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close this book Soils, Crops and Fertilizer Use
close this folder Chapter 2: Trouble-shooting soil physical problems
View the document Getting to know the soils in your area
View the document Soil color
View the document Soil texture
View the document Soil tilth
View the document Soil water-holding capacity
View the document Soil drainage
View the document Soil depth
View the document Soil slope

Soil tilth

Tilth refers to a soil's physical condition. A soil in good filth is easily worked, crumbly, and readily takes in water when dry. A soil in poor filth is hard to work, overly cloddy or loose, and absorbs water slowly when dry.

What influences filth?: Texture, organic matter, and moisture content all play a role.

A soil's filth isn't static: It can vary markedly with changes in soil moisture content, especially on some clayey soils which can be worked only within a very narrow moisture range without being too hard or too sticky.

How to Maintain or Improve Soil Tilth

Improving filth by adding sand to clay is only practical on smaller plots and will still require considerable labor.

Routine additions of organic matter to the soil are very helpful.

Land drainage or the use of raised beds or ridges may help alleviate excessive moisture that's causing poor filth.

Time tillage operations: Under favorable moisture conditions, plowing and hoeing may improve filth by breaking up clods and loosening hard ground. But when done when too wet or too dry, tillage can leave the soil worse off than before.

Don't overdo tillage: Stirring and shearing the soil aerates it which stimulates fungi and bacteria to accelerate the breakdown of valuable humus. Tillage may loosen the topsoil but it often compacts the subsoil, especially when done with tractor or animal-drawn equipment on wet, clayey soils.

Choose crops carefully: Some crops like cotton, peanuts, tobacco, and vegetables require frequent traffic down the rows for spraying and cultivating. Soil filth will suffer and compaction increase unless these crops are rotated with others like grains and forage crops that require less field traffic and return more organic matter to the soil.