Good Soil, Good Plants

Feeding Your Soil What it Wants

Somewhere along the way the green industry has failed you, good gardener. Because while nearly everyone knows that most plants—with the exception of succulents and the like—require ample moisture to thrive, there is a large group out there to whom organic matter and healthy soil is still a mystery. We know we should feed our plants, but feed our soil?

Yep, please do.

As our plants, vegetables and herbs grow, they consume nutrients in the soil. As these nutrients are removed and over time, the soil becomes more compacted. By adding various organic materials, we keep the soil healthy, nourish future plants and help them resist pests and disease. We like to do this in fall when the material has time to marinate and mix with the soil.

When soil is nourished with this organic matter, it retains moisture, is teeming with healthy microorganisms and is loose and crumbly.

How and When Should I Feed My Soil?

We like to feed our soil in the fall when we can cover our nutrient-rich soil with mulch and/or leaves and let it blend together over the long winter, preparing it for spring planting.

There are a number of ways you can do this, depending upon how much work you want to put into the project. Here are some options, from easiest to most involved:

  1. If you already have a bed and exposed soil, you can toss a few inches of your organic matter over the soil. It will eventually break down with the help of small microbes and the garden hero, earthworms. If you’re doing this in the fall, cover with a light layer of mulch and/or leaves.
  2. We’re fans of layered gardening, too, sometimes called Lasagna Gardening by best-selling author and gardener Patricia Lanza. The idea is to prep your beds without digging. Begin in fall by layering cardboard right over grass or soil, then covering the cardboard with a 12-18 inch layer of organic matter. Cover again with a layer of newspapers and then leaves. This will keep the nutrients in while discouraging weeds. In the spring, just rake away the leaves, recycle the newspaper and you’re ready to plant.
  3. If you already have a bed and exposed soil, you can turn up the top 6-12 inches of soil with a shovel or rototiller then mix in your organic matter with a pitchfork or rake. If you’re doing this in the fall, cover with a light layer of mulch and/or leaves.

Other Good Things to Know

A few things we’ve learned along the way:

  • We like to mix our organic material with a pitchfork. It helps to keep the mixture airy and it’s easier on the back than a shovel.
  • You can rent a rototiller at your local hardware or home improvement store.
  • Check with your local garden center about helping you out to the car with your materials or delivering large loads right to your driveway.
  • You can also help established trees with soil amendment. Use a bulb auger to drill several holes around your tree and fill with soil amendment.

Then comes the magic. Your un-glamorous, behind-the-scenes work to create healthy soil produces healthier, more beautiful, vibrant plants. We love it when it plan comes together.