To mark National Garden Week we should all learn to love soil
The soil forms the basis of any garden. It determines which plants will thrive, which will survive and which will flounder. It nourishes your plants and supports an amazing ecosystem of microbes, worms, mini-beasts and fungi that scientists are only just beginning to understand.
The type of soil you have in your garden also governs how much work the day-to-day management will be.
• If you have sandy soil, water retention will be your main problem
• With a rich, loamy soil; keep your hoe sharp because you’ll have plenty of weeding to do.
I haven’t met a gardener yet who isn’t trying to somehow change the texture, drainage, water holding capacity or the nutrient levels of the soil in their care.
Neither have I met a gardener who doesn’t relish the challenge of improving their soil so as to grow a wider range of plants.
Me – I just like to get dirty. There’s something magical about reaching the end of the day with dirt under my fingernails and my clothes smelling of outdoors. I also love to get the grandchildren involved – even if it is digging massive holes and/or making mud pies.
How can you love your soil more?
The art of loving your soil involves observation and patience. It isn’t actually the gardener who improves the soil. It’s the creatures that live in it.
In order that they can do their thing, the gardener needs to create the right conditions for them to thrive. Whether you like them or not, earthworms, beetles, bugs and bacteria are what make your garden grow.
All living things need food and water and most of them need warmth. So start by making sure there is plenty of organic matter in your soil. Especially if you have clay or sandy soil, because they’re notoriously deficient.
If you can dig in some rotted manure or some compost. Do it. If digging isn’t practical, use bark mulch or compost to mulch your plants.
Mulching a lawn isn’t a great idea – try topdressing instead. Make lots of holes in the surface of the lawn with an aerator. Spread a layer of topdressing soil over it and use a stiff broom to brush it into the holes. It’s invigorating work and your lawn will look sad for a couple of days but in the long term it’ll benefit from it enormously.
If you have soggy clay soil, incorporating some gravel will improve the drainage….soil microbes need water, but not so much that they drown!
If you have arid sandy soil, that manure/compost will do the world of good but you will need to keep topping it up every year to make a real difference.
Loam soil is awesome and if you have it in your garden – congratulations. Don’t get complacent though. Keep mulching so that those microbes have something to munch on – you need to maintain them.
Think of your soil the way you think of your home. It may need major refurbishment right now, it may need a little bit of improvement. It may even be perfect. But if you don’t show it a bit of love by keeping up with the maintenance, it WILL deteriorate. Your soil is the home for all of your plants and all of the wild creatures that depend upon them. Love it.