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What is soil?

When we care for our soil our plants are healthierSoil… most people just think of it as dirt. Now, before you nod off or skip to a more exciting article, consider this: “Would you dig a hole in your backyard, throw in your wallet, cover it up and walk away?” If the answer is no, read on.

Some people think soil is boring, but it’s so important! Healthy soil is a living, breathing organism vital for the health and well-being of our precious plants, our earth and therefore our own health.. And just as we feed and nurture our plants, so must we feed and nurture our soils.

But what makes a healthy soil, how do we achieve it, and how will it benefit us as gardeners?

Let’s unearth the mystery of soil

Technically, soil is the thin layer of material that covers the earth’s crust. It provides plants with support, mineral nutrients, water and air. Soil is derived from the weathering and breaking down of rocks, with the addition of varying types and levels of organic matter. The amount and type of organic matter in the soil, coupled with the original rocks, determines the structure, nutrient content and behaviour of the soil. These are all very important factors to understand when planting a garden.

Most Australian gardeners are presented with quite poor soils. These are a result of housing and urban development, overworking, previous chemical practices, poor watering practices and so on. In addition, much of the soil in our urban and suburban spaces has been bought in from elsewhere, with gardeners facing a bit of an unknown quantity when they venture out the back door.



The most important factor in a healthy garden is healthy soil. This means that your plants can only be as good as the soil they grow in. If you have an exhausted soil with no nutrients, your plants will struggle and may starve to death.

If you have heavy clay soil, as most of us in the City West Water area do, your plants will not get enough drainage and will probably drown!

Healthy soil is a living, breathing organism

What is in soil?

Soil is full of life and it needs some of the same things which animals and plants need to survive, like air, water and nutrients. We cannot easily see all the activity going on in the soil but we can smell it and feel it to get a sense of its health.




Healthy soil will have about:

  • 24% air
  • 25% water
  • 45% minerals
  • 3-5% humus*
  • up to 1% living organisms

*Humus is the dark organic material that is the end product of composting.

Humus is the dark organic material that is the end product of composting

But what if your soil is not healthy and your plants are not performing? Fear not, we have the answer! Get to know your soil to ensure a healthy and thriving garden.






To assist you in discovering what soil type you might have in your backyard and how to work best with what you have, read our articles on –




Information in the soil series articles provided by Helen Tuton

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