Gardening is all about dirt-its care and feeding, its microbes and fungi, bacteria and earthworms. So whether you’re planting your vegetable garden or a border of perennials, feed the soil- not the plants. Start by using organic fertilizers and pesticides. Here’s why.
Most of a plants energy goes to producing substances that it drips out through the roots to attract bacteria and fungi. These in turn attract good nematodes and protozoa to the root zones. To make a long story short, the protozoa eat bacteria and the nematodes eat not only the bacteria but also fungi and other nematodes to get carbon. What they don’t need they expel and this feeds the roots much like earthworm castings.
It gets even more interesting down in the soil. If the plant needs different foods it can change what is secretes. Different substances will attract different bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa. This huge diversity of soil biota helps the good guys keep the bad guys in check.
A common way to destroy the microbiology of the soil is to add salts ( non-organic fertilizers). The salts kill the bacteria and fungi by dehydrating them. Then the plant can’t feed itself and becomes dependent on its fertilizer fix. Without the good bacteria and fungi in the soil other parts of the food chain start dying off as well.
The soil food web is also responsible for soil structure. Bacteria create slime that glue soil particles together. Fungi weave threads to create larger soil particles. Worms distribute bacteria and fungal spores throughout the soil and create pathways for air and water.
What can you do to bring your soil back to life?
- Add 1/4" of compost on top
- Mulch around perennials, shrubs and trees with dried leaves and grass clippings for annuals.
- Use aerated compost tea
- Apply mycorrhizal fungi, especially in a new garden that’s been rototilled or chemically fertilized. You can find this in most organic fertilizers and some organic potting soils.
- Try to avoid walking on the root zone of plants. This kills fungi in the soil. Install stepping stones to preserve soil structure.
- After employing the above suggestions if you’re looking to add something new to your newly revitalized shady border consider planting a flowering maple that bears lilac blue flowers. Abutilon vitifolium grows to 6-8 ft in partial shade. Gray green maple-like leaves reach 6" or longer. Flowers grow singly or in clusters on long stalks. Abutilons need good drainage.
As a ground cover underneath them, grow . Vivid periwinkle blue flowers bloom spring through summer. Campanulas are a large family of perennials. Some are low groundcovers like Get Mee’s to 3 ft tall peach leafed campanulas. Both are easy to grow and are choice plants for borders.