Top Tips for Improving Garden Soil Quality
For many people, soil is nothing more than dirt. But a healthy garden needs healthy soil. It provides the essential nutrients that plants need to thrive. However, over time even the best quality soil can become depleted and leached of nutrients. Once this has happened, plants will struggle to grow.
Soil essentially has the same four basic requirements as humans: food, water, shelter, and air. Without proper care, your garden soil won’t have what it needs to provide a nourishing environment for your plants.
Good soil needs to be loose enough to allow for adequate drainage, air circulation and healthy root growth. It also needs to be rich in the necessary nutrients, minerals and organic matter and have the appropriate pH level. If your garden soil is missing any of these elements, the good news is there are simple ways to replenish and rebalance your soil and return it to optimal growing quality.
Compost is broken down organic matter and can be made from plant debris, some kitchen scraps, animal manure, leaves and grass clippings. Periodically working compost into the earth can help to feed the soil and replenish lost nutrients and minerals, improve soil structure, promote drainage, help air flow and maintain the right pH balance.
Compost also attracts and feeds earthworms and other microbial life forms, which are an integral part of healthy soil. Worms help to increase soil fertility while also churning and aerating the ground as they tunnel through it.
Making your own compost at home from food scraps and organic matter like leaves and lawn clippings is a great way to feed your garden with a natural and healthy compost while reducing the amount of household waste that goes into landfill.
Test the soil
Ideal growth conditions will vary from crop to crop with different crops extracting different nutrients from the soil. To help replenish the soil or maintain optimal growing conditions you may need to add certain compounds or minerals. But to know what to add and how much you will need to carry out a soil test.
Soil testing kits are available from most garden shops and are quite simple to use. Soil kits will generally provide readings for soil pH, potassium (K), phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S), as well as letting you know the levels of organic matter. It should also provide recommendations for adjusting these levels.
Once you know what needs to be added to restore optimal soil balance, you can hit up your local garden centre for the necessary additives. In most cases a good dose of organic compost and fertiliser should be enough to re-balance the soil, unless you’re looking to create very specific soil conditions.
Mulch the garden
Mulching the surface of the soil is important for maintaining good growing conditions. Using an organic mulch helps to reduce moisture loss from the soil, reduces weed growth and keeps the soil cool. As an added bonus, over time the mulch will break down, adding more organic matter to the soil.
Prevent soil compaction
When soil gets compacted, water and nutrients have more trouble seeping in. The soil can become dry and barren, roots can have trouble moving through the soil and there is less aeration and microbial activity helping to break down organic matter.
To prevent soil compaction, make sure you avoid walking on the soil. Structure your garden beds with pathways and ensure you can reach all areas of the beds without placing unnecessary weight on the soil.
Avoid over-tilling the soil or working with it when it’s too wet or too dry.
For soil that has become compacted, it will need to be loosened. For large open areas like lawns, you can use a mechanical aerator. Look here some of the tips for lawn maintenance. For smaller or more delicate areas like garden beds, you can gently work in organic material like compost or peat moss. This will help to rebalance the soil structure and oxygenate the soil. You can also add earthworms to the soil. Earthworms will burrow through compacted soil, leaving behind droppings and casings that also help to aerate and fertilise the ground.
Planting different crops in different locations each growing season helps to prevent nutrient depletion from the soil and interrupts disease and pest cycles so they can’t get a foothold. Certain pests and fungi are attracted to certain crops. So planting the same crop in the same place year in year out allows these pests to establish a presence to the point where the crop can no longer flourish.
Similarly, different crops will extract and return different nutrients to and from the soil. So rotating crops is a great way to ensure that there is a healthy mix and balance of nutrients being extracted and returned to the soil.
Plant Cover Crops
Planting a cover crop, like clover or broad-leaf greens, in between planting seasons helps to protect the soil from compaction or erosion, while also preventing weed growth and returning nutrients to the soil.
Taking care of your soil is vital to ensure quality garden growth year in, year out. For more information or advice, talk to your local garden centre or garden services company.