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What is'poor' soil?

Posted by jim_w_ny Zone 5a (My Page) on
Sun, Sep 7, 08 at 10:01

I'm a rose grower who has battled with growing them for some 16 years. Soil analyses has shown my soil as being adequate in the major elements however lately I've begun to probe the depth of the soil and found it ranges from zero to over 3' the depth of my probe. In my rose beds it averages about 2'. I should have long ago figured that out as shale outcrops on the edge of one of my rose beds. Underlying shale.

Anyway I guess that qualifies as poor. I find that it is amazing how roses vary in their ability to deal with that. Some just shrug it off while others wither and die. No figuring that out just that way it is. So I carefully note commments in rose books that mention, "does well in poor soil". And now plant mostly those and ones from experience have proven themselves. Makes sense doesn't it. I'm a slow learner!

Yet the mention of the term assumes that everyone knows what poor soil is! Beyond soil depth it must also mean in particular structure, nutrients and drainage. Should I also conclude the best way to manage it is to increase the fertilizer and organic matter compared to a deeper soil as there is less to work with for the plant?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: What is'poor' soil?

it must also mean in particular structure, nutrients and drainage.
You're absolutely right about that
High salts can mean "poor soil".
An imbalance of cations can mean "poor soil"
Severely compacted soil can mean "poor soil"
Low nutrients and/or low nutrient holding capacity can mean "poor soil"
Inadequate surface and/or sub soil drainage can mean "poor soil"
If something grows well in low fertility soils but is very sensitive to salinity, does it tolerate poor soils? Yes and no.
If something tolerates high salts but is a heavy feeder and requires relatively high soil fertility, does it tolerate poor soils? Yes and no.
If the author of the literature just parrots the phrase "poor soil" because that's what they read somewhere and they don't know what they mean in their own writing (very common), or they know what they mean but for whatever reason choose not to let you in on it (far less common), you need to find different literature.
Here's something to think about when you read that stuff: Lots of the people who write those books are writers who take an interest in horticulture rather than horticulturalists who take an interest in writing. Consider the source and choose your reading material carefully if you want good information.

Should I also conclude the best way to manage it is to increase the fertilizer and organic matter compared to a deeper soil as there is less to work with for the plant?

You may need to increase organic matter and fertility and you may not. It depends on how they are now, but not when compared to a deeper soil profile.
Keep in mind, the vast majority of the active root zone of plants is from the surface down to 12 or 18 inches. Yes, bigger plants will root further down but those structures are largely for storage and support. You have plenty of active root zone and you don't want to over-load it.


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RE: What is'poor' soil?

Experiment some with raised beds. That way you can decide what you want the soil consistency to be, at least for the top layer down to the bottom of the bed.

Good luck!

soilman


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RE: What is'poor' soil?

The source of my information on poor soil roses is one of the best books on roses, The ARS Encylodedia of Roses written of course by two rose experts with wide experience with roses but not horticulturists. I don't even know any such. However I use such comments mainly to reinforce my experience.

Now as to the soil. I know nothing about many of the points you made such as salinity. I don't think the soil is compacted and it drains well based on simple tests of filling a hole with water and checking how long it takes to drain. It surely could be improved with more organic matter and I will pay more attention to fertilizing it more often.

One thing that has always puzzled me is how is it that even though an analysis shows high P & K yet the rose responds to more? So why is that? The P&K not necessarily available? Or is washed away? Or lacking in organics that it needs to make it available?

Thanks for your help!


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RE: What is'poor' soil?

Poor soil contains low nutrients. It is low fertility soil. If we grow plants in poor soil, then the yield will be very low as it lacks nutrients. It contains high salts. It is not rich organic matter.
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RE: What is'poor' soil?

"Poor" soil is that with low levels of organic matter that has unbalanced nutrient levels and a pH out of the 6.2 to 6.8 optimal range for most plants. Of course if you are growing Rhododendrons and Azaleas that prefer a more acicid soil then a poor soil for them would have a pH in that range.
How much organic matter is in your soil?
What does your soil feel like?
How well does your soil hold together, and also fall apart?
What does your soil smell like?
What is the life in your soil like? How many earthwotrms do you find?


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RE: What is'poor' soil?

The roses which are doing well in the poor soil may not do well if you significantly change their soil. I have a shrub rose which absolutely thrives in sandy alkaline soil. Other roses need significant soil amendment.

The type of fertilizer you use needs to be considered. If you are intent on soil buidling, you want to use organic fertilizers. Miracle Gro, for instance, does nothing for fertilizing soil, it only fertilizes plants. This is true of all chemical fertilizers. Here is a soil building example. If you add bone meal to your soil, you are fertilizing the soil (soil building)--adding phosphorus and other minerals, which in turn will feed the roses. A little bonemeal goes a long way.

Roses generally don't like alkaline soil. Most roses prefer a neutral Ph value--not too acid, not too alkaline. I had to learn the hard way since I moved to New Mexico, which has alkaline soil. I lost quite a few new rose bushes because I didn't fully understand about changing the Ph.

Lorna


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RE: What is'poor' soil?

kimmsr

My most recent soil analysis showed 4.6% organic matter. High P and K, pH of 6.2. The soil smells good, is reasonably friable, toward clay and surely could use more organic matter. No earth worms.

One thing I've noticed lately is when I'm planting or cultivating it doesn't feel wet after a heavy rain. Apparently there are lots of cracks in the shale that let water through. And maybe I should watch watering more as the thin soil might dry out faster than one would think.


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RE: What is'poor' soil?

I have clay amended with construction rubble and trash. How's that for poor soil! I've been improving it with organic matter for 7 years now (as well as removing rocks, chunks of concrete and broken bricks, broken glass, rusty nails, etc.) and it's just now reaching the point where I would call it good soil. And yes, I got a tetanus booster!


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RE: What is'poor' soil?

Jim, 4.6 percent organic matter in any soil is the bare minimum, even though your CES people may tell you that 5 percent is optimal. Work toward 8 percent organic matter which will aid in soil moisture retention.


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