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Garden Soil Tips

Add Nutrients to Your Soil

Basically all types of soil will benefit from the addition of organic matter. Check out the following tips to learn about adding nutrients to improve your soil and ultimately encouraging better plant growth.

  • Add a thick layer of mulch and let it rot to improve the soil of existing gardens. Minerals, released as the mulch is degraded into nutrient soup, soak down into the soil and fertilize existing plants. Humic acid, another product of decay, clumps together small particles of clay to make a lighter, fluffier soil. For best success, remember these points:
    • Woody mulch such as shredded bark uses nitrogen as it decays. Apply extra nitrogen to prevent the decay process from consuming soil nitrogen that plants need for growth.
    • Don't apply fine-textured mulches, like grass clippings, in thick layers that can mat down and smother the soil.
    • Use mulch, which helps keep the soil moist, in well-drained areas that won't become soggy or turn into breeding grounds for plant-eating slugs and snails.

      Add more soil or organic material to keep shrub or tree roots under cover.
      ©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
      Add more soil or organic material
      to keep shrub or tree roots under cover.

  • Get local compost from your city or town hall service department. Made from leaves and grass clippings collected as a public service, the compost may be free or at least reasonably priced for local residents. To find other large-scale composters, check with the nearest Cooperative Extension Service; they are up-to-date on these matters. Or try landscapers and nurseries, which may compost fall leaves or stable leftovers for their customers, and bulk soil dealers, who may sell straight compost or premium topsoil blended with compost. Don't give up. Yard scraps are discouraged or banned in many American landfills, so someone near you is composting them.

  • Plan ahead for bulky organic soil amendments -- compost, manures, and leaves -- that may be added by the wheelbarrow-load to improve the soil. This will raise the soil level, at least temporarily. As the organic matter decays, the soil level will lower.

  • If soils rich in organic matter drop to expose the top of a newly planted shrub or tree roots, add more soil or organic matter to keep the roots under cover.

  • If your garden is beside a house or fence, keep the soil level low enough so it won't come in contact with wooden siding or fencing that isn't rot resistant.

  • When planting around existing trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers, avoid covering the crown -- where stems emerge from the ground -- with organic material. This helps prevent disease problems.

Where your garden is located and how often you till your soil can also affect its quality. Learn how garden maintenance can improve your soil on the next page.

Sources of Organic Matter
Valuable organic matter comes in all shapes and sizes. Here are some of the most common:
  • Compost
  • Livestock manure
  • Straw Grass clippings
  • Salt hay
  • Shredded bark
  • Bark chunks
  • Shredded leaves
  • Seedless weeds
  • Peat moss
  • Kitchen vegetable scraps
  • Mushroom compost
  • Agricultural remains such as peanut hulls or ground corn cobs

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.