Prepping Your Soil with Organic Matter

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Prepping Your Soil with Organic Matter

The natural benefit of rich organic soil will be a reserve of vital nutrients and improved soil quality overall. Whenever you see any information on improving soil, it always stresses the importance of adding organic matter.

No matter how many synthetic chemicals are added to your soil, without the proper moisture holding capacity and the proper pH, much will be wasted. When sufficient organic matter is present in soil, it will have the proper balance to manage drainage properly and soil pH will be neutral for efficient uptake of nutrients.

Think of soil rich in organic matter as a savings account for your plants. The nutrients are released back to your plants much like a steady income. The more you need, the more you get. The nutrients found in organic matter stay in the soil much longer than water-soluble synthetics which rapidly leach through the soil. Moreover, soils rich in organic matter will typically contain all the necessary nutrients, thus eliminating the need to add supplemental synthetic nutrients.

Now visualize someone who has just been given a lot of money all at once. Rather than putting it in the bank, they spend it all immediately. It feels good temporarily, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. There are no reserves to draw on over time. That’s how I think of water soluble inorganic fertilizers. They work but what nutrients aren’t absorbed by the roots quickly pass through the soil, leaving behind potentially damaging salts.

Organic matter is, was or comes from living things. Some of the most common natural amendments found in nature include decomposed plant residue, dead roots, excreted waste from soil dwelling organisms, composted bark, manure, leaves and sticks. When you think of a lush forest or woodland setting, all that makes up the soil there is a collection of natural amendments over time. The only fertilizer is what is derived naturally from the soil. And yet how lush a woodland setting is.

In our home landscapes and gardens, we can create the same affect. In addition to the amendments mentioned above, we can use grass clippings, mushroom compost, peat moss, peanut or coco shells and so much more. Collectively, it may be just good old compost; the biodegraded product of raw organic matter, albeit a collection of the above or a single ingredient such as rotted tree leaves. But whatever it’s made of, it contains billions of living beneficial microorganisms and includes vital organically derived nutrients.

There’s a second reason adding organic matter is so import to creating healthy soil as I alluded to in my opening paragraph. It improves drainage of compacted soils and increases water retention in loose, sandy soils. Amendments incorporated into the soil allow some particulates to bind together while preventing others from creating too large a mass. In total, the organic elements along with the native sand, silt or clay work in harmony to improve the structure, tilth and texture of any soil, while at the same time, building up nutrients and reducing the need for supplemental water and fertilizers.

As you build healthy soil in your home garden and landscape, how much you add will depend on the condition of your soil before you start. The amount will vary but your goal is to add enough so that compacted soil breaks apart and loose soil binds together.

There’s no cookie-cutter recipe for this but here’s a good rule to follow. Your goal for adding organic matter to the soil should be to end up with a consistency that binds together when squeezed but breaks about easily when disturbed. It doesn’t take as much as you think and more is not necessarily. You just want to supplement the native soil, not replace it. Over time, organic matter will continue to break down and decompose so you will need to periodically add more. But as you do, know that your soil is getting better and healthier all the time and as you continue to feed the soil, you’re plants will reward your efforts.