Soil: A Living Layer of Earth

The soil in your garden and landscape should be a living layer of earth. That’s not a platitude. It should be packed with microbes. The fact is that a teaspoon of good soil should contain literally billions of beneficial bacteria, thousands of protozoans, and miles of mycorrhizal fungi. Billions of bacteria and miles of fungi? In a teaspoon? So, It may sound like fiction, but it’s true…if you have good soil!

These organisms and larger life such as earthworms, create a soil food web, devouring small bits of organic matter in the soil and converting it into nutrients. Then plant roots can take in those nutrients to produce leaves, stems, flowers, fruit, and seed. When that happens, healthy plants can fend off disease and destructive insects. The absence of these microorganisms and larger organisms such as earthworms results in compacted, lifeless soil. Lifeless soil, of course, cannot sustain life.

Uncompacting your soil

A recent non-scientific study in one Gulf Coast community indicated that “take-all patch” and “large patch” was common in the sampling, But it also showed that all the lawns tested had compacted soil. In fact, a sampling trowel broke during the testing because the soil was so hard.

The absolute best way to give your soil life again is to add organic material. You don’t need complicated chemicals and fertilizers. You don’t need “inoculants.” You don’t need humates. All you need is simple organic compost. Organic compost contains all the microorganisms needed to inoculate soil and contains nutrient-rich material, which will decompose slowly and feed all the tiny animals in the soil. Here are some typical ways to bring your soil back to life with microorganisms. For more information on loosening compacted soil, go here.

Lawns

Spread organic compost evenly throughout the yard about ¾ inch deep. If you can’t do it yourself, hire a landscape crew to do it. After spreading, if you feel it looks unsightly, hose it down into the lawn or take a broom and sweep it down.

Do this twice a year – once in mid-September or early October. Add it again about late April to mid-May. These are optimum times to compost your lawn. However, compost can be spread on turf anytime.

If you’ve got St. Augustine grass, compost is about all you’ll need. You don’t need to dethatch if you cut your grass with a mulching mower. Also, if you mulch your grass clippings, you probably don’t need to fertilize as much or as often. And, f you’ve got weeds, you don’t need herbicides either. In fact, many fertilizers and herbicides actually kill soil organisms. St. Augustine grass is aggressive and responds readily to the microbial-rich compost. In a matter of months, it will force out most, if not all, weeds. With a high level of microbes in the soil, the grass will develop deep roots and will become more resistant to insect and disease damage.

For landscape plants

Spread compost two to three inches deep around plants about a two-foot radius for shrubs and less for perennial flowers. For beds, spread evenly at the same depth. Again, herbicides and pesticides are not necessary and can actually harm the soil organisms. Spread compost two to three inches deep around plants about a two-foot radius for shrubs and less for perennial flowers. However, trees generally do not need to be composted.

For vegetable gardens

Spread six inches of organic compost six to eight inches deep throughout the garden. Then either mix it into the soil below or simply leave it on top and set plants in it.

Remember that compost is not mulch. They have two completely different purposes. Compost enriches the soil, and feeds all the organisms beneath the surface. It is made of fine particles of decomposed organic material, generally what will fit through a 3/8 inch screen.

Mulch is also organic matter, but it has not broken down or decomposed. Therefore, some would say mulch is an organic matter on its way to becoming compost.

Many gardeners make their own compost. However, they find they never have enough homemade compost, so they purchase more from a reputable compost provider.