Soils ain’t soils

Know what you are buying so you don’t end up in trouble – or worse!

Like so many professions, soil scientists are not called upon until there is a problem. Here at SESL, we regularly investigate poor performance of landscape installations or other new plantings that are not going according to plan.

I was recently called upon by a residential client who had invested a hefty six figure budget in landscaping her garden.

At first glance it all looked very nice with beautifully constructed walls and ornamental features. However, it did not take long to observe the number of missing (dead) plants and the generally unhappy state of plants that were still alive.

When we undertake an investigation like this, we take a forensic approach to understanding the soil profile – soil texture, soil depth, soil colour, soil smell etc. To a large extent, we can ‘read’ the history of a site in the soil profile and can gain insights into when certain works were done and how well they were done.

In this case, the investigation revealed a number of things. Firstly, it clearly showed that the instruction to provide a suitable depth of quality topsoil was not followed. More importantly, the quality of topsoil was also clearly inferior.

Perhaps the biggest mistake in this, and any number of cases like it, is the idea that all soils are the same. The landscaper did what he though was the right thing – he ordered a load of topsoil and accepted what was delivered. Unfortunately for all involved, the soil was prone to packing and would not drain. In addition, it was chemically unsuited to the planting scheme. The largely acid-loving plant selection did not take well to being planted in an alkaline soil.

Unfortunately, many landscapers accept inferior quality soil in the belief that soils are soils.

This is an all too common experience and one that will continue until professionals equip themselves with knowledge and skills, or outsource those skills. Soils can be complex, but they are the cornerstone of a successful installation. So why take risks with something that has the potential to ruin otherwise good work?

SESL Australia is led by Certified Professional Soil Scientists and operates its own independent NATA-accredited laboratory. We diagnose soil problems just like the doctor takes a blood sample to determine the health of the patient.

The cost of soil testing is not expensive, particularly where it can save thousands in the long run. A key to SESL’s success is that we interpret the results for you. You tell us what the soil is for and we’ll tell you how it will perform, or what you need to do to make it fit-for-purpose.

Remember, soils ain’t soils. Access the services of a professional to guide you in the right direction. This may not mitigate your liability but will guarantee that any new planting or installation you deliver will grow strongly, thereby enhancing your reputation and the reputation of your business.

Image courtesy of Jason Leung, unsplash