Few things are more important for gardening success than healthy soil. If you suspect your soil could stand some improvement, you are probably right, and there is good news for you. Building healthy soil is pretty simple. The bad news is it does require some work.
A good first step is to reduce or eliminate soil compaction if it exists, by digging deep into the soil to physically break up areas or layers of compacted soil. An ideal time to do this is in the fall so freeze/thaw cycles can continue the work of breaking apart soil particles that have been pressed together. Prior to deep digging add several inches of organic matter so you are mixing new organic matter throughout the soil as you dig.
Since we are now in spring time, add organic matter and deep dig as you go. Next winters freeze/thaw cycles will help. Do your deep digging when the soil has dried fairly well. It’s really hard to wait for soil to dry before you dig since we are all eager to get going in the garden after a long winter. If you dig when the soil is too wet, you may actually increase soil compaction, so wait! When soil has been drained and dried fairly well its much easier to break up lumps after you deep dig. If you dig wet soil you may have nasty lumps most, if not all, of the growing season.
So you are asking yourself – what’s so simple? The answer is this – add organic matter. As long as the organic matter you add is free of disease organisms, go ahead and add it to your soil in two ways. First by digging it into and mixing the organic matter into the soil. This will become available to the plants fairly quickly – during the first few months of the growing season.
The second way to add organic matter to soil is to place it on the soil surface where it will slowly decompose and gradually release nutrients into the soil that your landscape and garden plants can utilize. Do both methods of providing organic matter and your plants will be happy.
Add organic matter to the soil surface every year if possible. Dig organic matter into the soil every two to four years. You don’t need to deep dig the garden every single year, but do add some kind of organic matter every year if possible.
What organic matter to add? Here’s a short list. Compost, manure, peat, leaves, mulch, wood chips, shredded bark and any plant materials that are not too chunky. You can also add some inorganic components to your soil such as sand, perlite, vermiculite, but they are not nearly as important as generous amounts of organic matter. Organic matter that has been composted in preferable, since the release of nutrients into forms usable by plants has already begun, but un-compounded organic materials will provide plenty of benefit just more slowly.
Have fun in your garden and keep it simple. Build healthy soil by adding organic matter annually.