Soil conditioner is a product which is added to soil to improve the soil quality. Soil conditioners can be used to rebuild soils which have been damaged by improper management, to make poor soils more usable, and to maintain soils in peak condition. A wide variety of products can be used to manage soil quality, with most being readily available from nurseries and garden supply stores. People can also generate their own soil conditioner with materials from home.
Many soil conditioners are designed to improve soil structure in some way. Soils tend to become compacted over time, which is bad for plants, and soil conditioners can add more loft and texture to keep the soil loose. They also add nutrients, enriching the soil and allowing plants to grow bigger and stronger. Soil conditioners may be used to improve water retention in dry, coarse soils which are not holding water well, and they can be added to adjust the pH of the soil to meet the needs of specific plants or to make highly acidic or alkaline soils more usable.
Some examples of soil conditioner include: bonemeal, peat, coffee grounds, compost, coir, manure, straw, vermiculite, sulfur, lime, bloodmeal, compost tea, chemical fertilizers, and sphagnum moss. Mulches are also a form of soil conditioner, as they are used to help the soil retain moisture and nutrients so that plants remain healthy. Many soil conditioners come in the form of certified organic products, for people concerned with maintaining an organic garden, and they can be low cost or free. Compost, for example, can be produced at home, along with compost tea. Coffee grounds can often be obtained for free from restaurants and coffee houses which are more than happy to have someone to take away their waste.
Some soil conditioners are worked into the soil with a tiller before planting. Others may be applied after planting, or periodically during the growing season, as is the case with many chemical fertilizers and mulches. Before applying soil conditioner, it is a good idea to perform soil testing to learn more about the composition and structure of the soil, as this testing will determine which conditioners will be more appropriate for the conditions.
While adding a garden soil conditioner can seem like a great way to get a garden healthier, it is possible to overdo it. Fertilizers, for example, are not productive when they are added in excess; over fertilization can make some plants sick, and it also generates runoff into neighboring waterways, which is harmful for the environment.