Most of us usually wait until we’re ready to plant things before we think about preparing our soil. But there are some distinct advantages of planning ahead and getting the ground ready well before you dig any planting holes. To understand why, it’s helpful to first know a little bit about how your soil feeds your plants.
Organic gardening is based on establishing a healthy ecosystem within your soil. Beneficial microorganisms like mycorrhizal fungi and nematodes feed on and help break down organic matter into a form that your plants can absorb. Because your plants continually use up these macro and micro nutrients, they need to be regularly replenished. In nature this process happens as material such as leaf litter gets deposited on the ground and is then broken down into usable food. But we tend to remove these soil-fortifying ingredients, so in their place of we need to replenish our beds before we replant each season with healthy doses of fresh compost and other soil amendments.
Vegetable Beds and Annual Flower Gardens
The best time to restore your soil is when it is fallow. One reason is because it’s easier when you don’t have to work around existing plants. It also gives your soil time to re-balance nutrients, re-establish populations of microorganisms, and break pest and disease cycles. You're also not disturbing wildlife such as ladybugs and lizards that may be dormant or hibernating during the cool season.
This is why so many vegetable gardeners recommend practices such as rotating their veggies, and planting cover crops.
Cover crops are a special category of plants that are capable of pulling nitrogen from the air and depositing it in the soil. One of the most popular cover crops is Fava Bean, also known as “Hairy Vetch.” Others include Ryegrass, Buckwheat, and Red Clover. They are grown specifically so that they can be plowed under, releasing the nitrogen that they have been soaking up during their growing season.
Replenishing Existing Beds
Even if you’re growing perennials and evergreens, your soil needs periodic refreshment. Spreading a layer of fresh compost on top of your beds will help improve your soil without damaging the roots of your existing plants.
Most of us in North Texas have either heavy clay (too dense) or very sandy soils (too loose) — both of which tend to be nutrient poor and need to be heavily amended. Compost not only helps feed depleted soil, but it also improves its structure, or consistency.
Some of the other ingredients you can use to improve structure are Expanded Shale, Lava Sand, and Texas Green Sand. Adding one or more of these can improve your soil's porosity and absorption.
Expanded Shale opens up and aerates heavy, sticky clay soils faster than any other material available. It’s an ideal amendment for Texas gardens! Expanded shale is shale that has been kiln fired. The result is a more porous and light weight rock capable of holding water.
Lava Sand is crushed scoria, a porous, reddish brown to black volcanic slag considered to be an excellent source of energy for the soil. Lava Sand makes soil nutrients more available to plant roots loosens the soil and helps retain moisture.
Texas Green Sand is both an exceptional soil conditioner, and a great mineral source for vegetable gardens. Comprised primarily of potassium, it also contains iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and about 30 other trace minerals your plants need.
If you have properly built up your soil, your plants will need significantly less fertilization and water than an unamended garden. And your plants will be better able to withstand stress, pests and diseases.
So now you can start planting your garden and enjoying the fruits, vegetables and flowers of your labor!
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