Before you even think about lifting a shovel to start digging into your garden soil, make sure you take a moment to show it you care. Your garden soil is a precious resource and therefore it is important to take the very best care of it possible. Baby your garden soil like you would baby a brand new car, check it over for problems, keep it fueled-up, flush out any gunk, keep it cleaned-up, and limit traffic to smooth terrain. Here’s how you show your garden soil a little TLC this Valentine’s Day – te amo tierra!
- Check it over for problems. Just like we periodically take our cars in to be checked-over, garden soil should be checked-up every two to three years with a routine soil test. This is a good time of year to send a soil sample up to the Utah State University Analytical Laboratory (USUAL) for testing. Phosphorus and potassium levels, soil texture, and soil pH results will not change between now and spring unless you add amendments to your garden.
- Keep it fueled-up. Small annual additions of organic matter will help regenerate garden soil. Organic matter to soil is like chocolate to humans – nothing says I love you more to an earthworm than a chunk of organic matter! Apply 2 to 3 inches of organic matter each year as needed. Organic matter can be mixed-in with the top several inches of soil, or if you do not want to disturb the plant rooting zone, place it on top of the planting bed.
- Flush out any gunk. If you have a soil test done and your salinity levels come back as ‘high’, this is a good time to think about leaching the soluble salts out of your garden soil. Apply several inches of a clean (non-salty) water source – like city water – to the soil surface in one continuous event. It is ideal to leach soluble salts from garden soil in the spring because 1) you have not planted your garden plants/seeds yet and 2) you can reduce the amount of irrigation water you need to add by taking advantage of spring rains.
- Keep it cleaned-up. Make sure you keep the surface of your garden soil clean. Rip out and compost any non-perennial garden plants, pick-up and throw out any fallen fruit, and pick up and discard any trash (or pet poop) you find.
- Limit traffic to smooth terrain. Once you establish your planting beds, ban any foot traffic through them! Soil structure takes years to develop but only seconds to destroy. This has nothing to do with your New Year’s resolution to lose 10 pounds, foot traffic from gardeners should be limited to walking paths only. Clearly mark garden paths and stick to them. Since soil compacts the worst under saturated conditions, never walk on wet soil in planting beds.
By showing your garden soil a little TLC, it will return the favor by helping you grow delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables to share with your entire family – can you feel the love?