The dirt on good soil (Google / Seattlepi)

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Green Gardening: The dirt on good soil

A number of readers want help in optimizing new beds. First-year gardens may be outstandingly fruitful when the underlying soil is open in texture and essentially rich. When you are working with stiff clay or loose, sandy soil, initial results usually are less heartening. Much of the maritime Northwest offers only these two situations, with only a few pockets of ideal sandy loam. This year, you can best improve conditions by adding all the organic amendments to your soil that you can muster. Lawn clippings mixed with shredded leaves and twigs is a great place to start. If you want to incorporate food scraps, run any plant-based food waste through a food processor first, adding plenty of water. Bury the resulting slurry 12-18 inches deep and cover it with soil or dig it deeply into your compost heap. Wood byproducts like sawdust and bark chips should be well composted before they reach your garden beds. Both use soil nitrogen to help them break down and in a raw state, they will compete for nutrients with your plants’ roots. Rotted sawdust is especially appreciated by blueberries and rhododendrons as well as corn and beans. Fine ground bark can be mixed half and half with compost and added to beds as mulch pretty much any time.

If your beds are really unproductive, the plants may lack water. Even in a sullen, cool summer like this one, soil dries out amazingly quickly, especially if mounded and not mulched.

By late May, bone-dry soil can act like a sponge, wicking added moisture away from young garden plants. Mature plants may look fine because their expansive root system can tap soil moisture over a large area. Youngsters don’t yet have such strong resources, so they need a lot more help.



Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.