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3 Tips for Improving Garden Soil

Healthy soil is the secret behind healthy plants. It absorbs water, feeds our plants and provides an anchor for roots. It's the reason why our plants are so strong and productive and we have very little problem with disease and pests With the helpful information below, a little work, and patience, you can achieve healthy soil too, no matter what type of soil you are starting with.

Tip #1 - Organic Matter

Whether you have heavy clay soil or well-drained sandy soil, like most of us here on Vancouver Island, the best way to improve any soil is to amend it with organic matter. In light sandy soils organic matter works as a glue, binding particles together to improve the soil's ability to retain moisture and nutrients. For heavy clay soils, organic matter opens up the soil structure so that it can drain more easily.

What Kind of Organic Matter To Use?

Organic matter can take many forms. For example, leaf mold made from decomposed leaves or good old-fashion garden made compost are both fabulous contenders. Farm manure can also be used, assuming it is free from pesticides . Any type of organic matter that you use should be well rotted, so that it can be easily worked into the soil. Our favourite combination here at the nursery is composted fish and chicken manure. We adore leaf mould as well, but we just can't seem to ever make enough of it!

Benefits of Organic Matter

Organic matter works to improve both your soil structure and it's nutrient content. It also improves it's water holding capacity and it's ability to drain well. I know this sounds contradictory, but it's true - it's magic stuff. How? Well, the texture of the organic matter added to the soil helps to create both small and large pores. Large pores allow excess water to drain, while small pores help the soil to hold water.

Another huge bonus is that earth worms LOVE organic matter. They break it down into things that plants can use. As they eat it, they leave behind castings that are a very valuable type of fertilizer. These worm castings make your soil more absorbent, making moisture more consistently available to plants and preventing your soil from completely drying out. Worms also introduce uncountable numbers of beneficial microbes and bacteria into your soil. They are truly the workhorses of your garden..

Tip#2 – Organic Mulch

What is an Organic Mulch?

Simply put, it is a biodegradable material that is laid on the soil surface and not worked in. Organic mulches offer a number of advantages. By blocking light from reaching the soil, they dramatically reduce weed growth, saving you lots of time and effort. Mulches protect the soil from the effects of heavy rain, while keeping soil moisture locked in for longer.

What Can I Use For Organic Mulch? 

Good organic mulches include clean straw, wood shreds or chips, composted chopped leaves, and even a THIN layer of grass clipings (as long as the lawn has not been treated with pesticides). Hay is usually not a good choice for mulch, as it often contains numerous weed seeds. We love using fish mulch. Not only does it work to add nutrients to your soil, but it's beautiful dark color creates a beautiful background to show off your plants.

Putting leaves in a pile and allowing them to break down over a season will produce partially decomposed “leaf mold” which makes excellent mulch as well (or organic matter as talked about above). Unchopped leaves may become compacted when they are wet and reduce water infiltration into the soil, so chopped is best. Shredded wood or chips on top of the soil hold moisture but also allow good air space for needed oxygen to the plant roots.

Mulching, over the top of plant roots, with 2 to 4 inches of organic matter helps to keep the soil moist, reduces weed growth, and encourages the activity of earthworms. Just don't pile the mulch right up to the stems of the plants. We recommend that you create a little "bowl" around the base of your plants to allow them some breathing room. They will appreciate you for it.

Tip #3 – Wet Soil

Do not work the soil when it is overly wet. Tilling or digging in wet soil will compact it and press out the air. Compacted soil drains poorly, resulting in low oxygen levels. This reduces root growth and stresses plants. This stress makes plants more susceptible to diseases like root rots.

Improving and building healthy garden soil is an ongoing process that will reward you with vigorous, thriving plants that will produce abundant harvests and blooms. Do you have any tips to add? Let us know in the comments below. Happy Gardening!


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