Tips for keeping your soil healthy and plant friendly

Tips for keeping your soil healthy and plant friendly

by C.L. Fornari

When I was new to gardening, I only paid attention to the flowers. I didn't loosen the soil before I planted, didn't add compost and never had the soil tested. This proved to be an ill-advised approach and many of my plants died.

Flowers may have initially seduced me, but over time, the dead and failing plants taught me the wisdom of paying attention to the soil. I learned to see the results of properly treating the ground before I planted. I made my soil sexy, and you can, too.

No, I don't want you to get aroused by your soil - I want you to see that it's appealing, desirable and worth your attention.

Why does the dirt in your garden matter so much? It's important because what goes on below the surface is reflected above. If the roots of your plants can grow easily and the soil is filled with nutrients, microorganisms and other biology, the parts of the plants that are above ground will be larger, stronger and better looking.

Keeping your soil healthy and plant friendly isn't difficult. Two key practices are loosening the ground before planting new gardens and the regular addition of soil amendments.

Digging and turning a wide section of soil makes it easier for roots to expand. The addition of organic amendments, such as compost, chopped leaves or manure, provides the environment for the microorganisms that help plants to grow.

In wild areas, leaves, stems and branches drop to the ground and add organic matter from the top down. This is how plants have been nourished and soil amended since the very beginning of plants.

We gardeners clean up, however, and take away fallen leaves, perennial stems and weeds. If we're repeatedly taking this source of organic matter away, we need to regularly put other amendments, such as compost or composted manure, back in the soil.

In new gardens, annual beds and vegetable plots, these amendments can be dug into the ground. In established gardens, they can be applied to the surface of the soil; simply spread an inch of compost each year which can be done anytime. In fact, if you spread compost in the fall or winter, you'll be ready for planting in the spring.

After the regular addition of organic matter, it's helpful to know if a particular nutrient is lacking, and if the pH of the soil is right for the plants you want to grow. Most soils in the Northeast are acidic because of acid rain, but never assume a soil is alkaline or acidic, or that you need to apply fertilizer.

Have a soil test done as soon as the ground thaws, follow the recommendations, and start making your soil sexy.

C.L. Fornari is a writer, gardening expert, professional speaker and radio host who is dedicated to getting you into the garden. The Osterville, Mass., resident is a member of the Perennial Plant Association, American Plant Propagators Society, National Speakers Association and Garden Writers of America.

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