By Jodi Torpey
Before gardening gets into full swing in the Mountain region this spring, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and talk about soil. You can blame the majority of problems with our landscapes and gardens in the West on our soils. It’s that simple.
Whether you garden in sandy soil, gravel, or clay, the solution is to add the organic matter our soil naturally lacks. Organic matter, such as compost or well-aged manure, helps improve the soil structure and increases its water-holding ability.
In places where amending the soil is difficult or downright impossible, choose the plants that grow in imperfect conditions. Or plant in raised beds and container gardens.
Another good reason to add amendments to the soil is you feed the beneficial critters that help plants grow healthy roots. Worms, small insects, bacteria, and fungi are vital to improving the soil that supports plant growth.
When you can turn the soil in your garden and pull up a handful of worms, it’s a sign you’re building a healthy soil ecosystem.
You also can help your soil by not stepping on or walking through your garden beds. The trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables we grow require a fluffy soil that encourages roots to grow down and out. But every step you take pounds down the structure of the soil, making it more difficult for plants to spread their roots. Place wooden planks or thick layers of wood chip mulch as a walkway to help reduce problems associated with compacted soil.
One more way to promote healthy roots is give your soil room to breathe. That’s why aerating lawns twice a year should be part of your landscape maintenance plan.
Core aerating in particular improves soil by opening up the surface to let water and nutrients move easily to roots. Aerating gets more oxygen into the soil, also helping the beneficial organisms that live there.
If you take care of the soil in your garden, it rewards you with healthy trees and shrubs, flowering perennials, and baskets of homegrown vegetables and herbs.
What are the ways you take care of the soil in your Mountain region garden?