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Home > Types of Gardening > Backyard Gardening > Organic Matter
Organic Matter
Organic MatterSoils should contain five percent organic material. Nearly all soils, whether clay, sandy or humus, benefit from the addition of organic matter. Spread a layer of organic matter two to three inches thick over the soil surface and incorporate it six to eight inches deep.

Organic matter breaks up clay allowing for air and water circulation, and helps hold water in sandy soils. Good sources of organic matter include straw, twigs, leaves, peat moss, sawdust, grass clippings and well-rotted manure.

In sandy soil, almost any type of organic matter will improve its structure and water-holding capability. Use coarse organic matter like sawdust or leaves to lighten clay soils. Peat moss is not a good additive to clay soils because peat moss has great water-holding capabilities just as the clay does. Together they hold too much water.

It may take several years of applying organic matter to significantly improve clay soil, but it is well worth the effort. Be careful in adding sand to clay soil - sand and clay mixed with water form a low grade concrete! The process involves extra work and expense and should only be attempted if adding bounteous organic matter and if organic matter, which breaks down will be added yearly.

Organic matter ties up nitrogen as it decays. Add nitrogen fertilizer to the organic matter to aid in the decomposition process. This addition of nitrogen is not intended to aid future plant growth, but to act as a facilitator to help in decomposition. More fertilizer will be needed when planting. Use one pound (one pint) of ammonium sulfate, or 2/3 pound of ammonium nitrate, or 1/2 pound of urea for each inch of organic matter placed on one hundred square feet of soil.

Manures vary in quality. If mixed with large amounts of bedding materials, there may not be enough nitrogen to decompose it and feed the crop. When using well-rotted manure for organic matter, reduce the fertilizer rate by 1/2.
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