Green Patch: Quality Soil is the Soul of a Healthy Garden

For a bountiful and wholesome harvest, feed your soil organically.

| February/March 2009

Q.  I’d love to have a landscape with herbs and other edible plants, but I’m frustrated by the quality of my soil. It’s hard, heavy clay and the plants aren’t thriving. How can I improve it?

A. Soil is the soul of a garden. Building healthy soil is satisfying because, over time, you’ll see a real difference—not only in the texture of the soil, but also in the beauty and productivity of your garden.

The secret is to work in as much compost and organic matter as possible when you first dig your garden, and every year thereafter. In addition, feed soil and plants with a variety of soil amendments, and blanket the soil with a layer of mulch.

Organic Matters

Whether you have heavy, compacted clay that drains poorly or sandy soil that won’t hold onto nutrients and moisture, you can improve the soil by adding lots of organic matter. Organic matter improves soil texture, making it loose and crumbly so air, water and roots can move through it. Soil that contains plenty of organic matter also will absorb and store the nutrients it needs, while providing the good drainage needed by most plants, including herbs. Organic matter will balance pH problems, too, successfully mitigating the effects of soil that is either too alkaline or too acidic.   

What’s more, organic matter feeds the earthworms, bacteria, fungi, enzymes and other beneficial microbes that allow plants to thrive, while boosting their resistance to disease and pests. Healthy soil is alive, teeming with microbial activity, so take care always to garden organically. Feeding your soil also feeds plants, so don’t be tempted by quick-fix, chemical-based fertilizers at the expense of the life in your garden. 

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