Whether you want to enhance your own landscape with plants or plan to grow flowers or shrubs in your garden, the condition of the soil is something you have to keep in mind. It doesn’t matter what kind of soil you have – good management will always increase its health. What you grow will only benefit from healthy soil because of how it works to support the roots of your plants while also supplying them the essentials, including nutrients, oxygen and water.
With healthy soil, your plants can develop more successfully and more attractively, and be less vulnerable to pest and disease problems. No matter what type of soil you start with, you can have healthy soil with a little bit of knowledge, effort, and patience.
In this blog, your trusted landscape design contractor Backyard Reflections shares everything you need to know about healthy soil, including its qualities and ways to keep it well-maintained.
The Major Components of Healthy Soil
You might think that adding fertilizer to your soil is enough to make your soil healthy, but apparently, there’s more to it than just that. The following are some of the major qualities that will help tell you that a soil is healthy:
- Healthy pH. The pH of your backyard’s soil serves as a gauge for its acidity. You should aim to have your soil’s pH as close to neutral as possible so your plants can get the necessary minerals from it. However, you might want to choose plants whose pH values match those of your soil naturally. Some plants thrive in more acidic soil, but a more neutral soil pH is recommended or most lowers, herbs and vegetables.
- Texture and Structure. You often hear gardeners and landscape enthusiasts discuss soil as having a good “crumb”. They are referring to the soil’s texture, which is another important indicator of overall health. Good soil is crumbly; you can test this by pulling weeds off the ground. If the soil crumbles off the roots, it’s a good sign that your soil is in good shape.
- Amount of Organic Matter. Humus in the soil helps improve your soil’s texture and increases aeration. It is basically organic matter – dead plants and animal tissue – that have decomposed and integrated into the soil. Apart from giving the soil the ability to absorb and drain moisture, humus has plenty of nutrients that are necessary for plants to grow. Microscopic organisms break down organic matter into minerals, which flowers, shrubs, and other plants can absorb and use.
Tips for Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil
To begin your journey toward learning the secrets of healthy soil, here are some tips to consider as recommended by the landscape and outdoor living specialists:
- Test your soil. Learning more about your soil is the first step to ensuring a harmonious ecosystem where plant, animal and microbial life can thrive. Have it tested to find out about its characteristics, including texture, pH level, and presence of nutrients and organic matter. From there, you may be able to take advantage of fertilizers that will help improve its health and allow your desired flowers, shrubs, or plant life to grow.
- Amend soil with organic matter. Soil supplements contain organic matter that embeds themselves in soil cracks, keeping the soil moist for longer periods of time. Plant roots will therefore have ample opportunity to absorb water into their root systems before it drains away, providing aeration for plant roots. It also aids in the formation of fluffy, rich soil that does not pool water by adhering to existing soil particles. For landscape design pros, the recommended soil amendments range from poultry manure and compost to shredded leaves and grass clippings. You may even use crushed pumice or sand.
- Use a layering method when adding soil amendments. Layering soil amendments and avoiding soil tilling are good ways to preserve the soil structure in your garden beds and the beneficial bacteria that already exist there won’t be harmed. Over the soil’s surface, evenly and in layers, spread a few inches of organic matter. Earthworms, other microbes, and plant roots will all help the amendments gradually become a part of your soil. In essence, you are developing your soil from the top-down and from deep inside the soil surface upward by adding soil supplements and letting nature do its job.
- Minimize chemical use as much as possible. While the use of chemicals can help get rid of pests and weeds, these can actually harm your soil’s ecosystem. Fortunately, there are alternatives to consider that will help you protect your plants. Horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps are low-impact pesticides that are safe for plants. If possible, choose plants that are resistant to diseases and can thrive on the soil in your yard. If you see larger bugs invading your plants, pick and drop them on soapy water to kill them. Spraying your plants using a sudden blast of water from a garden hose should knock off insects. Keep out larger critters using physical barriers like row covers or fences.
- Consider rotating your crops. It’s not a good idea to plant the same crop in the same spot in the garden bed. It takes away nutrients from the soil and makes your plants more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Even the soil likes a change every once in a while, so to keep your soil healthy, switch up your crops every year. If you have plants belonging to the cabbage family, for example, choose the next set of crops from the sunflower family.
- Mulch your garden and plant cover crops. Keep the soil covered during the off-season to stop soil erosion, protect microorganisms, and feed your soil. Covering your soil makes it less likely that it will be washed away by rain or snow. Cover crops help keep the structure of the soil and work soil amendments into it naturally. Mulch and cover crops are important to healthy soil for many different reasons.
Let Us Transform Your Outdoor Space!
Backyard Reflections is a full-service residential landscape design company that offers innovative design, skilled landscaping services and superior customer service to the West Metro, Annandale and Brainerd Lakes areas. Count on our team of experts to collaborate with you in enhancing your outdoor living experience. Call us at (320) 274-6336 if you live in Annandale or (218) 454-1065 if you live in Nisswa. You may also fill out our online form to schedule your no-obligation consultation.