Figuring out how to keep soil moist but not soggy can be challenging. Plants like tomatoes, zinnias, and melons need consistently moist soil, however, if the soil remains soggy they will develop root rot and die.
The trick to keeping soil moist but not soggy is to create well-draining soil before planting anything. The soil in containers and in-ground gardens needs to be amended so it will quickly drain away excess water yet retain even moisture to keep the plants thriving.
Here’s how to create loose, well-draining soil that will help your plants be productive.
There are three basic soil types – loamy, sandy, and clay.
- Loamy is loose and contains organic matter.
- Sandy soil consists mainly of sandy and does not retain water.
- Clay soil is heavy and retains too much water.
The best soil is a combination of all three soil types. Create a planting mixture that is 1/2 loamy organic material, 1/4 sand, and 1/4 clay (also called silt).
Turn the soil to loosen it in an in-ground flower or vegetable garden. Determine which type of soil your garden consists primarily of and add the right combination of amendments to balance it out.
If the soil is mostly sandy, add a 2-inch (5 cm) layer of clay soil and 2-inches (5 cm) of compost on top and incorporate them into the soil. If the soil is mostly heavy clay, add 2-inches (5 cm) of sand and 2-inches (5 cm) of compost and incorporate them into the soil. If your sand is mainly loamy, sprinkle sand over the tops and add 2-inches (5 cm) of compost and incorporate it all together.
You can also add gypsum, perlite, well-aged animal manure, leaf mold, or other organic material to loosen the soil. The goal is to create loose soil so water drains away from the plant roots and air can circulate around the roots.
For containers, use a planting mix (or create one) that contains plenty of compost.
Only water the plants when the soil is dry 1-inch (2.5 cm) down. Tiny plant roots need time to absorb the water in the soil and they also need air. By allowing the soil time to dry out on top the roots will have time to absorb most of the moisture in the soil.
Water plants deeply to encourage deep root growth. Deep weekly waterings are better than daily shallow waterings.
A layer of organic mulch helps the soil retain water so it can stay moist. Apply a 2-4 inch (5 – 10 cm) layer of organic mulch, like straw, compost, or leaves, on top of the garden soil to reduce evaporation.
Mulch will reduce the amount of water needed and prevent weeds so there won’t be competition for soil moisture.