Bad Soil in a Natural Garden

by Don Trotter


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Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to the garden where poor soils are only a memory. This time we will be discussing the best way to grow a great garden. Grow a great soil first! We will look at some of the problems associated with soils at new home sites. So let's take a look at that dirt.

Soil is the crucible of all life in your garden. It should be treated with at least the same amount care that we give to the plants that grow in the garden. It is the soil that makes a garden or breaks it. This is true of any size garden or of a potted plant collection. Unless you are gardening hydroponically, you are subject to soil quality to determine garden quality. The soil is something that we seem to forget about in these days of instant fertilizers that melt in water and work before you finish paying for them. Soil conditions are actually worsened by these instant plant foods in many ways. The beneficial microorganisms that break down organic matter and crowd out disease, earthworms, and essential mineral availability are actually antagonized or reduced by using these materials. These products may seem inexpensive at the garden center and their advertising is very persuasive. But these materials have to be reapplied often and plants react to them like you would react to a triple espresso with double sugar. It gives them a good buzz, they grow real fast, and then they hit a wall. This instant gratification comes at a price. The plants that you feed with these wonder products are more susceptible to insect pests, stress, and damage from disease. The moral of this story is that chemicals will initiate the use of more chemicals. It is a kind of not so merry-go-round of toxic substances. Now back to talkin' dirt.

New homeowners are often subjected to soil conditions that are less than ideal due to the fact that the soils are mechanically compacted and haven't seen the light of day since dinosaurs walked the earth. When housing tracts are developed, soil quality for plant growth is always sacrificed for stability. This is done for very good reasons, like making sure that your new house doesn't slide into the neighbor's pool. But once the house is bought and you are ready to install your new yard there are some serious challenges ahead. New gardens are subject to a number of "expert opinions". The most logical place to start is the soil. In a well conditioned soil you can plant smaller plants that will grow at an even pace that will pass up those gardens where lots of money was spent on plants and the soil was minimally improved in short order with fewer diseases and reduced stress. Digging out large quantities of native soil in favor of one or two feet of topsoil is also not the answer. Making a bathtub out of permeable soils over a compacted soil can cause more damage than it is worth, and this type of technique will be expensive. The "expert" advice that I suggest to those of you preparing new gardens is lots of fully composted organic matter incorporated into the top six to eight inches of soil along with a natural nitrogen source and minerals. This should be followed with a three to four inch layer of organic mulch. This mulch layer should be maintained as it decomposes.

By using this easy practice you will soon find that your soil drains better, holds moisture better, and you have fewer problems associated with runoff. This method of continuous soil improvement will prove out to be the most effective and economically sound way to feed your soil so your soil can feed your plants. Your soil will literally come to life before your eyes. Earthworms and billions of beneficial microbes will begin to work non-stop to speed up this process as long as chemical fertilizers and pesticides are avoided. You will find that your plants have fewer problems associated with mineral and nutrient deficiencies and that you use less water to adequately irrigate the garden. In time, the economic gain will show in reduced water bills and fewer cash expenditures on pest and disease control.

Compost and mulch are very easy to find at municipal waste facilities, dairy farms, or your favorite garden center. Mineral soil conditioners are always available at most nurseries and garden centers and natural sources of nitrogen and other essential nutrients are also available at most garden centers and home centers. For a detailed description of how to treat your new garden soil Email or fax me your soil conditions, soil color and a brief description of your general location and I will be happy to provide you with some suggestions and places where reliable materials may be obtained for the lowest cost I have encountered.

See you in the garden!


Got questions? Email the Doc at Curly@mill.net Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications like this one. For lots more information get your hands on Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener, available at all bookstores and on line booksellers from Hay House publishing hayhouse.com.

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