Healthy garden plants require healthy soil! Here are 5 simple tips for building great soil in your garden.
We gardeners know that healthy soil is the most important aspect of a healthy garden (though of course the other aspects such as light, water, etc. are also essential). Without healthy soil, you won’t have healthy plants, and will have more problems with pests, disease, and reduced plant yields.
Of course, adding compost is a good way to build great soil, but that’s not all. There are a number of other things you can do to improve the health of your soil.
Here are 5 helpful tips for building great soil from Kristin Ohlson, author of The Soil Will Save Us
1. Disturb The Soil As Little As Possible
Soil health starts with one basic principle: Don’t disturb the dirt. Sure, soil supports roots and helps hold up plants, but it also serves as a habitat for beneficial microorganisms.
“Underneath our feet is this incredible world teeming with billions of microorganisms that have been working in the soil for millions of years,” Ohlson says. “That ecosystem in the soil is what plants depend on for their nutrition, their water, and their defenses against chemicals, diseases, and insects.”
Rather than tilling garden rows and digging deep holes for new plants, she suggests leaving the soil structure as intact as possible. Poke small holes for seeds and dig slightly bigger spaces before planting seedlings.
2. Make Peace With Weeds
It may sound counterintuitive—maybe even chaotic, in terms of landscaping—but weeds don’t need to be treated as an enemy. Even uninvited plants can help protect soil and feed the microorganisms at work below the surface.
3. Encourage Diversity
“In nature, there is this vast abundance of diversity—plants and insects and all kinds of life—in every square foot. This biodiversity helps feed and support the biodiversity in the soil,” she says.
Follow nature’s lead in your garden by growing a variety of vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs, and other plants in close proximity. The variety promotes healthy, robust soil and might also attract a new mix of pollinators.
4. Plant Cover Crops
…Cover crops play a dual role. They interact with microorganisms by extending their roots as they grow, and they provide extra organic material to protect the soil once they’re harvested. In small gardens, simply clip cover crops with scissors and scatter over bare ground.
Not sure what kind of cover crop to plant? First, consider what might thrive in your location and climate. (Here are 5 good cover crops for small garden plots.)
5. Trade Fertilizer For Compost
When plants rely on fertilizer, they get lazy. Their partnership with microorganisms in the soil changes, and that can impact the wider microbe community. By using compost instead, you’re enhancing the soil with a concentration of microorganisms and carbon that help plants thrive.