Updated: November 22, 2020
It’s easier than you think to improve your soil. In fact, no matter what’s wrong with your soil, you can improve it with this five-step plan. That’s right, the same five-steps will fix any soil problem you have.
If only everything was this straight forward.
Well there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. If you have a mineral deficiency or the wrong pH, this plan won’t help.
But for just about anything else, this will work.
Five Steps to improve your soil
1. Top dress with compost. You can never put too much compost on your soil. This is especially true if you made the compost yourself.
The best compost comes from a well diversified portfolio of organic plant materials and manure. In the fall, I also apply a layer of shellfish compost and let it continue to compost in my garden over the winter.
2. Cover your soil with mulch. Rain will pound bare soil into a powder. Powdery soil does not hold the proper nutrients. It may even form a brick-like texture that roots can’t penetrate.
Mulch is the secret to protecting your soil from the pummeling and, depending on what you use for mulch, it may also add organic matter to the soil.
You shouldn’t grow plants in the same plant family in the same location year after year.— Suburban Hobby Farmer
3. Plant cover crops. I plant cover crops each fall to add organic matter to the soil.
White clover is what prefer because it also adds nitrogen. But I’ll plant winter rye if it’s too cold to grow clover in the fall. The only problem with rye is that if there isn’t enough snow during the winter to smother it, you may have difficulty turning it (and killing it) because the root system will be so thick.
Make sure you turn your cover crop the right way. If you dig too deep it will upset the natural soil structure.
Although, this isn’t all bad. Turning deeply enough to raise the subsoil may bring minerals to the top layer of soil.
Most people would agree that, with cover crop, you should only slice off the very top two or three inches of top soil and turn it under. This keeps the natural soil structure in place with the most organic matter on top, where it belongs.
4. Rotate your plant families. Most experts suggest that you shouldn’t grow plants in the same plant family in the same location year after year. In fact, you should wait for three years, or even longer if possible, to plant that family in that location again.
This is called crop rotation. The reason you rotate crops is to help prevent nutrient depletion of the soil.
Crop rotation works because it varies the nutrients being removed by the plants. It also helps to reduce pest problems.
The problem with this is most backyard gardeners don’t have the room needed to not grow the same plant family in a location for three years.
Instead, I make it a rule not to plant the same crop in the same location for two years in a row. This is about as much as I can manage given the space I have to garden.
5. Rest the soil. I rest one of my raised beds every year. I only grow cover crops in it. But even though I don’t plant a vegetable, I still top dress with compost.
Each year I’m tempted to use the resting bed because there’s never enough room to grow all the varieties I want, but I don’t. It’s a worthwhile investment in my future harvest.
To summarize: If you want to improve your soil, do the following:
- Top dress with compost
- Mulch the soil
- Plant cover crops
- Rotate your plant families
- Rest the soil
If you do, there’s a very good chance that you’ll have increasingly better soil year after year.
Related articles you might enjoy:
- What’s the Best Materials for Making Raised Beds?
- Top Five Vegetable Gardening Books
- Grasscycling and Composting Grass Clippings
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