Gardening: Choose your soil for your garden wisely

Thinking of purchasing soil, or compost for the garden? Take time to look at various bags or piles for sale before making a purchase. Once soil is delivered, it is just about impossible to return.

Both top soil and compost can be purchased in bulk by the cubic yard or by the bag. For large amounts is cost effective to purchase in bulk. Don’t have a truck? Don’t worry many places deliver in cubic yard bags.

By definition, top soil should be soil removed for the top layer of the ground without any additives. Screened top soil means that they have taken the time to remove all the roots, clumps and rocks. Cost and quality between sellers will vary.

Before purchasing top soil go look at the soil. Dig deep into the soil in a number of places checking to see if it consistent in texture and color throughout. Do not purchase the soil if it contains rocks, wood chunks, strips or lumps of clay or garbage.

A silt or loam soil will be loose and fluffy. Sandy soil feels gritty when rubbed together. Clay slides between the fingers when wet. Do not be surprised when the soil is a combination of two or more types of soil.

Inquire where the soil originated and how long it has been sitting at that location. Soil that was taken from a working filed or pasture may have chemical residue. Soil that sits in a pile, uncovered will contain weed seeds. Soil harvested from a working filed or pasture may contain chemical residue.

Compost, decomposed organic matter is by law, considered a soil additive as opposed to a fertilizer. It does not have to be registered but still has to meet certain criteria to be sold. The product name should carry the main material that was used in the compost. An example being a product that is labeled Cattle Manure must contain at least 60% manure and the rest can be decomposed carbon, plant products.

Compost, is to be sold by weight. The package or bill of sale, should contain the name and address of the company, minimum organic matter and maximum moisture holding capacity. It should also contain the directions for use. Companies and farmers that sell less than 100 tons a year small are exempt from these rules.

By, law compost that is sold cannot contain animal byproducts that can be linked to BSE or human waste. These two stipulations are to protect the food chain from deadly diseases.

If compost is mixed with other ingredients after the composting process is complete, it is then considered a fertilizer and must be licensed as such. Likewise if the product claims to add nutrients to the soil it is considered a fertilizer and a nutrient analysis must be either on the container or with the bill or receipt. .

Follow the same rules when purchasing compost as with top soil; look before purchasing. A well composted product should be consistent in shape and texture. It should not contain lumps, twigs, garbage or recognizable bits. It should smell like soil without any rotting odor.

When purchasing compost from a producer, that does not have labeling in place, ask about the animal feed. Was the hay sprayed? If so which chemicals were used? Do not be surprised if the answer is “I don’t know”. Know that the hay animals eat can contain broadleaf inhibiting chemicals such as Aminopyralid and Picloram. The chemicals pass through animals digestive systems and do not break down in the composting process and will be active in the compost for a number of years. Bottom line, The compost will stop broadleaf seeds from germinating

Care and due diligence when adding materials to the garden is a must as once it is mixed in, it is hard to remove.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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