Talk Dirt to Me

With spring in full force across most of the Northern Hemisphere, many of you may be getting close to buying your seeds. You’ve decided on an area you wish to restore, you’ve promised to steer clear of invasive species, and you’re excited to discuss your project with your nosy neighbors. But before you head over to your local garden center or peruse an online seed distributor’s catalog, there’s another quick and easy factor that you should investigate: your soil. That is, the quality of the soil with which you’ll be working.

Soil can consist mainly of sand, clay, and silt. It can be dry, moist, acidic, or alkaline. And that’s to say nothing of the many weeds that may have overtaken your plot of land. Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. From my research, it seems that your soil in its current state is likely just fine for planting wildflowers. In fact, I found almost all of those adjectives listed under the acceptable soil types for the Midwest Pollinator Seed Mix on American Meadows’ website. Iowa is blessed with some pretty good soil, proven by our agricultural exports, and these seeds seem like a hardy bunch, hopefully able to thrive in literally ANY type of dirt I plant them in. I checked the Southwestern and Western seed mixes just to see if the seeds had different preferences, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

I’ve learned of a simple soil test, only requiring a jar, some water, and the dirt you’re investigating. You place the soil and water in the jar, screw on the lid, shake it up, and let it settle overnight, periodically checking and measuring the different layers that form over the next 24 hours. Sounds pretty easy, right? Additionally, for those of you who are concerned about the acidity of your garden or lawn, maybe look into purchasing a pH test for your soil. There’s a lot of extra steps you can take towards ensuring your wildflower meadow has the best possible chance of survival. I’m not too worried about my soil, especially considering the hardiness of the seeds I’m purchasing. Plus, the plants that currently call my backyard home seem to be doing just fine.

Wildflowers are ambitious. They fight for survival among “weeds” on the side of the road, which you know can’t always have the best soil conditions. They germinate where there’s good sunlight, and die off when they don’t get enough water. Nature is tough. So rest assured that your wildflowers will likely do just fine wherever you plant them. All of those blooms you see next to the highway are resilient, doing their part in the roadside ecosystem they decided to call home.

However, the blooms we see on our commute are the survivors; they do not speak for all the seeds who didn’t make it. So, as we restore our lawns and flower beds to proper meadows, we’re going to give them a better chance than the random stretch of land next to the road does. If your soil is particularly sandy, maybe add some compost to help it retain moisture. If you find it’s too acidic, maybe add some powdered limestone for balance. And if your local gardening center has a mix that works well with your regions most common soil types, by all means, give that a go.

Ask questions. Experiment. And know that by even attempting this, you’re doing your part in saving the ecosystems we’ve been renting for far too long.

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