The quality of your soil is the most important element in how well your landscape plants grow. Preparing the soil ahead of time for planting is a must, but the mistake most homeowners make is not regularly continuing the practice.
Healthy Soil is Rich in Humus
Humus is the organic matter in your soil. Unfortunately, humus breaks down over time to where it no longer does its job. Once humus is gone, plants are less able to extract nutrients from the soil, meaning you must continually add more fertilizer. Instead of pouring chemical fertilizer into your soil, add more organic matter on a regular basis.
Healthy Soil has Healthy Beneficials
The worst thing you can do to your soil is to kill everything in it. Non-discriminant use of pesticides and herbicides render your soil essentially dead and unable to support life without large amounts of added chemicals. Not all insects and fungi are harmful, in fact, fungal mycelium, the stringy white stuff you see growing in your bark mulch, play a large part in delivering nutrients to plant roots. They also break down organic matter to release the nutrients found inside and make them available to the plants. Some insects are also beneficial, and you should learn to distinguish the good from the bad. For example, wood roaches are sort of scary when they scamper about while you are gardening but they don't eat your plants or damage your plant roots. They eat organic matter and help break it down just like fungal mycelium does.
Healthy Mulch Makes Healthy Soil
A 3-inch layer of organic mulch, such as leaves, pine straw or bark, controls weeds just as well as landscape cloth. Putting landscape cloth underneath your wood mulch keeps the decomposed bark from reaching the soil at all, in fact, removing wood mulch and replacing it every few years deprives your plants of beneficial organic matter. Skip the landscape cloth and simply add a light mulch layer as needed to keep it looking its best.
Unhealthy Mulch can Damage Your Soil
Some types of mulch that should be avoided are
- Rubber mulch - There is no real benefit to using rubber mulch in a garden. Advertising will tell you it doesn't decay, but it is broken down by microbes like everything else. As it decays, it releases harmful chemicals into the soil that kill beneficial soil microbes and insects essential to healthy plant roots.
- Colored mulch - Made from discarded pallets and waste lumber, experts warn that it releases toxic chemicals into your garden.
- Cypress mulch - Cypress trees are becoming endangered due to the overharvesting for the manufacture of mulch products. While its main selling point is termite resistance, a University of Florida study found this to be untrue.
Without healthy soil, your plants will not grow as well and be more susceptible to harmful insects and diseases. Talk to your landscaper about ways you can build your soil once your plants are in place. Proper care will keep your residential landscape design looking good.