As with all living things, keeping soil healthy is an ongoing process, and this is especially important in productive gardens. As your edibles grow, they remove nutrients from the soil, and these need to be replaced fairly regularly using composts and organic fertilisers.
Healthy soil = healthy plants. Soil needs organic matter such as mulch, composts and manure. Worms break it down to make food for plants to use. Their burrows allow air into the soil so the plant roots can breathe. Organic matter needs to be replaced regularly as the worms eat it all up and plants absorb the nutrients. If organic matter is not added, the soil becomes like concrete in the summer and a sticky mess in the winter. In addition, many people want a low maintenance garden. This is much easier if you look after your soil. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Soil should be damp before you add mulch. Generally spring is the best time to apply mulch, once winter rains have soaked in.
- Mulches made from recycled organics are an excellent choice as they save water, are long-lasting and feed the soil when they break down.
- Avoid small particle mulches (‘fines’) as they tend to clump together and repel water. Chunky mulch of varying size is ideal for the garden bed. Straws that break down quickly are best for vegetable gardening.
- Pea straw is a good option if you have not mulched the soil for a long time as it breaks down quickly, returning nutrients to the soil.
- Soil improvement (such as pea straw on the soil surface) is generally only required for exotic plants, vegetables and fruit trees. Most local and native plants like a relatively infertile soil so they prefer a bush mulch or recycled timber mulch on its own without soil improvement.
- When buying new soil for your garden, buy a soil that is mixed with recycled organics or compost. Don’t cultivate your soil unless it is very compacted after building works. Digging destroys the soil structure, which thereby destroys air holes and drainage spaces. When watering use a trigger hose with a spray setting so as not to compact the soil as the water hits. The concentrated pressure of the water stream can close up valuable air spaces.
To assist you in discovering what soil type you might have in your backyard and how to work best with what you have, read our articles on –
- What is soil?
- What soil can I expect to find in my backyard?
- Get to Know Your Soil with pH testing
- Improving your soil
- Potting Mix versus Garden Soil
- Which soils and manures will meet your specific needs?
Information in the soil series articles provided by Helen Tuton