A healthy garden grows from healthy soil. When the soil in your garden is healthy, your plants are most resistant to disease. Their roots can reach into the soil to extract water and nutrients, making these plants more vigorous. If you want to create healthy garden soil, you need to find a way to improve the conditions in the garden. Often, garden soil is poorly drained, compacted, and low on nutrients. It may also have a pH that is out of the neutral to slightly acidic soil pH that most plants love.

Identifying Common Soil Problems

Is your soil tough? If you find that water pools on the top of your soil and does not drain into it, you may have soil that is far too tough – compacted soil. You may also have poor drainage, which can be caused by an excess of clay in your soil.

If your plants seem to have stunted growth and will not flourish, even if your soil seems to be well-drained, you may have trouble with soil pH and nutrients. Check out your soil pH using a home test kit. While vegetables can be happy in soil that is slightly acidic, try to avoid very acidic soils under a pH of 5.5 or alkaline soils above 8. Plants thrive in the center and prefer not to grow in extremes.

Soil nutrient levels may also be the reason behind poor plant growth. While you may fertilize with natural or artificial fertilizers, these fertilizers often include nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium but no trace minerals. Trace minerals are also essential to plant growth and can make the difference between an insipid-looking garden and a stunning one.

Compost Can Help Solve Common Soil Problems

While composting isn’t the answer to every garden question, it is certainly the answer to many of them! Compost is an excellent soil amendment. The light compost can be mixed with garden soil to improve the soil structure and drainage using light, organic-rich natural materials. For gardens with pooling water, this helps the water drain. Compost also acts as an erosion control when used as a top-dressing, preserving soil nutrients.

Gardens with a poor pH and lack of soil nutrients will also benefit from an infusion of compost, which is full of soil microbes that make soil nutrients more available to plants. It tends to be an ideal pH for most gardens and can shift the soil pH balance in a more favorable direction. Compost is also full of trace minerals and the essential big three fertilizer elements for the garden.

Adding compost to a garden bed is one of the most valuable things that you can do as a gardener. Compost acts as a soil amendment and a fertilizer. It creates gardens that are more resilient to disease. If your garden looks like it needs healthier soil, begin by adding compost to the garden beds.

Lars Handley is a master composter based in Dallas, Texas. Want to learn more? Visit his Composting site to learn every aspect of making compost. Don’t miss the Composting Q&A page where you can ask a question and get a personal response.