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What Is a Soil Amendment?

Soil Amendment Vegetable Plants

Soil amendments help plant growth by improving soil structure and water retention and delivering essential plant nutrients. Keep reading this article to learn more about the importance of soil amendments!

What Is a Soil Amendment?

A soil amendment improves the physical properties of soil by mixing it with different organic or non-organic materials. Organic amendments come from a living source, such as manure or wood ash. Non-organic amendments come from mined or manufactured sources, such as gypsum or Epsom salts. Soil amendments bring about a healthy environment in the soil for plant roots to thrive.

Why You Need to Amend Your Soil

Soil health determines plant health. That fact holds whether you’re a small-scale or large-scale grower. Plants receive most of the nutrients they need to survive from the soil — except for carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which they receive from water and air. The rest of the nutrients plants get come from the soil. 

Ideally, all soil would always contain the right amount of nutrients for plants and have the right structure for plants to receive those nutrients properly. 

However, numerous external forces in an ecosystem affect soil, reducing its fertility. Some soils may have too much moisture and not enough aeration for plants to grow and breathe. Other soils may be dead and compacted after a harsh winter. When dirt gets compacted, the nutrients plants need to survive become trapped in the earth with no way for plants to access them. 

Amending soil means supplementing it with materials that contain the nutrients plants need or helping them receive nutrients more efficiently. In this way, soil amendments can revitalize dead soil. Here are some benefits soil amendments can provide to your crop yield, plant health and soil structure:

  • Transform dying dirt into vibrant soil through microbial activity
  • Provide increased resistance to fungal diseases and pests
  • Improve plant ability to make efficient use of the soil’s resources
  • Bolster soil structure for better drainage and water retention
  • Enhance the soil’s ability to store carbon, leading to better soil health and increased resilience to weather-related effects
  • Store plant nutrients until plants are hardy enough to use them
  • Supplement the soil with essential nutrients

The three primary macronutrients plants receive from the soil are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Some secondary macronutrients include calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Here is how each macronutrient contributes to soil health:

  • Nitrogen: Besides carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, plants contain more nitrogen than any other element. Nitrogen is part of the chlorophyll molecule in plants — the green part that colors stems and leaves. In turn, chlorophyll is used for photosynthesis — the process whereby plants receive sunlight energy to turn it into food. Nitrogen also helps plant growth, amino acid synthesis and nutrient and water uptake. 
  • Phosphorus: Phosphorus is vital for every plant, intricately involved in energy transference and respiration. Energy transference refers to the process by which plants convert the sun’s energy into carbohydrates. Respiration is the process of using those carbohydrates to grow and develop. Thus, phosphorus helps plants use the energy they receive from the sun to create carbohydrates for plant growth. Phosphorus is also vital for protein synthesis, letting the plant grow strong and sturdy, flower formation and fungal resistance. 
  • Potassium: Potassium helps carbohydrates, water and nutrients move through plant tissue so the entire plant receives what it needs to survive and thrive. Additionally, potassium is involved with enzyme activation — accelerating plant metabolism of proteins, starch and other compounds — and can help slow the progress of various diseases. 
  • Calcium: Calcium is critical in providing stability to cell walls and membranes within plants. It also stimulates specific photosynthesis processes, promotes efficient use of nitrogen and helps plants absorb phosphorus and potassium more effectively.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium makes up the central core of chlorophyll — the part of the plant that absorbs the sun’s energy for photosynthesis. Thus, magnesium is an essential nutrient for the photosynthesis process. 
  • Sulfur: Plants require small amounts of sulfur for enzyme formation. Sulfur also aids in the development of amino acids, proteins and vitamins. 

The micronutrients plants receive from the soil include:

  • Boron: Boron bolsters cell walls, playing an important structural role in plants.
  • Chloride: Chloride helps split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen for plants to use each element.
  • Copper: Copper contributes to photosynthesis and lets plants metabolize proteins and carbohydrates. 
  • Iron: Iron helps plants produce proteins that release energy. 
  • Manganese: Manganese is vital for photosynthesis and sustains metabolic processes. 
  • Molybdenum: Molybdenum helps plants synthesize various amino acids into proteins and gases. 
  • Nickel: Nickel is a urease component — an enzyme instrumental in plant nitrogen metabolism. 
  • Zinc: Zinc is essential to carbohydrate, protein and chlorophyll formation in plants. 

Amending Soil Structure

Soil amendments work in different ways to help the soil, as various types of soil amendments are used for other purposes. Some of soil’s physical and chemical properties that organic and non-organic amendments affect include:

  • Aeration: The oxygen concentration in the soil.
  • Acidity: The pH level of the soil.
  • Drainage: How easily water moves through the soil. 
  • Permeability: The ability of soil to transmit water and air to plants.
  • Salinity: The soil’s salt concentration.
  • Texture: The size of the soil particles and how it feels in your hand.
  • Water retention: The ability of the soil to retain water for plant consumption.

Depending on the soil’s present state, soil amendments may increase or decrease these properties. For example, soil that holds too much water may need an amendment that increases drainage and permeability and reduces water retention. 

Soil amendments are often grouped in packages called soil builders or soil conditioners. This way, the package of amendments works together to provide holistic improvements to the soil rather than singular changes. An example of such a package is the Black Wonder 5000 Soil Builder. This soil builder contains the following ingredients:

  • Amino acids: Amino acids are essential to plant health. They protect plants against fungal diseases and insects by strengthening plant immune systems and reducing reliance upon fungicides and pesticides. They also improve nitrogen uptake efficiency, enhance photosynthesis and growth properties and contribute to numerous metabolic processes.
  • Crab and lobster shells: Crab and lobster shells are rich in calcium, magnesium, nitrogen and phosphorus. These amendments aid photosynthesis processes, strengthen plant cell walls and contribute to mature plant growth. Additionally, crab meal is also associated with protection against various parasites and diseases. 
  • Enzymes: Enzymes, which function as stimulants for various chemical reactions, are the cornerstone of the Black Wonder 5000 Soil Builder. These enzymes supply amino acids to the plant and break down fertilizer compounds and soil minerals so plants can use them before irrigation and rain leach them from the topsoil. As it can take time for microbes to populate with compost before the soil can supply such nutrients immediately to plants, the enzymes expedite the microbial process of transforming dying dirt into living soil. 
  • Gypsum: Gypsum is high in calcium and sulfur and is an essential ingredient for treating dead soil. As a soluble source of calcium and sulfur, gypsum helps with plant structural integrity, photosynthesis stimulation and enzyme formation. Gypsum can also reduce surface crusting, increase aggregate stability, reclaim soils with high salt content and improve water infiltration. 
  • Humic acid: Research shows that humic acid significantly improves nutrient uptake of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus — the three primary macronutrients. Humic acid can also enhance microbial activity, regulate soil acidity, enhance root growth and promote increased crop yield. 
  • Microbes, or beneficial biologicals: Beneficial microbes are essential for breaking down nutrients in the soil for plant consumption. Some microbes in the Black Wonder 5000 Soil Builder include Bacillus spp., Enterococcus spp. and Lactobacillus spp. If enzymes are the cornerstone of this product, microbes are the foundation of long-term plant health. Microbes are the key players involved in reviving dead soil. The more beneficial microbes a soil contains, the more fertile it likely is. 
  • Mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae are beneficial fungi that increase plant water and nutrient uptake by extending the root system. Most of the world’s plants have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi — with both plant and fungi benefiting from their interactions. These fungi also release potent enzymes into the soil to break down various nutrients that are difficult for plants to access and consume. Mycorrhizae can also protect against various soil-borne diseases. 
  • Polymers. Black Wonder 5000 Soil Builder uses natural, biodegradable polymers to promote soil stability and store food for plants. With a weaker magnetic pull than plants, plants can pull nutrients from the polymers and not the other way around. This way, polymers can hold food for plants until they need it. 
  • Sea kelp. Sea kelp is rich in potassium and improves soil conditions by breaking down nutrients and compost. As a biostimulant, sea kelp also promotes efficient nutrition use, increases stress tolerance and enhances traits of various plants. 

How to Choose the Right Soil Builder for Your Needs

When choosing a soil builder, there are many considerations to take into account. You will want to have a firm grasp on the current state of your soil before making a decision. As mentioned, the state of your soil will determine what amendments you should include in your soil builder package. For this reason, it’s essential to conduct soil testing before deciding on a soil builder. 

Testing the Soil

Many soil tests come in kits you can order online or purchase at a gardening center that evaluate the texture and acidity of your soil. The texture’s soil informs a lot about its health, including moisture retention, nutrient uptake and more. For example, small, sticky soil particles indicate high water retention, while large and crumbly particles suggest the opposite. 

You can also send in soil samples to some scientific laboratories that can professionally test the soil and provide you with the results. Professional soil testing is generally more accurate and thorough than at-home tests. You can access these soil tests through your local county extension office. Besides soil texture and acidity, professional soil tests can also evaluate micronutrient levels, salt concentration levels and the amount of organic material in the soil. 

With professional soil testing, there are three general steps:

  1. Get a sample bag with instructions from your local county extension office.
  2. Fill the sample bag with the soil.
  3. Select the type of testing and send the sample with your information to a testing laboratory in your state. 

After receiving your results from a professional soil test, feel free to send a copy of them to the team at Black Wonder 5000! Our soil amendment professionals would be happy to read your results to provide recommendations for the type of soil builder product you should buy. 

Choosing a Good Soil Amendment

When choosing a soil builder, you’ll want to consider the following factors:

  • How long it takes for the amendment to decompose: For quick improvements to your soil, a rapidly decomposing amendment works best. If you’re looking for long-lasting improvements — even if they take some time to come to fruition — a slowly decomposing amendment will provide you with what you need. Some amendment packages, like the Black Wonder 5000 Soil Builder, combine rapid and slow decomposition amendments so you can get the best of both worlds. 
  • The soil texture: Soil texture is related to the soil’s moisture retention and permeability. The three different textures are sand, loam and clay. Sand soils are gritty and have large particles. They also have low moisture retention and high permeability. Clay soils are the opposite. With sticky texture and small particles, clay soils have high moisture retention and low permeability. Loam soils tend to be a more balanced mixture of sand, silt and clay, with medium-sized particles and leveled moisture retention and permeability. 
  • The salinity of the soil and amendment: The salinity of the soil and amendment refers to the salt concentrations in each. Salt can be good for some crops and harmful to others. It’s important to know how salt affects the crops you’re growing when considering this factor. Given that information, you’ll know whether you need to raise or lower the salinity of your soil with an amendment or find an amendment that keeps it at a neutral level. 
  • The acidity of the soil and amendment: Like salinity, some plants prefer acidic soil and others like it more alkaline. Find out what pH range your crops prefer before choosing a soil amendment package. Various amendments raise or lower acidity in the soil, so after finding out what pH range your plants prefer, you’ll want to find out how acidic your soil is to determine whether you want a soil builder that raises or lowers the soil’s acidity.

Black Wonder 5000 Soil Builder

The Black Wonder 5000 Soil Builder consists of a proprietary blend of enzymes, microbial metabolites and other ingredients that will enliven your soil with ideal nutrition and structure. If you’d like to learn more about this product or want more information on how to send in soil test results, we’d love to hear from you! Contact a member of our team today or buy online

Seeding Schedules

April 21 – August 14

  • Tall Fescue 200#/acre
  • German Millet 3#/acre as summer cover crop

NOTE: Above is out of season for cool season grasses.

Better Summer Option #2

April 21 – August 14

  • Bermuda Grass 20# acre
  • Centipede 4#/acre
  • German Millet as cover crop #3/acre

August 15 – April 20

  • Tall Fescue 150#/acre
  • Hard Fescue 50#/acre
  • Heat Tolerant Bluegrass 15#/acre
  • Rye Grain as cover crop 10#/acre

NOTE: From November 1 – March 1, add additional 25# Rye Grain as winter cover crop.

NOTE: Mountain counties change dates by 2 weeks plus or minus and include Tall Fescue year round.

Slopes, Silt Ponds, Natural Low Maintenance areas

April 21 – August 14

  • Tall Fescue 50#/acre
  • Serica Lespediza Inoculated 8#/acre
  • Bermuda 10#/acre
  • Bahia 10#/acre
  • Korean Lespediza 15#/acre
  • Weeping Love Grass 4#/acre
  • German Millet as cover crop 13#/acre

August 15 – April 20

  • Tall Fescue 100#/acre
  • Winter Peas inoculated 12#/acre
  • Serica Lespediza Inoculated 8#/acre
  • Kobe/Korean Lespediza Inoculated 13#/acre
  • Clover Inoculated 10#/acre
  • Bahia 5#/acre
  • Rye Grain 75#/acre

From November 1 – March 1: Add 50# of additional Rye Grain as winter cover crop

NOTE: Mountain counties change dates by 2 weeks plus or minus and add more tall fescue.

NOTE: Incorporating Black Wonder 5000 into soil will inoculate all legumes.

April 6 – September 6

  • Bermuda 20#/acre
  • Centipede 6#/acre
  • German Millet 3#/acre as summer cover crop

September 7 – April 5

  • Tall Fescue 150#/acre
  • Unhulled Bermuda 25#/acre
  • Centipede 8#/acre
  • Rye Grain as cover crop 15#/acre

Slopes, Silt Ponds, Natural Low Maintenance areas

April 6 – September 6

  • Centipede 3#/acre
  • Kobe/Korean Lespediza Incoulated 15#/acre
  • Bermuda 15#/acre
  • Bahia 15#/acre
  • Weeping Love Grass 5#/acre
  • German Millet 13#/acre as cover crop

September 7 – April 5

  • Tall Fescue 50#/acre
  • Winter Peas Inoculated 15#/acre
  • Red/White Clover Incoulated 10#/acre
  • Kobe/Korean Lespediza Incoulated 15#/acre
  • Centipede Grass 3#/acre
  • Bahia 15#/acre
  • Unhulled Bermuda 15#/acre
  • Rye Grain 75#/acre as cover crop

NOTE: On steep slopes add 10# Serica Lespediza to above mixes

NOTE: Incorporating Black Wonder 5000 into soil will inoculate all legumes

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