Our gardening expert shares her secret to a great garden and how to build good, organic soil.
By Sarah F. Ehrhardt
When I started in the nursery industry 29 years ago, I had a lot of book knowledge from college, but lots to learn about the practical end of things. But my mentor, Delmar Lied, quickly taught me it’s what lies beneath the soil that determines what you see growing above. “Good roots mean good shoots,” he liked to remind me.
After all, you want your house built on a solid foundation. Likewise, good, rich soil will give your garden its very best start. You’ll first need to eliminate existing grass. An herbicide like glyphosate, found at your local hardware store or garden center, will do the trick in a few days with very little residual effect. The chemical kills plants by moving through the leaves and stems, rather than the soil.
After the grass yellows, hand-spade with a shovel to loosen things up. Now it’s time to get your hands dirty by adding organic matter—roughly 3 to 5 inches of it. (Exceptionally poor soils that are largely clay or sand may require a little more.) This will improve the overall soil structure, reduce compaction and add nutrients to help your new plants develop healthy roots.
Mix It Up
Your organic gardening material can be mixed. Good choices would include composted cow or duck manure, peat moss or your own homemade compost of decomposed grass clippings, leaves, straw and plant wastes. (Unsure how much you’ll need? Here’s how to calculate it.)
Dump your “goodies” on top of existing soil that you’ve turned over to loosen, and work them in with a rototiller or shovel. The decomposing organic gardening matter supplies most of the nitrogen and about half the phosphorous your garden plants will need. Nitrogen keeps leaves lush and green, and phosphorous promotes healthy, vibrant blooms.
As a side benefit, the organic gardening material helps soil retain moisture, something you’ll especially appreciate once your plants are tucked in. After all, the less time you need to spend hand-watering, the more time you’ll have to admire the results—a beautiful garden that’s healthy clear down to the roots!
About our expert: Sarah F. Ehrhardt holds a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and has 25 years of experience in landscape design. She still loves to turn the soil and watch plants grow.