Having high quality garden soil is one of the best things you can do to encourage good plant growth. However, not every gardener is has a quality soil to work with. Fortunately, there are many ways to naturally improve the soil in your garden and in turn promote healthy plant growth.
You can add manure to your soils to see similar benefits. Manure is typically used as a natural fertilizer since it will add a quick shot of nutrients to the soil, nitrogen especially. At the same time it does increase the overall organic material in the soil which will improve the water holding capacity, drainage, and soil structure. . If you are using “fresh” manure apply it in the fall and till well, giving it time to break down over the winter before the spring planting season.
Adding finished compost to the soil is one of the best ways to improve its quality. Compost will help add beneficial microorganism and earthworms to the soil, it will also enrich it with plant available nutrients. The added organic material will improve water holding capacity, while simultaneously increasing drainage aeration. According to the University of Illinois Extension adding compost will also dramatically improve soil structure through the addition of organic matter.
Compacted soils are a bad thing to have in the garden. They often occur when wet soils are trodden upon repeatedly, pushing the soil particles tightly together and diminishing pore space between the particles. This means water does not drain well out of the soil, and air does not move freely through the pore spaces. It is also harder for roots to move freely through compacted soils. To minimize soil compaction, make sure to work the ground well before planting to create a loose, light structure. This can be done with a tiller, or by hand using a good garden rake.
Another great way to improve soil drainage and aeration is by putting worms to work in your soil. Their tunnels will create channels for air and water within the soil, and the results worm casings add an excellent source of fertilizer. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, earthworms are the predominant group of soil invertebrates in most soils, and a hearty population indicates a healthy soil system. If your soil does not have a good worm population it is possible to buy them and add them to the soil. Just make sure they have some compost and mulch to keep them happily fed.
5. Kitchen scraps
Before you toss your egg shells, banana peels, or coffee grounds take a minute and think about adding them to your garden soil. Unlike many other items they can get worked into the soil before they are decomposed or composted. Crushed egg shells will help to improve soil drainage, add essential calcium, and will deter slugs and snails.
Banana peels are an excellent source of organic matter and will release calcium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphates, potassium and sodium for the plants to use. Coffee grounds will help to improve soil drainage, water retention and soil aeration by adding organic matter. Over time they also release nitrogen into the soil.
6. Use permanent beds and paths
A key strategy for protecting soil structure is to grow in wide permanent beds and restrict foot traffic to the pathways — thus avoiding compaction in the growing areas — and to plant as closely as possible in the beds. Close planting shades the soil surface, which benefits both soil life and plants by conserving moisture and moderating temperature extremes.
You also can use paths to grow your mulches, or mulch the paths and take advantage of foot traffic to help shred or grind materials such as straw or leaves. From time to time, this finely shredded material can be transferred to the beds, where it will break down much more readily than in its coarser forms.
7. Test your soil
Soil tests are an indispensable garden tool. Try taking one when starting a new garden, or when garden health declines. If an essential nutrient is missing, garden and soil health will suffer. For best results, take nutrient tests in the late summer or early fall. Submit a soil test to a certified lab to add the right balance fertilizers and lime materials to new gardens.