Soil is The Basis of Good Horticulture: Soil management is complex - learn to identify, analyse and manage soil in order to produce healthy abundant plants.

Course Code: BHT105
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
Get started!

Soils are the Foundation of all Good Horticulture

All too often, when it comes to the soil needs for a plant, it ends up "out of sight, out of mind"
This course trains you to keep soils in the forefront of your mind; to understand them and the ways in which they affect a plants growth; for better or for worse.

Be at the professional end of horticulture!

Soil management is complex:  learn to identify, analyse and manage soil in order to produce healthy, abundant plants.

Good soil conditions are critical to the healthy growth of most plants.

Over eight lessons this course will develop an understanding of physical and chemical properties of soils, the ability to carry out simple tests and determine soil characteristics, and to decide ways of treating a soil to improve its ability to grow plants. The course is specifically designed for ornamental gardens, landscaping, container growing, and turf situations.


  • To describe the significance of different physical and chemical properties of soil, in relation to the growing of plants.
  • To correctly extract samples of soil, appropriate to different situations; and then conduct a range of simple tests to determine varying characteristics of the sample taken.
  • To further explain the characteristics of a soil, scientifically; and relate those characteristics to the capacity of a soil to grow plants.
  • To recommend appropriate selection and management of potting and other alternative media for growing plants in containers.
  • To diagnose and recommend the treatment of a variety of soil degradation problemsUnderstanding of the principles of sustainable soil management
  • To determine appropriate management programs for different soils in horticultural situations.
  • To recommend soil management practices which are not going to cause a degradation of soil quality.
  • Explain the methods used in managing earthworks in a way which is sensitive to soil condition.


  • Identify evaluate soil structural problems in the field
  • Build a compost heap and monitor its decomposition process
  • Perform simple experiments to evaluate fertilisation rates and methods
  • Define and describe soil properties and processes
  • Perform simple tests and field analyses on soil
  • Identify nutrient deficiencies
  • Evaluate the attributes of various mulches
  • Analyse the impacts of earthworks and earth working machinery on soil and landscape
  • Analyse the effects of different soil management methods.
  • Identify soil and land degradation
  • Propagate and grow plants in containers
  • Identify and evaluate soil degradation minimisation programs and methods



Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Physical and Chemical Properties of Soils
    • How soils develop
    • The main rock forming minerals: silicates, carbonates, oxides and sulphates
    • Types of rock: igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic
    • Denitrification, immobilisation, mineralisation and ammonium fixation
    • Understanding soil function: plant nutrition, support, water and air supply
    • Naming a soil
    • Improving soils for plant culture
    • Organic matter
    • Plant nutrition
    • Nutrient availability and pH
    • Cation exchange capacity
    • Conductivity
    • Salinity build up
    • The nutrient elements
    • Major elements and minor elements
    • Total salts
    • Diagnosing nutrient problems
    • Fertilisers
    • Composting
  2. Soil and Plant Tissue Test Methods
    • Soil sampling
    • Common soil tests: pH, texture, structure, etc
    • Tissue analysis
    • Different methods of measuring pH
    • Water content of soil
    • Fertiliser solubility
    • Testing the effect of lime
    • Laboratory testing of soils
    • Measuring salinity
    • Colorimeters
    • Bulk density
    • Understanding soil analysis
    • Deciding when and how to test
  3. Soil Science and Health
    • Organic carbon
    • Available phosphorus
    • Soil colour
    • Texture and its affect on plant growth
    • Structure and its affect on plant growth
    • Consistence: affect on plant growth
    • Depth of profile, pH, porosity and other things affecting plant growth
    • Soil classification and description: different horizons
    • Factors affecting soil formation: parent material, climate, ecosystem, etc
    • Weathering processes in soil formation: physical, chemical, geochemical
    • Pedochemical weathering
  4. Container Growing
    • Introduction
    • What to grow
    • Problems with containers
    • Care of containers
    • Comparing materials: plastics, terracotta, fibreglass, etc
    • Aesthetics of containers
    • Potting up
    • Potting mixes
    • Ideas for container gardens
    • History of potting mixes
    • UC mixes
    • Soilless mixes
    • Testing for toxins in potting media
    • Propagating media
    • Problems with Organic materials in media
    • Coir
    • Rockwool
    • Components of potting media
    • Cleanliness with soils and potting media
    • Hydroponics
  5. Land Degradation and Other Soil Problems
    • Chemical damage to soil
    • Builders rubbish in soils
    • Salinity
    • Dogs or cats urinating
    • Growing plants in dry areas
    • Soil degradation
    • Erosion
    • Salinity
    • Acidification
    • Compaction
    • Chemical residues
  6. Soil Management Applications
    • Aims of soil management
    • Soil management in orchards
    • Fertilizer application
    • Soil covers
    • Soil management for Vegetables
  7. Organic Techniques and Soil Management
    • What is organic growing
    • Organic principles for overcoming soil problems
    • Natural plant nutrition
    • Trace elements
    • Earthworms
    • Types of mulch and its use
    • Nutrition management in a plant nursery
    • Applying liquid fertilizers
    • Organic fertilizers
    • Natural fertilizers
    • Mineral rock fertilizers and soil conditioners
    • Apatite phosphate rock
    • Dolomite
    • Gypsum
    • Soil management in market gardens
    • Crop rotation
    • Determining kind and quantity of fertilizer to use
    • Cover crops
  8. Soils and Managing Earthworks
    • Earth forming
    • Machinery
    • Creating mounds
    • Sources of "fill"
    • Drainage
    • Improving drainage
    • Improving surface drainage after construction
    • Designing a drainage system
    • Improving permeability during construction
    • Layout of drains
    • Types of drains

Soil Testing

Many plant problems can be traced to the condition of the soil. A healthy soil produces healthy plants while a sick soil will produce sick plants.
Inspect Plant Roots
The first signs of an unhealthy soil will always show in the condition of the plant's roots.
If a plant is growing in a pot, gently remove it from the pot by tapping the side of the pot on the edge of a wall or wheelbarrow rim. Inspect the tips of the roots. If they are discolored at all this will indicate something is wrong perhaps they are too wet and beginning to rot, or maybe some toxic chemical is poisoning them. If the growth of the roots is not lush (at a time of year when it should be lush), this could be because of a lack of nutrition.

Testing Soil Nutrients
Plants extract much of their nutrient requirements from the soil they are growing in. There are three major elements which are essential for healthy plant development:

  1. Nitrogen is essential for plant growth. Too much nitrogen causes plants to grow leggy with soft tissues which are prone to disease and insect attack. Too little nitrogen results in pale, stunted growth.
  2. Phosphorus encourages root development, growth, and ripening of seeds and fruit. A deficiency of phosphorus is indicated by small purple leaves, small and weak root systems, and a poor flower, fruit and seed set.
  3. Potash (Potassium)is needed for the development of flowers and fruit. Potatoes, carrots, tubers and other underground plants are particularly dependent on adequate potash levels for their growth.
Plants can suffer deficiency or toxicity of these nutrients as a result of either:
  • The soil having too little or too much of a particular nutrient, or
  • Conditions in the soil affecting the availability of a particular nutrient to plants. (eg. If the pH of a soil is too high or low, it can stop a plant absorbing nutrients, even if they exist in a soil).
Acidity or alkalinity levels (ie. pH) can be measured simply to determine whether your soil has to be adjusted in order to make nutrients more available to plants.
Testing pH
pH is a measure of the soil's acidity or alkalinity level. The pH scale measures between 0 and 14: soils which record a scale of 7 are neutral, whilst a measurement below 7 is acid and a measurement above 7 are alkaline. It is important to determine the soil's pH because plants vary in their pH requirements, for example azaleas and rhododendrons grow best in acid soils with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5 (At higher pH levels azaleas grow less effectively)
Incorrect pH levels can reduce the plant's ability to extract different nutrients from the soil.
A simple pH check can be done using either a Chemical Soil Test Kit or pH meter. Chemical test kits tend to measure pH a little more accurately than the cheaper pH meters. The meters are more convenient to use though, and are certainly a worthwhile and useful tool for anyone working with plants; from farmers to gardeners and landscapers to nurserymen.
Testing for Undesirable Chemicals
Plants can be easily damaged by high levels of fertilizer, salt or toxic chemicals (perhaps from poisons or over fresh mulch). A white caking on the surface of the soil can indicate excessive salt is building up.
A range of other methods can also be used:
An electronic probe called an E.C. Meter.  This measures the flow of electricity through the soil between two points on a cylinder or needle like probe which you insert into the soil. The more chemical salts you have in the soil, the faster the electricity flows, and the higher the reading is.
Sow some fast growing seed (eg: radish) in a pot of the soil you wish to test. Remove the young seedlings a few days after germination and examine the roots. Excessively high levels of chemicals will cause the young root tips to burn and be discolored.
Colorimetry and other laboratory techniques can be used to determine more precise levels of chemicals. Unless you are undertaking regular soil testing, it is prohibitive to set up the facilities to undertake this level of testing. Soil samples can be taken though, if you know how to take them properly; and forwarded to a laboratory for testing.
More than just Chemistry
There's more to a good soil than just the chemistry though. The physical characteristics (eg. porosity, water holding capacity, temperature, and much more) can also have a big affect on plant growth. Some testing can be undertaken with relatively unsophisticated equipment; and such tests are taught through this course. Other testing may be outsourced -but you need to know what is appropriate, before you can outsource it.
This course will expand your understanding of soils for any horticultural situation. You will explore the factors that affect a soil's value, how to determine what those factors are, and how to respond in order to improve or create soils and growing media that will optimise the performance of plants.


If you already work in farming, horticulture or land management; this course will have obvious advantages - it will help you to undrestand the complexities of soils and how to manage them. This knowledge is part of being a truly professional horticulturist - but often lacking in many graduates.

If you are new to horticulture or just soil management - this course will be extremely valuable. It will help you to know what to look for when choosing land for plant or crop growing, it will help you to determine the existing conditions on an existing farm. It will help you to better manage land in general.

If you are looking to work in this field employers look favourably upon people with a professional level course to back up their knowledge. 


Member of the Future Farmers Network

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Accredited ACS Global Partner

Member of the Permaculture Association

Member of Study Gold Coast

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Gavin Cole (Horticulturist)

Gavin started his career studying building and construction in the early 80's. Those experiences have provided a very solid foundation for his later work in landscaping. In 1988 he completed a B.Sc. and a few years later a Certificate in Garden Design. I

Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

Rosemary trained in Horticulture at Melbourne Universities Burnley campus; studying all aspects of horticulture -vegetable and fruit production, landscaping, amenity, turf, aboriculture and the horticultural sciences.
Initially she worked with the Depart

Adriana Fraser (Horticulturist)

Adriana has worked in horticulture since the 1980's. She has lived what she preaches - developing large gardens and growing her own fruit, vegetables and herbs and making her own preserves.
In 1992 she formalised her training by graduating with a certif

Need Help?

Take advantage of our personalised, expert course counselling service to ensure you're making the best course choices for your situation.

I agree for ACS Distance Education to contact me and store my information until I revoke my approval. For more info, view our privacy policy.