result in over-fertilizing in some parts and under-fertilizing in others.
6. Air pockets can cause inconsistent cultivation.
Whether you’re cultivating the soil with a hoe or other tools, air pockets can make this process much more difficult.
7. Air pockets can cause poor mulching adhesion.
This is especially true when using organic mulches such as straw.
8. Air pockets can cause poor seed bed preparation.
Whether you’re sowing grass seed or vegetable seed, having air pockets within your soil can cause poor germination.
9. Air pockets can cause an inconsistent texture within the soil.
This is especially true when it comes to growing vegetables. You may have certain areas of your soil that contain more clay while other areas may contain more sand. This can cause your vegetables to grow inconsistently from each other.
10. Air pockets can cause physical discomfort when working with the soil.
Have you ever had dirt scrape your hands or cut you?
This can be due to working with soil that has a high percentage of air pockets within it. Although this can happen with any type of soil, it’s especially true with soils that have been poorly aerated.
Should You Add Sand Or Compost To Amend Air Pockets?
This is a common question that is often asked by novice gardeners. And while it’s true that you can add either one of these substances to your garden to help improve the soil, it’s not necessarily going to get rid of most air pockets.
For example, adding much sand to your soil is not going to automatically remove most of the air pockets within it. At best, it may help to a small degree. But you can easily add several inches of sand to your soil and still have large air pockets present.
As for compost, it can help to break down large chunks of soil that have been poorly tilled. However, it’s still not going to get rid of most air pockets within the soil no matter how much you add. And if you don’t till the compost into the soil, then it just becomes top dressing.
Should You Add Vermiculite To Amend Air Pockets?
This is another material that many novice gardeners think will help to amend air pockets within the soil. They may do this with the good intention of helping to aerate their soil. But in reality, it’s not going to help all that much.
The reason why is because vermiculite is a mineral that only expands when subjected to high heat. And if you attempt to add this to your garden without heating it up first, then you’re just going to end up with dust all over your soil. Not exactly what you want nor need.
Should You Add Perlite To Amend Air Pockets?
The problem that many people have with vermiculite is that it can be difficult to find and a bit on the expensive side. So for some people, an alternative to vermiculite may be perlite.
As you may already know, perlite is a type of light weight volcanic glass that often absorbs water and expands rapidly. For this reason, it’s often used in soil mixes so that plants can easily take in water.
However, perlite does not break down like compost and it’s not exactly a good substitute for vermiculite either. And since most air pockets in soil are filled with water, perlite is not going to remove them.
A New Approach To Air Pockets
If you’re determined to remove air pockets within your garden soil, then you’re probably going to have to be a bit more hands on than simply adding something to the soil. And that means tilling the soil to break down large chunks and getting rid of most of the air pockets within it.
A common tool that many people use to till their soil is a rototiller. These are often gas powered and easy to use. But if you don’t want to hassle with getting one or simply don’t have the means to get one, you can always use a basic garden hoe to till your soil.
Your soil may be a bit harder to till in certain areas, especially if it’s been recently planted in. But as you till the soil, you’ll quickly realize that it becomes much easier to break down the soil after a few inches have been broken down.
After you’ve reached this level, most of the air pockets should have been removed and you can add whatever amendments you wish at this point.
The bottom line is this, air pockets within your soil are not bad and in many cases beneficial to plant health. So there’s no need to panic or go on some wild goose chase to remove them all. Just know that by tilling your soil correctly, the majority of the air pockets should disappear naturally over time.
What If There Are Still Large Air Pockets In Your Soil?
Now this may be a little more tricky and you may have to get a bit hands on. What I mean by this is that you’re going to have to physically break down the soil using your garden tools. I know this isn’t the most fun thing to do and it can take awhile, but it has to be done.
Start by grabbing your garden hoe and begin breaking apart the larger chunks of soil until it’s at a consistency that is easy to till. As you do this, most of the soil will break down to a point where the air pockets will naturally disappear over time.
But if there are still some stubborn pockets that won’t go away no matter how long you till the soil, then it’s time to get a bit more hands on. Grab your spade or shovel and begin digging small trenches in the area where the air pockets are located.
As you dig, the soil will naturally break down and you’ll start to see some of the air pockets disappear. Once you’ve broken up the soil in these areas a bit, it’s just a matter of refilling the trenches with the broken up soil from the trenches and then re-tilling it. Doing this several times will help to break down the stubborn soil and eventually you’ll be left with soil that has no more air pockets.
The last thing you want to do is create problems for yourself in the future by having soil with too many air pockets. It’s just not a good thing and can be a hassle to deal with. So my advice is to go through the little bit of extra work required to break down the soil correctly in the first place. You, and your plants, will be much happier if you do.
If you aren’t sure about your soil and you feel like you need help, there are many local experts such as a county Cooperative Extension office that can help. They often have testing facilities where they can test your soil for you to let you know what exactly is in it and offer recommendations for amending it.
Watering Your Soil Correctly
Watering your soil isn’t just a simple matter of putting a hole in the ground and filling it up with water. There is a right way and several wrong ways to do it. Let’s start with the wrong ways first since these are the most common ways people kill their plants by overwatering.
The Three Most Common Ways People Kill Their Plants From Overwatering
Let’s start by looking at the three most common ways people overwater their plants and why you should avoid them if you want to have a happy, healthy plant.
Danger Zone One: The Pit
The most common place people kill their plants from overwatering is in their own kitchen sink. That’s right, many people fill a pan or bucket with water, dig a hole in the soil and dump the water into this pit they’ve created. Then they fill the pan or bucket up with water again and repeat this process over and over again.
The problem with this is twofold. First, you are continually washing away the good nutrients and beneficial soil that your plant’s roots need to survive. Second, you are creating a situation where the plant’s roots are always sitting in water which will quickly lead to root rot and kill your plant.
Danger Zone Two: The Flood
Another common way people kill their plants from over watering is by creating a flood. In this case, some people fill a bucket or pan full of water, dig a hole in the soil and just pour the water in. After doing this a few times, the soil becomes completely saturated and water starts to run out the bottom of the pot onto the floor.
The problem here is pretty obvious. You’re killing your plant by drowning it. All that good soil you worked so hard to create is being washed away and the plant’s roots are sitting in water which will lead to root rot and kill it. In fact, if you keep this up long enough, you’ll run out of soil, the pot will fill completely with water and your plant will be swimming in it. Again, this will lead to root rot and the death of your plant.
Danger Zone Three: The Underground River
This is a bit of an oddball and you don’t hear about it too often, but it does happen from time to time. In this scenario, some people will fill a tub or bucket with water, then using a small cup, they’ll continually drop small amounts of water into the soil around the plant. The idea is that they don’t want to over water the plant and completely wash away the good soil, but instead slowly provide moisture to the plant.
The problem with this is pretty obvious too–what you end up with is a soggy environment where the water is sitting right at the roots of your plant. This will lead to root rot just like in Danger Zone Two: The Flood, except in this case it will take much longer since not as much water is present.
The Good Way: Watering From The Bottom
The good way to water your plants is to water them from the bottom. This means taking a bucket or pan and filling it with water. Next you place your plant in this pan/bucket of water and let the soil soak up all the water it can. You want to let it all soak in and even wait a few minutes before taking the plant out because soaking the soil like this helps open up the tiny little air pockets in between the soil particles. These air pockets are crucial to ensuring the good health of your plant’s roots.
Another reason you want to soak your plant’s soil like this is because it reduces stress. Plants are living things and just like us, don’t like surprises. The worst thing you can do is continually drench a plant’s soil then completely drain it right away. This is akin to putting someone in water until they almost drown, then pulling them out, then putting them back in…you get the idea.
It’s stressful and will lead to many health issues for your plant. Soaking the soil allows the plant to slowly get used to being in water and eases any discomfort or stress it may cause.
But What About The Danger Zones?
There are still some people who will soak their plant’s soil, but they’re concerned that it will become waterlogged or develop root rot.
So what do you do about this?
In the case of root rot, you can either just replant your plant into fresh soil when you water it or if the plant is still young and hasn’t developed severe root rot, you can try to save it. The way you do this is take a paper bag, put the plant inside it and seal it up. Place the sealed bag in a sunny location (but not in direct sunlight which could burn the plant) and make a tiny little pin prick in the bag every hour or so for the next 24 hours. This will release the air inside the bag and slowly cause it to expand. You’ll know the bag has expanded enough when you can no longer see signs of the plant inside. At this point, take the plant out of the bag (which you can plant in a pot or just keep in the soil) and place it somewhere dark like a closet or a box. Just make sure it’s in a location with no wind or drafts and isn’t getting too hot or too cold. Keep it like this for 2 weeks and watch for any sign of wilting or yellowing. If the leaves start to turn brown or look severely dehydrated, take extra care with soaking the soil until it recovers.
The other possibility is that you’re watering too much and your soil has become waterlogged. The first thing you want to do if you think this is the case, is see if you can squeeze a handful of soil and have water come out of it. If it does, you need to let it dry out some before adding water to it again. It should feel like playdoh in your hand, and not fall apart easily when you squeeze it.
Next make sure you’re not watering the plant every single day or even every other day as you should with a healthy plant. This is a common mistake that people make; they water it and the soil seems dry, so a couple days later when it seems dry again, they water it again, thinking it needs it. But by this time, the soil is already waterlogged and can’t absorb any more water. The extra water just sits on top of the soil and runs off and all you’re doing is wasting your time and your water.
Is It Okay To Use Bottled Or Tap Water?
While it’s always preferred to use filtered or distilled water, you can also use bottled water as well. You just need to make sure the bottle isn’t a type that contains BPA in the plastic (like some of the store brands) because while most of the BPA will wash off when you first pour it out, there will still be enough to be taken in by your plant and that can cause issues.
As for your home’s tap water, unless you have a reason to believe it’s contaminated, there shouldn’t be any issue with using it in moderation. Just remember that over 80% of the water used by plants is taken up through their roots, so if your tap water has high levels of calcium or other mineral deposits, you may want to use filtered or distilled water for this purpose.
What If I’m Really Desperate And Have No Filtered Water?
If you’re in a true emergency situation and you have no other way to gather or filter water, your next best choice would be to use rainwater. You can catch this in any container that’s not made of metal (which could potentially have chemicals in it that could be toxic to your plant) but a good option is to use a plastic shopping bag. Just place it over your plant and make sure the bottom is tightly sealed. The water will slowly seep in and you can take it out when it gets full. Just remember to change ‘bags’ every now and then so they don’t fill up completely with water.
If you’re really on the ball, you can also save any water that cooking foods in a pan or boiling water in a kettle and gather that as well. Just don’t use water that’s been left sitting out for a long period of time as this could potentially grow harmful bacteria in it.
You can also let your plant sit in a room with a humidifier or by a sink where you’ve run the tap on slowly to let the filtered water slowly drip into the plant. Just make sure it isn’t in direct sunlight or near a draft while doing this, and keep an eye on it for any sign of yellowing or wilting.
What Kind Of Soil Should I Use?
When it comes to the type of soil, you want to use one that’s organic and NOT one that has added fertilizer in it. While a small amount of fertilizer isn’t going to hurt your plant, too much can actually be toxic and since you’re trying to conserve as much as possible, you don’t want to take the chance.
You also want to make sure the soil drains well. If it doesn’t, the water will stay pooled at the bottom and slowly drown your roots.
Can I Put My Survival Garden Outside?
Yes, you can put it outside — BUT only if you live in a frost-free climate (zone 9 or higher) and you know that you won’t get any extended periods of freezing temperatures. If there’s a chance that it may get cold enough for the temperature to go under 32 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to either bring your seed tray inside or plant it outside after all danger of frost has past.
Also, you’ll need to protect your plants from animals large and small that may want to try to eat them or dig them up. A good option for this is to place the tray inside a chicken wire cage that you can build yourself or buy prefabricated.
Can I Use Manure To Help My Seeds Germinate?
You can use manure, but again, go sparingly here. If you live in a city, you can probably gather enough dog manure to help your seeds grow. If not, you’ll need to buy it (and even then, go sparingly as this stuff can get very expensive).
You don’t need to apply it directly on your seeds. In fact, you’re better off not doing that. Rather, you want to dig a shallow hole in the ground (just deep enough for the seed) and then add some manure to the bottom of it before you place the seed in it.
Afterwards, you just fill in the hole and make sure it’s firm but not packed tight and there’s good drainage. Water it well and then keep an eye on it to see when it starts to sprout.
What If I Live In An Area That Gets Cold Even In The Summer?
Sources & references used in this article:
Soil aerating equipment by ME Mayer – US Patent 4,840,232, 1989 – Google Patents
Soil aerating machine by SJ Rizzo – US Patent 4,632,189, 1986 – Google Patents
No-till only increases N2O emissions in poorly-aerated soils by P Rochette – Soil and Tillage Research, 2008 – Elsevier
Aerating grasslands: Effects on runoff and phosphorus losses from applied broiler litter by DH Franklin, ML Cabrera, LT West… – Journal of …, 2007 – Wiley Online Library
Apparatus for aerating a ground layer by M Reincke – US Patent 6,003,613, 1999 – Google Patents
Soil aerating device by BD Clements – US Patent 4,158,391, 1979 – Google Patents
Turf aerating tine by LF Hansen, ML Cozine – US Patent 4,881,602, 1989 – Google Patents
Soil aerating device by CE Hines – US Patent 4,081,034, 1978 – Google Patents