Garden Soil: Keeping it Healthy

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Garden Soil

Plants get their food from the soil and don’t need to be “fed” a regular dose of fertilizer every few days.

Gardeners should focus upon feeding the soil which will, in turn, nourish their plants. Good soil contains beneficial bacteria and fungi that help plants fend off disease and insect attacks, making a gardener’s job easier and lessening the need for herbicides and pesticides, even natural ones. Gardeners should also pay close attention to deadheading their plants and removing any dead or diseased material to keep their garden healthy.

With a little elbow grease, garden soil can become healthy again.

Soil has four basic building blocks:

  • minerals;
  • organic matter;
  • air; and
  • water.

Rock is eroded by time, water, and wind and breaks down into sand, silt or clay—or a mixture of these three. Organic matter, air, and water are what make soil loose and fluffy.

Fiskars Eco-Bin-composter in the garden

The best thing a gardener can do for his/her soil is compost, compost, and compost some more. Having a small area set aside to make compost is essential for a healthy garden, and a scoop of compost mixed in with soil at planting time helps get plants off to a good start.

Afraid of composting? Don’t be. It’s easy.

  • Pile green and brown matter in a good and attractive receptacle like Fiskars Eco Bin Composter. It is simple to set up and has mesh for good air circulation.
  • Add one or two more to make more compost because they look good side-by-side.
  • Compost can be made via the hot method which involves turning of the pile of organic matter with a tool like Fiskars Steel D-handle Ergo Garden Fork. Or, the pile can degrade in a slower fashion with less turning. The hot method of composting does kill weed seeds and many plant diseases, but the slower method still creates great compost.
  • Don’t add meat or dairy to the pile. It can attract animals. 
  • During dry periods, remember to water the pile.
  • Finished compost is dark brown and looks and smells earthy.

Although compost doesn’t add a lot of fertility to the soil, it does condition it giving it better texture to help retain water and nutrients.

Composting in a hand

 Using fertilizer is another option to help your garden grow.

  • First, get a soil test to determine what your soil needs. That way, you won’t spend extra money on unneeded fertilizers.
  • Then, get with your local nursery and add whatever the soil test indicates is needed. Don’t overfeed the soil. Instead, add organic fertilizer to plants as needed.
  •  Corn is a very hungry crop so it often needs additional top dressing of fertilizer
Corn plants in a garden

 Gardeners may be generally familiar with the N-P-K symbols on fertilizer bags, representing nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, but how do these elements work?

  • Nitrogen makes foliage grow rapidly, but too much attracts plant devouring insects.
  • Phosphorous helps create better root systems and healthy flowers.
  • Potassium is like a vitamin B shot and assists with overall plant health.

Improving your soil takes time and a bit of work, but the gardener that takes care of the soil is helping plants get what they need.