Good soil is the foundation for great gardening, but not every gardener is blessed with a nutrient-rich loam with perfect drainage.
Luckily, you can improve your yard’s soil quality by digging it over with new materials, putting right any deficiencies or problems. But what can you add to your beds, and why?
1. Ready-Made Compost
The quickest and easiest way to improve your soil is to buy in high-quality compost from your local nursery or garden center. You can choose the exact formulation you need for your favorite plants. Plus, you can give your soil a boost in the time it takes to empty the bags and dig over your beds. But, if you’re treating more than a small area, this method quickly becomes expensive.
2. Home-Made Compost
For a cheaper but longer-term project, it’s a great idea to start making your own compost. Nearly any organic material can be added to a compost heap. Within a few months it will rot down into nutritious, organic soil which your plants will love.
For the best results, finely chop or shred all your garden cuttings before adding to the heap. This creates a good mix of hard and soft materials.
If you want to add kitchen waste, use only raw fruit and vegetables. Meat and dairy products, as well as most cooked foodstuffs, will attract the wrong kind of local wildlife.
3. Spent Mushroom Compost
The spent compost used for commercial mushroom growing can enjoy a second useful life in your garden. Compared to most commercial composts it’s inexpensive. It’s no longer useful for mushroom growing, but it’s still full of nutrients to benefit your plants and organic matter to improve drainage.
4. Chipped Bark
Bark chips won’t add nutrients in the short term, but they’re a quick and effective way of improving drainage in heavy soils. But, take care over adding decorative bark to your soil. Often it’s weatherproofed with chemical preservatives and these won’t do your soil any favors. Save colored or stained bark chippings for pathways and other areas you specifically want to keep free of plant growth.
5. Leaf Mold
Fall leaves aren’t suitable for adding to a compost heap in large numbers. They take too long to decompose, and slow down the activity in your heap.
Simply pile them up somewhere out of the way. After a year or so, they’ll transform into a friable compost that is packed with nutrients. Leaf mold is also great for improving texture and drainage.
For quicker and more reliable results, moisten the piled leaves. Then, cover the leaves with a sheet of plastic.
6. Wood Ash
If you have a wood-burning stove or open fire, the ashes left behind can be useful in the garden. In small amounts, wood ash improves a soil’s nutrient content as well as its texture. But be careful, wood ash is alkaline, and adding too much will make the soil unsuitable for most plants. If in doubt, buy a pH tester for your soil to make sure its alkaline level stays close to neutral.
7. Rotted Manure
Animal waste has been used as a soil improver and fertilizer throughout history. It offers exceptional results. Horse manure is the most used type, but whichever kind you choose, make sure it’s well-rotted before applying it to your soil. Fresh, raw manure will be too strong, and can chemically burn or scorch tender plants. Just as bad, it will also deplete nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil as it begins to rot down.
Your soil is the wellspring of your gardening efforts. Taking the time to improve it with one or more of these materials will reward you with healthier, more vigorous plants. Richer soil also reduces the need for fertilizers and other chemical additions.
If you’re uncertain which of the above amendments to add to your garden, use our basic test to evaluate your soil.