Soil in Calgary naturally has a basic or high pH, which classifies it as alkaline. This is because our soil actually came from the limestone Rocky Mountains, and was brought into the area by melting glaciers. The lime is what makes our soil more alkaline, and the problem with these types of soils is that valuable nutrients such as iron, zinc, copper, and manganese are reduced in these conditions. Plants tend to prefer a slightly more acidic conditions with a pH of 6.5, and so natural soil in Calgary may require treatment in order to get the best results. Soil-dwelling organisms that are beneficial to plants such as earthworms also prefer a slightly more acidic soil.
In addition, soil quality in the city is generally classified as clay or clay loam. This means that it contains more clay than other minerals or rocks. This means that Calgary soil is dense and heavy as the norm. Although this type of soil quality is not bad, it can make it difficult to grow certain types of plants. Clay swells to retain water and does not drain properly. It can also get tamped down and packed hard, making it difficult for roots to spread and grow.
Testing Your Soil
If you would like to find out the level of soil quality in your yard, garden centres carry simple and accurate tests. You will need to dig a small hole of about two to four inches deep, and ensure to clear away any branches, stones, roots, and other debris. Then fill the hole with distilled water, which has a neutral pH and will not skew the test results. Insert the probe and wait the allotted amount of time. A pH value of 7.0 is neutral. Higher values indicate alkaline soil, and lower values indicate more acidic soil.
There are several ways to improve the pH content of soil, including adding peat sphagnum or acidifying fertilizers containing ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, or sulfur-coated urea. Be sure to inquire about proper use.
Compost Can Improve Soil Quality, But May Not Change the pH
Compost will improve soil quality for sure, but it may not alter its pH value. You won’t be adding enough compost for it to make a huge difference, and well-made compost is generally of neutral pH.
That said, compost is wonderful for gardens as a whole.
The City of Calgary Composting Facility is the largest of its kind in the country. The facility processes about 145,500 metric tons of residential food and yard waste every year through a six-step, two-month process from beginning to end to create the high-quality, nutrient-rich compost that is then sold to landscape soil blenders and compost baggers. The City also gives away compost for free every spring.
Compost works as a soil conditioner, which allows soil to better retain air and water – both crucial for growth. It improves soil structure and increases nutrients, supporting good plant health, and helps your plants fight off pests and diseases. It’s highly beneficial when it is worked into the soil around your trees, shrubs, and perennials, and can also be added to pots of annuals. Use compost with top dressing and seed to help green up your grass. Just remember that planting anything solely in compost is not a good idea. It needs to be mixed (sparingly) into regular soil to work properly. A good ratio is one-part compost to two parts regular garden soil.
More Tips for Planting in Clay or Clay Loam
Anyone who has tried to dig a deep enough hole for a larger tree or shrub in Calgary knows just how difficult it is to break through. Because of the grainy texture of clay it tends to sink and pack down, making for a very hard layer that can seem impenetrable. Clay-based soil can be hard for roots to penetrate, and its density makes for a reduction in oxygen and nutrients.
Mulch is a great way to help protect and preserve your soil. It will absorb and disperse water so that clay does not have a chance to bond together and harden. Mulch also supports earthworm populations, important little workers who aerate soil while digging their tunnels.
Contact Mirage for All of Your Southeast Calgary Landscaping Needs
The pros at Mirage Landscaping have been providing exceptional southeast Calgary residential and commercial landscaping services at affordable rates for three generations. Our family-owned company specializes in residential and commercial landscaping for these southeast Calgary districts and communities:
Auburn Bay, Chaparral, Chaparral Valley, Copperfield, Cranston, Douglasdale, Heritage Pointe, Lake Bonavista, Mahogany, McKenzie Lake, Mackenzie Towne, Maple Ridge, New Brighton, Odgen/Lynwood/Millican, Parkland, Riverbend, Sundance, Walden, and Willow Park.