Optimal soil is the best way to ensure your garden will be healthy and productive. Most people do not have the ideal garden soil in their yard, and even those who do start out with the right soil will find that it becomes depleted of important organic matter and nutrients after several growing seasons.
For many gardeners, keeping soil healthy requires constantly amending and replenishing it with organic matter. However, this can become very expensive rather quickly, particularly if your garden is large.
Seven Natural Garden Soil Enhancers
A good alternative is to use natural soil enhancers to maintain soil health. You may already have appropriate materials in your kitchen or yard. Here is a look at seven of the top natural soil enhancers you can use in your garden.
Grass clippings are terrific soil enhancers because they contain about 10 percent nitrogen. However, if you place grass clippings alone in your garden, you will end up with a sticky and foul-smelling mess. Instead, you should mix them with roughly three times as much brown material; dry leaves are perfect for this purpose. It will only take a few weeks for this mixture to become crumbly compost that will serve your garden well.
Grass clippings can also be used as mulch. They work particularly well in vegetable gardens as potassium and nitrogen from the blades of grass can enter the soil directly. Once again, placing a layer of grass clippings that is too thick as mulch can result in an unpleasant texture and smell. To avoid this, be sure to dry the grass clippings for a few days, and only use a thin layer to cover the soil. If you repeat this process, you will slowly build up a layer of protective mulch that decomposes as you continue to top it with fresher clippings.
Used Tea Leaves
If you are a tea drinker, you may be throwing away some very useful soil enhancers every day. Start saving your used tea leaves and place them around the base of plants that like acidic soil, such as roses or tomatoes. Tea leaves contain the most important three nutrients for plants – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – along with trace minerals. While you could add tea leaves to your compost pile, you can also sprinkle them onto the soil and rub them in gently.
You can also reuse your tea bags as they work well for covering drainage holes in plant containers, holding in soil while allowing any excess water to drain away.
Used Coffee Grounds
If you prefer coffee to tea, there is still good news: coffee grounds can be used in the garden to great effect in several ways. They introduce some nutrients into soil while attracting worms. They also deter slugs, although it is not known whether it is the grounds’ abrasiveness or the caffeine that puts them off.
Although coffee grounds are acidic, they will not affect the soil’s pH as their pH neutralizes as they decompose. However, you want to be careful not to place too thick a layer of coffee grounds on top of your soil because it forms a crusty shell as it dries that prevents water from passing through. Apply coffee grounds to the top of your soil sparingly, placing any excess in your compost pile.
Pine needles are an excellent form of organic matter to add to your soil. They may not provide many nutrients, but they are terrific at loosening up heavy soil. You can rake up older needles that drop from evergreen trees in your yard in the fall and spread them around your garden beds and plants. Unlike grass clippings, they are not prone to matting and decomposing.
Pine needles should not raise the pH level of your soil too much, but if you are concerned, you can limit their use to plants that like acidity, such as blueberries and azaleas.
Manure is one of the oldest and most popular soil amendments as it provides nutrients as well as organic matter. However, it needs to be used carefully as manure can contain ammonia that burns plants as well as pathogens like E. coli. Moreover, if the manure comes from an animal that consumes plants, it may contain viable weed seeds.
It is recommended that you allow fresh manure to compost and cool for a few months before introducing it into your garden. Top-dressing soil with manure in the fall allows you to gain the benefits of this soil enhancer without the concerns of contamination.
You can save branches that you prune in the spring and use a chipper to create mulch with them. Adding wood chips to a garden allows it to mimic the forest floor, where twigs and leaves naturally decompose on top of soil. Wood chips will increase your garden’s organic matter while improving its nutrient levels and raising the amounts of beneficial soil organisms it contains as they break down.
If you cannot access a chipper, you may wish to inquire with your local landfill as many of these facilities create chipping and compost piles that people are free to haul away. However, when you take this route, you need to find out what has gone into the chipping pile to ensure you are not introducing unwanted chemicals to your plants.
Straw Animal Bedding
Although straw is not very attractive, it makes for a very effective mulch, particularly for vegetable gardens where aesthetics are less of a concern than in flower beds. Lightweight and easy to apply, it allows water to pass through it easily and can be moved aside effortlessly when it is time to plant. Allow straw bedding a few months to compost before you add it to your garden as it may contain some manure and urine.
Get In Touch With Dirt Connections For More Information
For gardening projects in the Northern Virginia area, reach out to the soil experts at Dirt Connections. We provide a broad range of soil and dirt, and our experts can help you find the perfect mix to give your project the best results.
Dirt Connections was started with one goal in mind: providing quality residential and commercial construction services to clients on time and on budget. Reach out for more information on how we can support your next project.
For your convenience our estimates are free and by appointment. Call 703-940-9949 for a free estimate today!