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Creating Healthy Soil (the Secret to All Great Landscapes)

Cooperative Extension, with it’s helpful group of regional garden experts associated with universities across the county, believes that 80% of plant problems can be traced back to soil that “limits plant vigor”.  Repeat – 80%!

Think about how much more fun gardening would be if improving the health of your soil simply made most plant disease, insect and overall health issues disappear!

Healthy soil is essential for all plants, shrubs, trees and lawns. Stop to think and, of course, this makes sense. Most of us simply don’t take time to consider this foundational part of our landscapes. And truth be told, soil’s just not sexy or exciting.

Soil Nutrients

Nutrients are where gardeners typically focus if they do think about soil health; do my plants have enough “food”?  Garden fertilizers supply three primary chemicals needed for
strong growth – N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous) and K (potassium). In addition, plants need “vitamins”, trace elements that are required in small quantities to support biological processes such as photosynthesis (creating food), osmosis and active transport (moving water and nutrients through the plant) and cell respiration (gas exchange).  Spray-N-Grow Nutrient Complex was developed to supply these vitamins.


Soil Moisture

Whether derived from rain, an irrigation system or melted winter snows, water is needed by all plants. The amount of moisture required varies widely based on type of plant, growth cycle (active growth vs. dormancy), plant size, season (heat of summer vs. cool fall weather), and other factors. Healthy soil delivers sufficient water for plant growth while leaving air pocket space between soil particles for oxygen.


Soil Oxygen

Plant roots need oxygen. This is why soil compaction and over watering are so detrimental. Both force gases out of the spaces between soil particles and reduce the oxygen available to roots.  Additives like ground coconut husks, slightly springy material that helps keep soil from compacting, create spaces for oxygen between soil particles. These spaces are vital for healthy soil.


Physical Support

For plants to grow upright, they must anchor solidly into the soil. Roots need to be able to expand through tight or rocky ground and find purchase in sandy, windblown soils like those found on beaches. Healthy soils provide good “tilth” or texture; not too loose or so dense that roots can’t penetrate.


Beneficial Soil Organisms

Healthy soil includes billions of tiny micro-organisms; bacteria, protozoa, fungi and nematodes. The activities of these miniscule critters help break down organic matter, improve soil structure, and filter and degrade pollutants in the soil. Arthropods, like mites and small spiders, and earthworms also create beneficial air pockets in the soil and help move nutrients around with the root zone. These living organisms collectively known as “the soil food web” are essential for the maintenance of healthy soil.


Little Known Fact (How much?)

The ideal ratio for soil particles, water and oxygen in landscape soil is 50/25/25. This means that in good healthy soil half of the space is made up of soil particles, 25% is taken up by water and 25% is occupied by oxygen.  Close your eyes and envision this picture – that’s a huge amount of room consumed by something other than what we tend to focus on – the soil particles.


Now What?

Keep that picture in mind. And consider the little incremental things you can do to improve your soil health for broad, noticeably better results.  Add stepping stone to avoid walking on, and compacting, the soil where roots grow.  Loosen the soil.  Add beneficial microbes.  Incorporate materials that help prevent compaction, like coconut fiber.  Water carefully to avoid sogginess and drought.  Dig in organic compost to feed microbes and earthworms.  Avoid chemicals that injure earthworms.  Refrain from using plastic sheeting under mulch as it limits oxygen in the soil.

You get the idea. Lots of small actions sum to significantly healthier soil, the foundation for a lawn and garden that practically takes care of itself and looks great in the process.


Your Secret to Keep or Share

While it doesn’t happen overnight, you have the power to change your soil for the better.  Much better. And then when neighbors ask for your secret to a great looking landscape, you can honestly say, “Well, actually, I don’t do much.  A little organic fertilizer.  . . composted kitchen scraps . . . try not to overwater”.  How much you tell is up to you.

Worth considering, no?

3/23/2014    Soil & Compost: It All Starts Here, Starting Out