What Is a Soil Amendment, and What Are Soil Conditioners?

Soil amendments and soil conditioners are terms often used interchangeably. But only the keenest gardeners among you will know what either of these terms are, let alone their differences in definition. With that in mind, this article will look to define each respective term, cover in detail why you might want to use them, and explain the benefits of doing so.

So without further delay, let's make a start.


What Is a Soil Amendment

Gardeners and horticulturalists are both well aware that the key to beautiful lawns and excellent plant growth is healthy and productive soil. But not all soils are created equal. Some suffer from a heavy clay content, whereas others are too acidic to grow certain types of grasses or plants.


But even the most fertile of soils become compacted over the course of the year. Soil compresses throughout the winter, binding together to squeeze out water, air, and trapping nutrients that are so crucial to healthy growth.


This is where soil amendments come in. The term covers the broad range of products that are added to topsoil to promote healthy growth of plant life. There are many different types of soil amendments, and each has differing functionalities.


For instance, you may live in an area where the soil is extremely acidic, stifling the growth of many types of grasses and plants. By adding a soil amendment, you "amend" the soil's pH levels to more tolerable levels for your flowers, shrubs, and lawn areas. Alternatively, you may struggle with rock-hard ground during the summer months, and you need to add a soil amendment that aids water retention and nutrient exchange.  


Whatever the specific issue you face as a gardener, a soil amendment is a product that boosts soil performance in one manner or another. With soil amendments covered, let's take a closer look now at soil conditioners.


What Are Soil Conditioners?

Soil conditioners are a sub-set of soil amendments because they are products that improve the performance of soil. However, they focus on a specific aspect of improving the quality of soil, which is that of its structure. They enhance soil formation by binding soil particles into large particles, improving air exchange, water retention and flow, root growth, and the performance of fertilizers.


We will cover those beneficial aspects of soil conditioners momentarily. But it's important first to note that soil conditioners are soil amendments. The critical difference between the terms is that soil amendments refer to any product that can improve the soil's performance.


For instance, some soil amendments may alter the soil's pH levels, whereas soil conditioners concentrate exclusively on improving the soil's structure. But before we cover the benefits of using a soil conditioner, it's worth covering the numerous different types of both.


Organic vs. Inorganic Soil Amendments

When discussing soil amendments (and therefore soil conditioners), you need to consider that there are two broad categories; organic and inorganic. Organic, as you might expect, refers to natural soil amendments made up of living or dead organic matter. Even beginner gardeners will be aware of many of the organic soil amendments, including but not limited to:


  • Compost
  • Manure
  • Grass clippings
  • Straw
  • Peat
  • Wood chips
  • Sawdust
  • Wood ash
  • Bone meal
  • Coffee grounds
  • Sphagnum moss


By contrast, inorganic soil amendments are made up of either mined or human-made elements such as vermiculite, perlite, tire chunks, pea gravel, and sand. In rare instances, man-made products can perform a role in improving the characteristics of soil, but it's usually always better to opt for an organic treatment.


When appropriately added, organic soil amendments have long-lasting beneficial effects. They improve soil aeration, water retention, and the exchange of nutrients between soil and root. Many organic soil amendments also benefit your grounds because they include natural fertilizers stimulating healthy growth.


Finally, organic soil amendments provide energy sources for other significant players in the life cycle of soil, such as bacteria, fungi, and earthworms.


With the benefits of using organic soil amendments and soil conditioners now considered, let's explain the multitude of benefits that come with using an organic soil conditioner specifically.  


Benefits of Using a Soil Conditioner

As highlighted above, there are several benefits associated with using a soil conditioner. The first and perhaps most important is the effect they have on the structure of the soil.


1. Improved Soil Structure

Over time, most, if not all, soil types become compacted. Whether it be due to temperature fluctuations or the pressure of snow lying on top of the soil during the winter, soil compaction significantly impedes its ability to support plant life. More specifically, it inhibits root growth, prevents water flow, and stifles the availability and exchange of nutrients.


By adding an organic soil conditioner, the soil becomes much looser, restoring those elements mentioned above to their optimum efficiency. This treatment is especially advantageous for soils that hive higher compaction tendencies, such as those with high clay content.


2. Increases the Availability of Nutrients

Nutrients are essential in the growth of plants. When soil becomes compacted or has high sand or clay content, living organisms find it tough to receive the nutrients they need for healthy growth.


Organic soil conditioners not only alter the structure of the soil to exchange the ease at which nutrients can be exchanged between soil and root, but they also increase the availability of a lot of those nutrients within the soil.


Plant life needs all kinds of nutrients to survive. While bacteria and fungi are essential, plants require sufficient nitrogen and carbon to grow. Healthy growth also demands additional nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Not to mention micro nutrients such as boron, copper, chlorine, iron, manganese, and zinc.


Soil conditioners help to increase the presence and exchange of all of the above by releasing the nutrients trapped inside compacted soil and improving aeration.


3. Increases Cation Exchange

As briefly mentioned in the point above, it's not just about increasing the availability of nutrients, but also the capacity for exchanging those nutrients between soil and root. This is the ability for the soil to freely exchange nutrients, frequently referred to as the cation exchange capacity (CEC).


Without getting too involved with the chemistry involved, cations are positively charged atoms (ions). The most common soil cations are calcium, magnesium, potassium, ammonium, hydrogen, and sodium. Together, negative charges on the surfaces of soil particles bind positively-charged atoms or molecules (cations), allowing these to exchange with other positively charged particles in the surrounding soil water (cation exchange).


The total number of cations a soil can hold is the soil's CEC. The higher the CEC, the more cations that can be held and exchanged with plant roots, providing them with the nutrition they require. In other words, the higher the CEC, the more fertile the soil is. Adding a soil conditioner to your garden helps increase that CEC figure, making your soil a more productive environment for your plants and lawns.


This is how adding a soil conditioner boosts fertilizer performance by increasing the capacity for nutritional exchanges.  


4. Improved Water Retention

Another crucial element of soil conditioners is their effect on water retention. Dry soils such as sandy or clay soils often struggle to retain water, particularly during the hot summer months. Instead, the heat tends to 'bake' these soils, with water passing through rather than remaining in the soil.


When soil conditioner is added to these soils, it loosens the soil texture and breaks up compacted chunks, dramatically improving water retention. Water is so vital because it facilitates the cation exchange mentioned above. Without sufficient soil water, the cation exchange cannot take place.


It's also useful for tackling soils that are either highly-acidic or alkali. In many instances, the pH of soil makes it incredibly difficult to grow certain types of grass, shrubs, or flowering plants. However, adding water to the soil acts as a neutralizing agent, increasing or decreasing the pH to more tolerable levels for both floras and helpful microorganisms within the soil.


5. Improved All-Round Performance

As you may have already experienced, some soils are pretty much infertile without the helping of amendments and conditioners. By utilizing a reputable soil conditioner, you can transform your garden into a fertile space for all kinds of plants and grasses.


You can achieve those much-desired luscious lawns or grow some of those plants that you've tried and failed with in the past due to the inhospitable nature of your compacted, dehydrated, and potentially overly-acidic or alkali soil.


Even if you have had success with your previous attempts at planting and growing, you may still be amazed by the beneficial impact that a soil conditioner can have on your blooms during spring and summer.


What Are the Best Soil Conditioners?

As touched upon above, it's best to choose an organic soil conditioner since they interact with the soil in a much more natural way, have a longer-lasting impact, and generally perform much better in almost all soil types.


With so many to choose from, you need to be aware of some of the issues that come with using even some of the most tried and tested methods. Take manure, for example. Fresh manure can cause problems with plants by elevating ammonia levels in the soil to harmful levels. It should also be avoided if you're planting and growing food, as it has the potential to spread human pathogens such as E. Coli.


By contrast, many natural and organic soil conditioners and amendments are not regulated. Compost, for example, has no commercially-defined basis and frequently refers to a broad spectrum of ingredients, some of which could be detrimental to your soil's performance.


The other organic soil conditioners to avoid include those high in salt. Sodium chloride in high concentrations is very damaging to plants. Therefore, a salty soil is something you desperately want to avoid. Similarly, you need to be careful not to add acidic soil conditioners to an already-acidic soil. By doing so, you will likely stifle growth or kill the plants or grass you are trying to help.


Why Liquid Soil Conditioners Present the Best Solution 

It's best to use a soil conditioner that actually penetrates the soil, rather than sitting on top of it. This is because, for soil conditioners and amendments to work correctly, they must be thoroughly mixed into the soil itself.


For gardeners, mixing the topsoil with compost, manure, or any other organic soil conditioner may, quite rightly, seem like a laborious process. But it's easily avoided. By utilizing a liquid soil conditioner such as Eco Garden PRO lawn aerator, you can spray your soil and allow gravity to let the conditioner soak into the soil achieving much better absorption.  


But the benefits of liquid soil aerators don't end there. They don't just deliver improved performance itself; they are also much more efficient concerning application. With a bottle of liquid lawn aerator, you can attach a hose-end sprayer and cover your entire garden in a mere matter of minutes.


By contrast, it would take several tons of manure, wood chippings, or compost to cover the entire garden, not to mention the hours of work required to thoroughly mix it in with your topsoil.


As a result, it's also more cost-effective to use a liquid soil aerator because a little of the solution goes a long way. One quart could cover your entire garden. You can always water in an aeration treatment afterward to increase absorption and performance, making your bottle last even longer.


Use Eco Garden Pro Lawn Aerator to Increase the Performance of Your Soil 

Here at Eco Garden Solutions, we've created an organic liquid soil aerator you can rely on. Not only does our product aerate your soil, but it also provides the benefits of traditional soil conditioners, such as de-compacting your soil, improving water retention, and increasing the exchange of nutrients.   


We believe we have created a simple alternative to spending hours raking in manure or compost. With just half an hour of spraying our liquid lawn aerator, you could enjoy much more fertile soil for months. All you have to do is spray your lawns and beds, before sitting back and relaxing while it gets to work for you!


Developed using organic and natural ingredients, our proprietary formula immediately springs into action upon application, conditioning the soil to become much more permeable to air, water, nutrients, and even fertilizer.


We're proud to stand behind our products' quality, which is why we offer a 100% money-back guarantee if you are ever unsatisfied with our products for any reason. How's that for peace of mind?


So if you're looking for an organic soil conditioner that provides impressive results while saving time and money, then we've created the perfect solution!

Shop Eco Garden PRO Lawn Aerator


Want to Read More? Discover Other Articles in Our Lawn Care Series:

Top 5 Reasons Why Liquid Aeration Works Better Than Mechanical Core Aeration

When Is the Best Time to Aerate and Overseed Your Lawn? Should You Use a Lawn Aeration Service?

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