Once you have an idea of your soil characteristics—the amount of sand, silt and clay along with measurement of acidity and nutrients—you can garden more intelligently. Listed below are some things you should and should not do for soil management.
- Do Not: Till the soil excessively or till when the soil is wet. Some tillage is needed to prepare the garden bed, but if one overdoes it, it leads to soil compaction reducing the ability of air and water in the soil and plants suffer. Plants breath through their roots and compacted soils causes plant suffocation. Excessive tillage also reduces the organic material in soil.
- Do: Incorporate organic matter to the soil as possible. The organic matter should be composted (fully decayed) if added during the growing season, uncomposted organics will bind soil nutrients needed by plants. In fall uncomposted materials such as leaves can be tilled into the garaden and should compost before spring. Some raw organics, such as wood chips and sawdust are slow to decompose and may need a year or more to decay into compost. Manures must be composted to reduce their salt content. If not the salts will "burn" plants.
Go to the Fertilizer page for more information
- Do: Keep the soil covered, either with mulch or living groundcovers. In our area bare soils becomes very hot in the summer; mulch may reduce ground temperatures by as much as 20 degrees. Mulch also conserves water, prevents weeds and accelerates growth of young trees in lawn areas. Mulch, if added yearly, breaks down to add both organic material and nutrients to soils.
- Do: Use only the nutrients needed. Buying and adding fertilizer components which are not needed is expensive and harms the environment. A soil test is invaluable for directions as to which nutrients are needed. Don't fertilize plants unless there is a clear need. Many shrubs and perennials do just fine without added fertilizer. This is especially true if mulch is added yearly. It will break down and supply nutrients for plants.
- Do: Where possible, such in vegetable gardens, rotate crops. This reduces the pressure of disease, weeds and insects in a particular area. Soil disease such as fusarium wilt may be prevented in the tomato family by regular rotation.
- Do: Practice sanitation in the garden. At the end of the growing season remove any material which may harbor insects or disease. Fungal spores such as black spot on roses and squash bugs on cucurbits over-winter in garden debris. Some insects and their eggs get through the winter in the upper level of soil. Tilling in fall will expose them to winter weather. Also remove any weeds nearby the garden, some pests such as spider mites over-winter in these patches.
HLA-6005: Mulching Garden Soils
L-251: Don’t Bag It: Mulching with Wood Chips
HLA-6007: Improving Garden Soil Fertility