by Cynthia "Meems" Glover
My gardening roots are planted deeply in the sandy dirt of Florida. Learning how to take advantage of our year-round growing environment is more than just knowing which plants to plant where.
Before we try to design beautiful landscapes in our gardens, the wisest first step is to start with the dirt. Florida's sand doesn't have much water-holding power, which means it also dries out very quickly as water moves downward rapidly. Sandy soils are nearly void of the nutrients needed for healthy root growth. These sandy conditions only work well for a few flowering annuals and ornamental grasses suitable for beach environments. But for foundational shrubs and trees that will serve as the backbone of the home garden, better soil is well worth the effort it takes to build it.
Amending any soil type with organic matter (the remains of plants and animals), which in turn encourages a healthy ecosystem underground, has countless advantages. Beneficial, living organisms such as algae, earthworms, molds, fungi and insects will work tirelessly to convert nitrogen and other nutrients into available forms the plants can use.
Over time, the condition and structure of the soil will improve by providing better aeration which increases proper drainage. In general, the healthier the soil, the better the structural support for living soil-organisms - thus the breakdown of organic nutrients to feed healthy plant roots.
The simplest way to modify soil is by adding a layer of 2-3 inches of organic matter to landscaping beds prior to planting. Mix it in well with the existing soil. For existing or already established areas, work it in around the plants in the spring and fall. Well-aged bird and animal manures, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal/emulsion, homemade compost, shredded leaves and mushroom compost are all great sources for promoting healthy soil and vigorous plants.
Next time you think about purchasing pretty plants or planning your next planting bed, don't forget about the soil. The rewards for working from the ground up will inspire you on to that next great project and will bring you and your garden pleasure for years to come!