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Keep Your Soil Healthy

Once you’ve got healthy soil, keeping it that way is mostly about maintaining a desirable environment for the many creatures that live there. Here are some of the ways to keep your soil healthy.   

Add organic material 

Allow leaves to decompose in the garden. Credit:  Wikimedia Commons
Allow leaves to decompose in the garden. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Why 
• Provides a slow and steady supply of plant nutrients.
• Improves soil structure - promotes movement of air and water, and a better home for plant roots and soil organisms . 

How
• Allow leaves and other plant materials to decompose in the garden.
• Leave grass clippings on the lawn.
• Use compost as a mulch.
• Keep plants growing throughout the year - plant roots contribute carbon to soil.

 

Maximize soil cover  

Protect soil by keeping it covered with plants and mulch. Photo, Arnaldo Aldana, Unsplash
Protect soil by keeping it covered with plants and mulch. Photo, Arnaldo Aldana, Unsplash

Why
• Moderates soil temperature and conserves moisture. 
• Provides food and habitat for fungi, bacteria, and arthropods, and prevents the destruction of microbial habitat by erosion.

How
• Keep soil covered by plants, their residue or mulch.
• Plant cover crops.
• Use organic mulch.
• Leave plant residue in place.

 

Minimize disturbance  

Why
• Soil disturbance from physical, chemical, or biological activities can create a hostile environment for organisms to live.
• Protect against water ponding or erosion.

How
Avoid tilling or turning soil.
• Add organic materials the way nature does - by laying them on the surface.
• Tilling may be necessary if you’ve got sticky clay or compacted soil. A one-time mixing in of organic matter can aid in creating more workable soil.

 

Maximize biodiversity 

Why
• A wide mixture of plants supports the diversity of soil microorganisms in the soil. 

How
• Include different plant types (perennial, annual, woody, grassy, broadleaf, legume, etc.) and plants with different root structures (tap, fibrous, etc.).   
• Rotate crops to reduce potential for disease-causing organisms.

 

Minimize the use of chemicals 

Why
Fertilizers and pesticides may be toxic to microorganisms in the soil. Some pesticides break down quickly while others may persist for long periods.  

How
• Add organic compost rather than synthetic fertilizer.
• Choose disease-resistant plant varieties and plants that will grow well in your site.
• Manage pests by providing habitat for natural enemies. 
• Use an integrated pest management approach to help reduce the use of pesticides.