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Home gardening is more pleasant and successful with healthy soil

With winter soon upon us, it's a good time to treat your garden bed just like the one where you tuck in at night, says Dustin Blakey, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, director and UC Master Gardener coordinator in Inyo and Mono counties.

Blakey hosted a webinar on Facebook during Healthy Soils Week 2020 (Nov. 30 – Dec. 5) to advise home gardeners how to promote healthy soils to maximize their gardening success.

“Some genius suggested we call garden plots ‘beds,'” he said. “It makes sense. Mom was right. Don't stand or walk on the bed. Keep it neat and tidy. And cover it, in the case of a garden bed, with organic mulch.”

The goal is to end up with garden soil that holds adequate water, nutrients and air, supports soil life forms, like worms, insects and microorganisms, and is convenient to work with.

“If I have to get a mallet to bang a trowel into the ground, it's not healthy soil,” Blakey said.

As a first step, designate permanent walkways in the garden so only those areas become compacted by foot traffic, leaving the plots where vegetables will be grown undisturbed.

“Along parts of the Oregon Trail, almost 200 years later you can still see the ruts where the wagon wheels rolled, and plants aren't growing there,” Blakey said.

Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site in Wyoming. (Photo: Wikipedia)

He recommended gardeners cover their walkways with gravel, decomposed granite or organic materials like wood chips, bark or grass. Installing raised garden beds is an ideal way to differentiate growing and walking areas. In his own garden, Blakey built the beds four feet wide to have easy access to all the plants while standing on the walkways.

Add compost to the soil inside the beds to reap a variety of benefits.

“It's often said, no matter the problem, compost is the solution,” Blakey said.

Compost provides a food source for beneficial microorganisms in the soil. If soil is sandy, compost helps it hold water and nutrients. If the soil is clay-like, compost loosens the soil, making it more friable.

Designate permanent walking paths so garden beds are not compacted by foot traffic.

Covering the garden soil surface with mulch or cover crops is also critical to soil health, Blakey said. The topping moderates the soil temperature, supporting the organisms living below ground. The covering helps prevent weeds, and as the mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.

“You can also grow cover crops,” Blakey said. “I'm surprised how few gardeners use cover crops. Put some seeds in the ground instead of buying a bag of amendments.”

Cover crops can be part of a healthy garden crop rotation, keeping roots growing in the soil all year long.

“Grasses scavenge nutrients. Legumes fix nitrogen. I grow sweet potatoes. They shade everything and keep the weeds at bay. A daikon radish cover crop penetrates deep into the ground, naturally tilling the soil,” he said.

Blakey discourages a common habit of some long-time gardeners, frequent rototilling with a heavy machine, and rather encourages what he calls “gentle tilling.”

“You don't need power equipment. Experiment with using a shovel,” he said. “My soil is loose and easy to work. Some beds, I don't even turn. I just plant directly in the healthy soil.”

View a recording of Blakey's one-hour webinar on healthy soil on the UC Master Gardener Program Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/UCMasterGardeners. The UC Master Gardeners offer many online gardening resources and programs in most California counties. Find your local program at http://mg.ucanr.edu/FindUs.

Posted on Friday, December 4, 2020 at 8:41 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Comments:

1.
Hello, I found your article about home gardening is more pleasant and successful with healthy soil really helpful..thanks, Richard

Posted by Richard on December 10, 2020 at 2:45 AM

2.
Absolutely! Turning a poor soil into a plant-friendly soil is not difficult to do, once you understand the components of a healthy soil.

Posted by Ashley Sison on May 4, 2021 at 6:39 AM

3.
Home gardeners grow distinctly smaller quantities of vegetables so pests have a harder time discovering home crops. It's also easy to tuck companion plants into garden beds to both attract beneficial insects and repel undesirable ones. If pests do insist on hanging around, they're easier to remove in a backyard garden.

Posted by Tree Service Loveland Co on May 9, 2021 at 10:37 AM

4.
Gardening helps teach kids responsibility and gives them a sense of accomplishment. It gives all of you a project to work on and enjoy together, which reinforces your family bond.

Posted by Roofers Colorado Spring on June 1, 2021 at 7:09 AM

5.
I agree that Home gardening is more pleasant and successful with healthy soil. I love gardening so I find it fun to read stuff about it. Keep sharing more like this

Posted by Eden on August 20, 2021 at 5:18 AM

6.
I want to buy and plant 2 year old Jersey Giant asparagus roots. Are these appropriate for conditions in a sunny yard in Felton; suggestions for where to purchase, and when to plant.  
Really enjoy your newsletter. Thank you all.  
VEA

Posted by valerie ahlgren on December 16, 2021 at 11:23 AM

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