Richland Soil and Water

healty soilHealthy soil is rich in nutrients. These soils hold moisture and drain well. Soil life includes earthworms, beetles, bacteria and microorganisms. Healthy soil generally has a dark crumbly appearance and a rich pleasant earthy smell. If this doesn’t sound like your soil, read on for some tips on what you can do to improve the health of your soil.

Tip # 1 Add Organic Matter to Improve Your Soil’s Structure

Regardless of your soil type (i.e. clay, loam or sand), adding organic matter is probably the single most important thing you can do to improve your soil. Organic matter supports the soil life that is the key to healthy soil. Together organic matter and soil life help bind the soil particles into various sizes of aggregates giving it the appearance of cookie crumbs. Compost is one of the best things you can add to your soil. The best compost comes from mixing a variety of ingredients. Kitchen trimmings from fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, grass clippings, shredded leaves, chopped up yard waste and barnyard manures are all free sources of materials to compost. Add compost in the spring before planting, side dress plants or mulch with it during the growing season and add more in the fall when putting your garden to bed. Composting also keeps these materials from taking up expensive landfill space. 

Tip # 2 Cover Crops 

Mother Nature never intended soil to become bare. Our civilization and weed free management counteracts the role that Mother Nature intended. Cover crops are a way to improve the health of your soil. While growing, cover crops crowd out weeds and reduce soil erosion from wind and rain. Tilling the green tops into the soil adds organic matter. The roots of cover crops add to the soil’s structure by leaving channels in the soil when they decompose, thus improving water and air infiltration. 

Tip # 3 Do a Soil Test and Follow Recommendations

Have your soil tested by a soil-testing lab. The lab will send you a report of the current state of nutrients in your soil and give recommendations of amendments that can be made depending on the intended use of the soil. Another important component of the soil test is the pH. Nutrient availability can vary with the soil’s pH. Most plants and the soil life prefer a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5. If your soil’s pH is out of this optimal range, follow the lab’s recommendations for correcting it. Adjusting soil pH takes time; you should probably test your soil every 2 to 3 years. More information on soil testing may be found on the soil testing page.

Tip # 4 Protect Your Soil

Avoid compacting the soil. Working the soil early in the spring when it is too wet can damage your soil’s structure. Soil should not be dug unless it is dry enough to crumble. Avoid foot traffic and heavy equipment on your lawn and garden beds since they crush the soil’s pores.

Taking steps to work to improve the health of your soil can pay big dividends. Plants grown in healthy soil are much less likely to have insect and disease problems. As an added bonus, healthy soils reduce runoff, meaning streams will be healthier too.