Poor soil can describe a range of conditions. It can mean compacted, hardpan, clay, excessively clay, sandy, dead and nutrient depleted, salty or chalk, rocky, and acidic soils. You can experience just one or a combination of these soil conditions.

When you dig holes for plants, or even after planting, poor soil conditions are mostly not noticed until the plants perform poorly. Poor soil conditions can restrict plant water nutrient uptake and root development, causing plants to be yellow, wither, dry up, stunted, and even die.

What is a garden soil conditioner?

Soil conditioners are soil additives that improve the soil structure and increase nutrient availability. These products help keep the soil loose and porous, allowing for better drainage and aeration.

They also help retain moisture and prevent compaction. Some soil conditioners contain beneficial microbes, making them useful for improving plant health.

Clay, hardpan, and compacted soils don’t have enough space for air and water, causing roots to become stunted and less effective. This makes it difficult for plants to absorb nutrients. Adding soil conditioners helps alleviate this problem.

Good soil should contain 50% organic or inorganic material, 25% air space, and 25% water space. Air and water can’t move through clay, hard pans, and compacted soils.

Beneficial microorganisms are a major component of organic matter in good soil. The survival of many microorganisms is impossible without adequate air and water.

Types of soil conditioners

Inorganic and organic soil conditioners are the two main types. The difference isn’t a reflection of the quality of either one. The soil conditioners made from organic materials include animal manure, compost, residue from cover crops, sewage sludge, sawdust, or peat moss.

These materials’ names come from the fact that they were all living. Organic soil conditioners often improve water retention and nutrient content. Regardless of your soil type, these conditioners are almost always a fantastic addition.

Inorganic Conditioner (Soil Fertilizer)

Inorganic soil fertilizers are chemical compounds that can improve soil quality and health. They contain nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sulfur elements. 

These nutrients help increase plant growth by improving the texture and structure of the soil. Some inorganic soil fertilizers include nitrate, ammonium, urea, superphosphate, muriate of potash, gypsum, and elemental sulfur.

Organic Conditioner

Organic soil conditioners are derived from natural sources like manure, composts, humus, peat moss, straw, decomposed leaves, wood ash, etc. Organic soil conditioners provide nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They also act as a source of carbon and contribute to maintaining soil structure.

How do soil conditioners affect the soil?

Soil conditioner is an organic matter added to the soil to improve its physical, chemical, and biological properties. It can be used as a fertilizer or mulch to improve soil quality. The most common soil conditioners are composts, manure, peat moss, vermicompost, green manures, seaweeds, etc.

These products have many benefits, including increasing organic matter content, improving air and water movement, reducing erosion, providing nutrients for the soil organisms, building humus, creating a healthy environment for microbial life, improving seed germination rates, promoting plant growth, and enhancing the overall fertility of the soil.

When you use soil conditioners, there are three main ways that they affect the soil:

1) Improves soil structure.

2) Increases nutrient availability.

3) Promotes plant growth.

How do I know if my soil needs conditioning?

There are several ways to evaluate your soil before adding a soil conditioner. If you see any of the following problems with your soil, you may need to add a soil conditioner to your garden.

1) Stagnant soil. If your soil becomes stagnant because it is too wet or too dry or lacks oxygen, then you will not get much benefit from using a soil conditioner.

2) Clayey soil. Clayey soil does not drain well, which leaves excess moisture behind when rain falls. This leads to puddles forming in the soil, which creates anaerobic conditions. Anaerobic conditions make it difficult for soil microbes to live in and break down organic matter. This prevents the decomposition processes needed to release nutrients into the soil.

3) Compacted soil. Compacted soil is very dense, which limits air and water flow. This causes root rot and other diseases.

4) Lack of nutrients. Nutrients such as phosphorous, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iron, copper, zinc, boron, chlorine, and molybdenum are essential for growing plants. When these nutrients are present at proper levels in the soil, they help plants grow better and produce more fruits and vegetables—a lack of nutrients results in poor plant growth and reduced crop yields.

5) Low pH. High acidity (low pH) is caused by high aluminum, iron, or sulfate ion concentrations. Aluminum is commonly found in fertilizers like ammonium nitrate. Iron can come from iron-rich rocks, fertilizers, or animal waste. Sulfur comes from fertilizers or sewage sludge. All of these elements can harm plant roots.

6) Acidic soil. An acidic soil occurs when fossil fuel burning releases excessive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide combines with water molecules to form carbonic acid, decreasing the hydrogen available for plant roots. This makes it harder for plants to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.

7) Drought-tolerant plants. Many plants require adequate moisture to survive, especially during the hot summer. However, some plants thrive in drought conditions, so choosing plants suited to your climate is important.

Here is how to Use Soil Conditions

1. Dig a hole in the soil and put your seed in it. Make sure that the surface of the ground is moistened or kept wet. The seeds can be planted directly from the bag, or you may have them pre-soaked in water for about an hour before planting.

2. Cover with soil (about 1/4 inch) and press down firmly. Water thoroughly.

3. Keep fertile soil from sun exposure since sunlight can burn delicate roots.

4. Place your container where temperatures won’t drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s best to avoid direct sunlight and frosty nights.

5. Check on your container weekly until the sprouts appear. Once a week is sufficient.

6. Remove weeds and thin them out if necessary. Do this only after all of the sprouts have emerged.

7. After 3 weeks, remove the cover and continue to monitor the plants.

8. If the sprout has reached its full height, transplant it to another pot or outdoor garden. You should keep the same soil mixture but add compost to enrich the soil.

9. Continue watering daily, regardless of whether or not there is precipitation. Don’t let the soil get dry.

10. After 30 days, check again for signs of disease or pests. If necessary, treat the problem according to the instructions included on the fertilizer label.

11. Sprouting seeds need regular moisture; they reduce their water requirements once they germinate.

Here are some best soil conditioners

Charlie’s Compost

Charlie’s Compost is a product designed to help people looking to improve soil fertility without dealing with the hassle of making their compost.

The company offers three different products containing a specific blend of natural ingredients that work together to produce a rich, nutrient-rich fertilizer. All three contain chicken manure, a high-nitrogen material that helps plants grow faster, stronger, and healthier.

The company uses a proprietary process to mix the ingredients into a homogeneous mixture. They use a “composter,” which works like a blender. Once mixed, the resulting substance goes straight into bags, which can be used directly on crops.

Simple Lawn Solutions’ Soil Loosener

If your soil is tightly compacting, either by repeated pressure over many years or because it’s clay-rich, you might want something that will loosen it up. Compacted soil is difficult to work with, limiting the amount of oxygen and water roots can reach. This makes it harder for nutrients to move into the plant’s root zone.

A simple way to fix this problem is to use a product like Simple Lawn Solutions’ soil loosener. This liquid fertilizer contains ammonium lauroyl sulfate, which breaks down clays and helps make soils less compacted.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural Science found that soil treated with the compound had better aeration and moisture retention than untreated soil.

The chemical name sounds complicated, but it’s very common. Ammonium lauryl sulfate is often used to treat clay-based soils. It’s been around since the 1940s, and plenty of studies show how effective it can be.

Once your soil is a little looser, adding additional amendments is easy. You can do that easily once your soil becomes loose enough to work with.

Jobe’s Organic Garden Lime

Soil pH can be a trickier issue than most people realize. Regular testing isn’t enough if you’ve got clay soils, acidic ones, or both. You’ll want to pay attention to the pH level over time. A good way to do this is to test your soil every month.

If you find that your soil is becoming too acidic, you can add lime to raise the pH levels. This is done by adding limestone — calcium carbonate — to the soil. It works like a sponge, absorbing water and releasing carbon dioxide into the air.

The amount of lime needed depends on the type of soil you have. For example, if you have a sandy loam, you’ll need about half a pound per square foot. In contrast, you’ll need about one-quarter pound per square foot if you have clay soil.

You don’t always need to buy a bag of lime. Jobe’s offers bags of organic garden lime that are ready to go. Just follow the directions included with each bag. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using dry or wet lime; they’re just as effective.

Brut Worm Farm’s Worm Casting

Worm castings are the nutrient-rich droppings that earthworms produce. They contain nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and trace minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, and manganese. These nutrients help plants grow bigger roots and leaves and make plants stronger. In addition, worm castings improve soil structure and add humus.

You can use worm castings to amend garden beds or plant containers. Or you can mix them into potting mixes or mulch around trees or shrubs. Worm castings are especially good for planting shade trees because they provide high phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen levels.

Apply worm castings directly to the soil surface rather than mixing them into the ground for best results. This way, the nutrients remain close to where they are needed most. If you decide to incorporate worm castings into the soil, mix one part worm castings with three parts dry soil. Add water and let sit for several days before planting.

Frequently Asked Questions [FAQs]

1. What Is The Best Soil For Vegetables?

A rich, soft soil that allows roots to grow deep enough to soak up nutrients is essential for healthy, productive plants.

2. How Should A Garden Be Started?

You can jumpstart the growing season by preparing your soil well.

3. What Is Soil PH?

Particle size was related to soil type, whereas nutrition and fertility were related to soil pH.

4. Is There Perfect Soil?

“Loam” is a name given to perfect, balanced soil. The ideal soil texture includes equal parts of sand, silt, and clay, known as “loam” or “loamy.” The perfect balance is found in loamy soil—it holds water well, drains well, allows oxygen to reach plant roots, and is rich in humus (organic matter).

5. Can You Plant Directly Into The Soil Conditioner?

Because soil conditioners do not provide good root support for plants, you cannot grow them in just soil conditioners. It may cause root problems if the roots are over-fertilized with soil conditioners.


To harvest healthy food, you need to keep a close eye on your soil. If you find out your soil isn’t doing well, soil conditioner is just what you need. It will work to help you grow healthy foods. I hope this article has given you enough idea about soil conditioners so you can improve your soil now without hesitation.

About the Author

Virginia E. Hayes is a gardening enthusiast who loves to write about gardening tools, safety issues, and ways to keep gardens clean and safe. With her vast experience in gardening, she provides valuable insights and tips to help fellow gardening enthusiasts to enhance their gardening experience. Her passion for gardening and writing has made her a sought-after author in the gardening community.

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