The best care for flowers, vegetables or a lush green lawn begins with preparing the soil by digging in lots of organic matter down deep where plant roots wander.
Whether starting a new organic vegetable garden, or renovating an old flower bed, proper soil preparation will pave the way to long-term soil fertility and healthy plants. According to John Jeavons, the author of How to Grow More Vegetables, proper soil structure makes it easier for roots to penetrate the soil and feed on a steady flow of moisture and nutrients.
Add Organic Matter
The most important soil preparation a gardener can make is the addition of humus, well-rotted organic matter. A high percentage of organic matter will loosen clay soil, add bulk to stabilize sandy soil and help all soil types to retain moisture.
The most popular way to add humus to the soil is with compost. In the soil, compost has the ability to hold nutrients and moisture until the conditions are right for plants to grow. Better than any chemical fertilizer, compost will release the nutrients and moisture at just the right time so they available for the plants to absorb through their roots.
Mulch is another way to add organic matter to the soil. Applied on top of the soil, mulch will shade the ground helping to retain moisture and, by denying them light, mulch will help prevent weed seeds from germinating. Organic mulch breaks down over time further adding to the humus content of the soil.
Earthworms proliferate in a soil with plenty of organic matter. They digest compost, rotting mulch, and any other plant or animal material in the soil leaving behind rich worm castings that is one of the best soil amendments.
Mix Well for Aeration
Just adding compost or mulch will help a garden, but to really give the organic garden a boost, Jeavons recommends that all that humus is dug in to a depth of 24 inches or more.
Aerating the soil in this way, makes it easier for plant roots to roam, provides pathways for earthworms to dig even deeper, and prevents soil compaction that cuts off the flow of moisture and nutrients to plants and grass.
In a new garden or lawn, aeration is best accomplished with a garden spade and a some elbow grease. Most garden tillers can’t dig in deep enough to pull the mineral-rich subsoil to the surface and send the nutrient-filled organic matter to the depth where plant roots roam.
In existing gardens or lawns, aerator tools will open spaces in the soil allowing the organic matter to find its own way down. For large grassy areas, there are lawn aerators that attach to a garden tiller.
All that organic matter worked into loose soil makes a comfortable home for the beneficial microbes that break down organic matter and pass the necessary nutrients onto the plants.
Good soil preparation creates and maintains the conditions necessary for the biological activity that lets the gardener can reap the immediate rewards of healthy plants and soil fertility. The long term rewards of good soil preparation are a healthy environment, soil conservation and less pollution in our air and water supply.