Gypsum is a sulfur mineral that has been mined in Virginia since the 1700s. It has many uses, from drywall and glassware to casts. I use it, however, for breaking up clay soil. There are many aspects to gypsum that make it a superior soil additive in Virginia, let’s go over the list.
1. Gypsum breaks up compacted soil.
Roots need maximum surface area contact with their nutrient-dense soil in order to grow fast, large and produce many fruits. Gypsum helps by breaking clay down into fewer, larger particles. This allows for the smaller particles that saturate the root surface to be your fertilized soil, not toxic clay.
2. Add gypsum to your soil for years of no-till maintenance.
In my area, clay compaction and water erosion are huge issues that tend to make each other worse. Gypsum is an easy fix for this problem and sticks around for years, so maintenance is not too often. When water floods and recedes, it can build up toxins in the soil that you would need to remove somehow. Instead of replacing the soil, just add gypsum, to soak up the re-used water and keep toxins away from your roots. Care must be taken, however, because the surface layer of clay can be a problem area for sodium retention. Make sure to till your gypsum in deep, so the roots do not end up laying in that surface layer of clay and salts.
3. Gypsum prevents the ground from crusting over, helping your seeds bloom.
Who doesn’t want to reduce the number of days it takes to get that seed from your garden to your plate? When soil is compacted and crusted on the surface, it is that much more difficult for seedlings to emerge because they have to push harder to break through the surface. Also, crusting makes it difficult for water to penetrate the surface to your seeds, further stunting your grow time and extending the harvest period.
4. Gypsum provides for reduced nitrogen loss through evaporation in the air.
Nitrogen, as you probably know, is essential to healthy, green lawns and plants. Adding nitrogen to your soil in the fertilizer form is great, but only works as long as it remains in contact with the plants. Gypsum provides a surface for the nitrogen to cling to, instead of oxygen molecules that will eventually evaporate into the environment. Don’t waste your fertilizer, giver your soil a nice base to hold the good stuff in close to your plants roots.
5. Speaking of nutrients, gypsum provides Calcium..
..Which is essential to the uptake of all nutrients in plants. Without adequate calcium, no matter how well you fertilize, your plants will not be able to receive all of the nutrients. Calcium is nearly always deficient in fruiting plants, as it has a difficult time travelling from the soil to the inner cell structure of the plant and as a result, the fruit receives the least of the nutrient. A lack of calcium not only means smaller yields but increased chance of disease and less buildup of heavy metals (which we definitely don’t want in our veggies)! Help calcium along by adding gypsum to your soil.
6. Gypsum reduces dust erosion.
Natural occurrences like rain and wind cause dust erosion, the loss of your topsoil to the elements. Not only does erosion remove your beautifully amended soil, but the weather also takes away the fertilizers and pesticides that you put into your garden. This can cause a variety of environmental problems, such as chemical leeching into the water table that you live on. Gypsum, especially when combined with water-soluble polymers that essentially trap nutrients and pesticides, helps prevent this loss of soil and nutrition by creating a more stable top layer.
7. Keep the clay off your plants with gypsum.
Growing potatoes in a clay-dense garden can be a fun experiment in patience. I don’t personally like the taste of clay and so I like to use gypsum in that bed specifically to keep the dirt close to the root, instead of the clay. Gypsum provides a barrier between the roots and the clay that is everywhere in southern Virginia, and it gives the clay something to stick to. I like the clay to stick to thinks other than my potatoes.
I hope you found some helpful information today about why you might want to incorporate gypsum into your gardens. Until next time, take care!