Soil preparation is an essential part of producing healthy fruits. There is nothing more satisfying than harvesting fresh, tasty fruits from your own backyard, which is the dream of every farmer. To get better results for your produce, it all begins from the soil preparation and planning.
Soil preparation involves coming up with a way to improve the soil you used for planting the fruits. This practice requires improving the soil nutrients, its composition, pH balance, soil consistency, and drainage.
Proper preparation of the soil will ensure you harvest delicious and tasty fruits. The right type of soil should be able to increase the fruit production.
Fruit trees do well in soils with proper drainage and nutrients.
How to Improve Soil Drainage and Consistency in a greenhouse
Test Soil Drainage
You can dig a hole in the planting area and fill it with water. The soil should be able to drain the water in three to four hours. Add more water and wait to drain it in three to four hours. If the water could not drain within that period, it is an indicator that the soil can’t drain water enough and it cannot support the fruit tree’s growth.
If it drains in less than three hours, the soil in that area is sandy. You can improve this by adding more organic matter into the soil.
You can improve soil drainage by building a drainage system, having raised beds in the greenhouse, or planting mounds.
Install a French Drainage System
If you’re having a slow draining soil in the area, you can install French drains to speed up the drainage. Slow draining soil can be due to a thick and sticky clay layer clogging up underneath the topsoil. Installing the underground drainage pipes (French drainage system) can help solve the problem.
Use Organic Matter to Improve Soil Damage
If the soil is sandy and it rains quicker, the fruit trees may not get enough water to enable them grow healthy. You can solve this problem by adding a mix of composted organic matter to the soil. Doing this will help the soil to retain more moisture while the fruit tree roots are being established.
You can use a rototiller to mix the compost to the soil. You can buy or rent one from your local garden center.
After mixing the soil with organic matter, test it again with water and observe the drainage. As stated, it should drain within three to four hours.
The amount of organic matter added to the soil will depend on the rate of your soil drainage.
Protect the Tree Root Crown with a Mound
The root part of the fruit tree below the soil level is called the root crown. The root crown is vulnerable to excess moisture in the soil; therefore, you need to raise the planting area using a mound.
You can create a raised mound in your planting area by backfilling soil in the holes. This creates a gentle slope and raises the planting area, and the gentle slope prevents soil erosion.
Build a Raised Bed to Protect the Root Crown
You can also use raised beds instead to prevent soil erosion caused by the mounds.
You can build a raised bed through designing a simple wooden box, which will hold the soil around the fruit tree. The wooden box keeps the soil line raised high, and thus protecting the root crown from excess moisture.
Break Up the Soil Consistency for Better Root Growth
Tightly packed soil can limit the root growth. Fruit roots tend to do well in areas that are cultivated using shovels or rototiller, so you can use shovels to cultivate the planting area and break up the soil in that area.
Always make sure you don’t cultivate below the recommended depth of planting fruit trees. If you notice the soil has a lot of clay as you cultivate, you can cut channels to create some holes. Doing this will prompt an outward root growth.
How to Test Soil Nutrients and pH
Use Soil Testing Kit
Nutrient soil testing kits are widely available. You can buy them from any hardware store or retailer like Home Depot, Walmart, or Target. The kit comes in different forms, and all of which will work for your needs. They test the soil and give results on its nutrients and pH level.
You can also send soil samples to the lab for further analysis. Some kits also provide home and lab testing; however, they are more expensive compared to other home testing kits.
Test Soil During Early Summer
Although you can test the soil at any time, choosing to test the soil in early summer or late spring will give you enough time to make adjustments to the soil before the next planting season. If you are in an area with different planting season, you can carry out testing at either the start of the growing season or at the end of the previous growing season.
Also note that the presence of moisture in the soil can give incorrect readings, so early tests may be more ideal.
Clean the Testing Tools
Before taking any soil samples, you need to clean the tools using mild soap and water. Make sure to properly rinse the soap well; otherwise, you will get a wrong reading. Use a paper towel to dry the tools, then you can test the sample taken.
Take Soil Samples from the Planting Area
When taking the soil samples, dig some holes spaced evenly from the planting area and take samples from each hole to test. Put all the samples in a dry, clean bucket and mix them well. After mixing, you can put them on dry newspaper to let them dry.
You can use a sample container packed with the testing kit to ensure you take an equal amount of sample soil from each hole.
Once the soil sample is dry, add the reagent to the sample. As the soil reacts to the reagent, you should see the change in color, and you can read the result based on the pH level color chart provided in the kit.
How to Balance pH Level and Fertilize the Soil
From the provided pH level color chart, you can discern the type of soil you have, whether acidic or alkaline. Based on the results, you can decide to lower or increase the pH level, or whether to add more fertilizer to the soil to boost its nutrient value.
You can balance the pH by:
Reducing Soil Acidity
If the test shows the soil has high acidity, you need to reduce the excess acidity in the soil. One way of reducing the acidity level is to mix the soil with limestone. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the quantity you should use for every mix.
You can add limestone each year at the beginning of every fall or during the summer. It may take some time before you can see the changes on the fruit’s produce.
Increasing the pH Level
When the soil is alkaline, you can add some additives like sulfur or gypsum to increase its pH. You can also apply compost material to the soil regularly to reduce its alkalinity.
Make sure to always test the soil every time you add compost; otherwise, you may make the soil too acidic.
Fertilizing the Fruit Tree
Always add fertilizers to the fruit tree after planting. You should add the fertilizer at the top of the soil, mainly after the pruning process or before the budding of fruits.
Fruit roots are sensitive; therefore, you should avoid applying fertilizers or any manure directly to the hole where you will plant them.
Adding Nitrogen Fertilizer on the Fruit Tree
Once the fruit tree has grown to be strong, you can add nitrogen light fertilizer. However, this practice will reduce fruit bearing wood, and you will have to trim a lot of overgrown branches or stems to encourage fruit growth.
As mentioned, if the soil has a more acidic pH, you can add more lime to the soil to raise its pH and make it more suitable for planting fruits. If the soil pH is not acidic enough, you can use sulfur to lower it.
Each soil additive has a different pH concentration, so always follow the manufacturer’s instructions in each additive to adjust the pH level to where you need it to be.
You may note that, in most areas, clay soil has more nutrients and poor drainage. In such cases, you don’t need to add more fertilizer to the soil—you only need to use compost manure to improve the soil drainage.
If you are cultivating fruits for commercial use, you can use potted fruit trees in a potting soil. You can create potting soil mixture by mixing equal proportions of peat, sand, and bark or perlite, and the mixture you use should have proper drainage. To boost the pot drainage, you can use a pot with large drainage holes. You can also place a layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot.