As winter turns to spring, gardening enthusiasts inevitably have high hopes for their spring and summer gardens. Weekend gardeners jam local nurseries and select their favorite flower and vegetable plants. Yet many of those gardeners will be disappointed with their crop because they fail to undertake the very first step necessary for a successful garden--preparing healthy soil for seeds, plants and trees.
Creating healthy soil in which to grow your garden is the most important step in the gardening process. The key is to add compost before planting begins or when replanting existing gardening beds, lawns, dividing perennials or repotting container plants. Compost is created from decaying plants. Under the right temperature and moisture conditions, microorganisms transform the material into loose, well draining, nutrient-rich compost that is at the core of what makes plants flourish.
There are primarily two types of soil--sandy and clay. Sandy soil contains large particles and will not hold together easily even when wet. While it quickly drains, it does not readily hold water or nutrients necessary for plants. Clay soil is dense and sticky when wet. Although it drains poorly, it holds in nutrients and water. Adding compost to either type of soil solves problems associated with each. The decaying materials found in compost allow air and water to travel through the soil to reach plant roots. The microorganisms in the compost naturally reinvigorate and enrich the soil. Gardeners should mix in an average of two to three inches of compost into the soil. The best compost is dark, rich and earthy-smelling. It should fall apart in your hands.
While compost helps plants grow from the roots up, mulch helps plants grow by being placed on the surface of the soil. Mulch is typically made of various types of wood bark. Add a two to three inch layer of mulch around plants and trees (making sure not to touch the plants with the mulch). Mulch reduces erosion, water evaporation, moderates soil temperature and restricts weed growth. Organic mulches eventually break down, mix with the soil and nourish the plants. Mulch your garden areas at least twice a year--in spring and fall.
Taking care of the soil reaps even larger benefits than a successful garden. "Healthy soil literally means life. We take soil for granted, but without it, we can't grow the food we rely on to survive. Healthy soil enables plants and trees to grow that in turn help clean the air we breathe. By using compost made from recycled green materials, we are keeping green waste out of landfills and reducing the greenhouse gases this waste produces. Every garden we plant this spring can have a positive impact on our planet.