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Tips for Healthy Soil in Your Backyard Garden

May 6 Facebook Broadcast on Soil Health – Your Questions Answered

Want to build a better garden this year? It starts with having healthy soil. Below are tips from ARS's Soil Biology Group.


A wooden box holidng fresh picked vegetablesPhoto courtesy of Getty Images

Consider adding compost; it is a great way to improve soil structure and its water holding capacity. Additionally, compost will provide nutrients for your gardens soil microbes and plants. Add a couple of inches to your garden each year!

Soil is alive and teeming with microbes. It is this biology that drives the breakdown of organic matter, release of plant-available nutrients, and protection against plant pathogens. Although biology is critical to plant health, it is also important to consider the soil pH, organic matter, nutrients and moisture. Microbes are a lot like us, they need air and water and a diversity of foods. A well-structured soil with lots of organic matter provides the essentials.

In the movie "Field of Dreams," a voice tells Kevin Costner "if you build it, he will come." Soil biology is similar: If you build a good habitat, soil microbes will flourish. Create a healthy soil habitat (pH, soil structure, organic matter) to promote beneficial soil microbes.

Building organic matter, maintaining optimal pH, and managing deficiencies in critical nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and sulfur are important for both your plants and soil microbes.

Two pairs of hands holidng dirt and a seedlingPhoto courtesy of Getty Images

Micro-manures help your garden grow! All the tiny creatures that live in soil need to eat, and after eating they poop out nutrient rich micro-manures that help build soil organic matter. The most famous micro-manure is worm castings!

Hungry plants crave nitrogen, which can often be in short supply, even when compost is used. Try organic fertilizers such as blood meal, grass clippings, or manure. Or grab some nitrogen from the air by using legume cover crops in the fall or spring.

Think cover crops are only for large farming operations? Think again! Try using a cover crop like vetch, clover, beans, or rye to protect and nurture your garden soil over winter.

Plan to till your garden this spring? No need! Mulch and cover crops can reduce weed pressure and chemical applications while preserving your precious garden soil!

Close up of hands picking tomatoes from a vinePhoto courtesy of Getty Images

Here are a few more tips from an ARS Master Gardener

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