Press-Republican

Cornell Cooperative Extension

March 19, 2012

For a better garden, improve your soil

No matter what you're growing — vegetables, flowers, lawn, shrubs — the real key to making them thrive lies at your feet. It's all about the soil.

And for some reason, gardeners are quite willing to spend lots of money on plants, fertilizer and garden gadgets, but they really balk at spending time or money on soil. If you want your plants to thrive, not just survive, you really need to focus on your soil first.

Soil is amazing stuff. It's not only a mixture of sand, silt and clay, it's also more than half air and water and only about 2 percent organic matter, on average. Healthy soil teems with micro-organisms that are responsible for converting nutrients into forms the plants can take up.

Soil varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood, from farm to farm. And since home construction involves extensive excavating for foundations, sewage lines, drainage and landscaping, the soil right around your house may be nothing like the native soil at the far end of your yard.

Some backyards have soil that's nice and loamy, and great for growing, but many of us have soil that is far from ideal. Your backyard soil may be mostly sand, heavy clay, stony or shallow to bedrock or severely compacted.

So what can you do? It's possible to turn a patch of lawn into a productive garden but if your soil is far from ideal, on of the simplest ways to get started is to build a raised bed. I'll go in-depth into how to build raised beds in a future article, but for now I only have room to tell you why you might consider this option.

Soil Improvements

Raised beds let you focus your soil improvements to a smaller area. I always encourage new gardeners to start small. You can always make a garden bigger as you gain experience. Far too often new gardeners are so enthusiastic they start too large and then become discouraged by mid-summer when things don't thrive or the weeds take over.

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Cornell Cooperative Extension