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  Section: Principles of Horticulture » Soil organic matter
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Benefits of organic matter

Soil organic matter
  Organic matter in soil
  Living organisms in the soil
  Nutrient cycles
  Dead organic matter in the soil
  Organic matter levels
  Organic soils
  Benefits of organic matter
  Addition of organic matter
  Green manures

Organic matter plays an important part in the management of soils. The main benefits are:
  • living organisms in the soil play their part in the conversion of plant and animal debris to minerals and humus;
  • Rhizobia and Azotobacter spp. fix gaseous nitrogen;
  • plant roots, earthworms and other burrowing organisms improve the soil structure;
  • many types of bacteria play an important role in the detoxification of harmful organic materials such as pesticides and herbicides;
  • dead organic matter is food for soil organisms and increases microbial activity;
  • dead but recognizable organic matter physically opens up the soil and improves aeration;
  • fine, unrecognizable organic matter helps improve the water holding capacity of the soil;
  • decomposing organic matter provides a source of dilute slow release fertilizer;
  • humus coats soil particles with a black colloid and modifies their characteristics:
    • darker soils warm up faster in the spring;
    • organic matter improves water-holding capacity;
    • cation exchange capacity is increased, which can reduce the leaching of cations from the profile;
    • on sandy and silty soils the humus enables stable crumbs to be formed;
    • the surface charges on humus are capable of combining with the clay particles, thereby making heavy soils less sticky and more friable.

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