Steele: Build up your garden soil

The better garden soil is, the healthier plants will be.

What a delight to be out in the garden on a sunny autumn day.

Fall colours are uplifting. The birds are singing.

Many projects can be done now that will reduce spring gardening tasks.

We seldom think about building up the soil. The better garden soil is, the healthier plants will be.

If you have turf, this is a perfect time to build up the soil and improve your grass by mulching it, a process that mimics Mother Nature.

Mulch also builds up water holding capacity of soil, reducing irrigation needs.

Simply spread a layer of compost one half to one inch deep over your lawn.

Use your own compost or something like Nature’s Gold, Classic Compost, or Glengrow.

This adds billions of soil microbes that will break down the mulch to release nutrients so they’ll be available to feed your lawn next year when it begins growing again.

Good compost will supply all the nutrients a lawn needs to grow at a steady rate through the season.

During the growing season chemical fertilizers, high in nitrogen, cause a fast spike in growth which increases the frequency of mowing and the need for irrigation.

Chemical fertilizers are toxic to many soil micro-organisms and others like earthworms, just leave the area as there is no food for them.

Because plants cannot use all the chemical fertilizer, it gets leached into ground water, ending up in the lake.

This pollutes drinking water and causes imbalances in the water ecosystem.

The nitrate salts also disrupt the soil pH.

The lawn becomes dependent on chemical fertilizers.

Soil becomes unhealthy. Conditions change, becoming favourable to weed species and diseases.

Certain weeds are indicators of specific soil deficiencies. For example, dandelions indicate a deficiency in calcium.

With the loss of the soil food web, soil structure is damaged leading to compaction. Patches of lawn may die off or thatch may build up.

All of this creates more work for the gardener.

The beneficial soil micro-organizms that would have kept such diseases as gray mold in check have been killed off so out come more chemicals to deal with these, creating even more imbalance.

In healthy soil, earthworms move through the soil creating pathways that allow air and water to enter and leave the soil.

They do the job of aeration—one less task for the gardener.

In healthy soil mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with plants, attaching to their roots.

In exchange for carbon provided by the plant, the fungi break down organic matter to provide nutrients. They also draw water from a much larger area than the plants roots greatly increasing the drought tolerance of the plant.

The beauty of working with nature is that when the soil microbes are in a healthy balance there is much less work for the gardener.