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Look after your topsoil for the best gardening results

A little experience of gardening will help you realise that the topsoil is the key to growing healthy and resilient plants. Topsoil is the first layer, around three to ten inches deep, of soil and it is where a plant will draw most of its nutrition and put down its initial roots.

Get to know your soil

The quality and fertility of topsoil will vary widely according to geographical location and the layout of your garden. Analysing your topsoil can be a complex and involving process, or it can be a simple matter of adding nutrients or fertilisers.

The most serious commercial gardeners will monitor the ph level of their soil and check the presence of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese and zinc. The amateur gardener does not need to be an advanced chemist, but it does help to check that your soil is healthy and suited to the kind of plants or vegetables you want to grow. A healthy general topsoil is the ideal basis, with specific adjustments made with composts and fertilizers depending on the requirements of your plants.

Ideally a topsoil should be made up of roughly equal amounts of sand, silt and clay. Don't be alarmed by the presence of worms and insects; they are actually a sign that the topsoil is healthy and full of useful organic nutrients.

The successful organic gardener invariably has a substantial compost heap. When this has rotted down it makes the best organic addition to your topsoil. For some crops or plants it might be necessary to consider additional fertilisers like horse manure or seaweed.

Dig for victory

It's not just a case of buying a few sacks of topsoil from your garden centre and letting it do all the work. The topsoil needs to be incorporated into the soil already present in the garden with careful tilling. If you are growing vegetables, remember that these take a lot of nutrients out of the soil, so topsoil will need to be replenished and refreshed.

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