Do You Have Problems Understanding Gardening Words? Do Soil, Compost, Dirt, Mud & More Confuse You? You Are Not Alone. Even Professional Gardeners Struggle With Some Gardening Words.

Here are some simple everyday gardening words that confuse many people.

What is Soil?

Soil Porosity Is Largely Determined by Particle Size
Soil Porosity Is Largely Determined by Particle Size

Soil gets confused with compost, dirt, mud and substrate. But most of use grow plants in the soil so it should be something we understand and don’t confuse.

Soil is not a single entity, it’s a mix of several things.  In most cases it’s mainly a mix of various inorganic materials plus a number of organic elements.

The inorganic part is made up of weathered rock, and will usually be a mix of stones, grit, sand, silt, clay and sometimes limestone.

The organic part will have started as living materials such as plants and will be in varying stages of decomposition. In some cases the soil will be pure peat, and the inorganic part will be absent.

In addition to the inorganic and decomposing organic matter there are many living organisms. Unless the soil has been sterilised there will be bacteria, fungi, nematodes, worms, protozoa, tardigrades (I’m sure this one is for Star Trek fans) and algae.

What is Compost?

The clue is in the name, compost as in decomposed or decomposing.

is decomposed or partially decomposed organic matter. It can be from your compost heap or from other organic sources such as farmyard manure. Peat is a form of compost that consists of anaerobically (partially) decomposed vegetable matter. Peat free compost is decomposed organic matter than has no peat in it (some purchased composts are a blend of composted manures or vegetable matter and peat. There is of course a strong ethical reason not out use peat.

What is Mud?

Gardening Mistakes Compaction and Mud ... Problems Understanding Gardening Words? Soil, Compost, Dirt, Mud
Gardening Mistakes Include Compaction and Mud

Mud is a mix of soil and water that renders the soil into an unstructured amorphous material that often has glue like properties. It is not desirable in the garden or allotment as it lacks the structure plants need to grow and thrive. Being unstructured mud has no soil pores containing air. Without air most plants quickly die.

Wet soils should never be walked on or cultivated as it tends to turn the soil to mud. The golden rule is that if the soil sticks to your boots or tools it is too wet.

Mud is a major constituent of the building material cob, or as it is called in Mexico, adobe. To form cob water is added to soil and it is trod by humans or animals until is is sticky. Additional strength is sometimes added by including straw and animal dung in the mix. When used to build walls the cob sets into a hard material that can survive for hundreds of years. Where I live in Devon, many old houses are built of cob.

If it can set this hard, and survive this long, it’s not going to be suitable for plants! So don’t make mud out of your soil.

What is Dirt?

Dirt is a word I often see Americans use to mean soil.  In British English dirt is something kids get on the hands or face! In gardening the word has no other meaning than implied by getting our hands dirty.

What is Substrate?

Substrate is the material used to grow plants in. It’s normally soil or compost. But in hydroponics it could be rockwool, clay pebbles, coco coir or similar.

Understanding Gardening Words

There will be more posts on Understanding Gardening Words in the future.

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