Gardening Articles and Videos

Since soil is so important, learn how to improve it BEFORE you plant
2/16/2012 | Sheryl McGlochlin

Article image: Since soil is so important, learn how to improve it BEFORE you plant

  • Many new gardeners make the mistake of thinking they can dig a hole in the ground, put a plant in and watch it grow.
  • Experienced home gardeners know otherwise.  Much effort goes in to preparing the soil in the fall, months before planting AND in the spring.
  • There are 16 elements or nutrients a plant needs in order for it to grow.  Learn what these nutrients are and which ones are missing from your soil.

                Overall, plants need 16 specific elements, or nutrients, for proper growth. When enough of each nutrient is present in soil, plants grow optimally. If even one element is in short supply, plants can't grow as well. Think of the weakest-link theory, which says that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Your soil is only as fertile as its most deficient nutrient.


  • Nutrients for photosynthesis:

    The nutrients that plants need in the largest quantities are carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, which plants use for photosynthesis.
  • Mineral nutrients:

    Plants generally get mineral nutrients from the soil or from applied fertilizers. Mineral nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (the familiar N-P-K on fertilizer bags), as well as numerous others. When gardeners talk about feeding plants, they're talking about providing them with extra mineral nutrients.
  • The mineral nutrients needed...

    in the largest quantities are called macronutrients and consist of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. In addition, plants need smaller amounts of so-called micronutrients. The eight micronutrients considered essential for plant growth are iron, manganese, boron, copper, zinc, molybdenum, chlorine, and nickel, all of which occur in very small quantities in most soils. These micronutrients, and other substances found in low concentrations in soils, are sometimes called trace elements. Scientists studying plant nutrition may discover additional micronutrients among the many trace elements in soils.
  • Learn what type of soil you are dealing with i.e. clay, sand, etc.    Contact the Extension Service in your area to do a soil test.  Find information on this by doing a search at USU Extension Service (for Utah).