Improving Soil

Zone 4 or 5 | Mary Ann added on October 11, 2012 | Answered

To improve my poor soil for next spring garden, should I apply bone meal and other organic material this October?

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Certified GKH Gardening Expert
Answered on October 12, 2012

This really depends on the current state of your soil (a soil test is beneficial since you will then know exactly what it is lacking or needs), but it does not hurt to refresh the soil with organic amendments each year. In fact, many people amend their soil with compost or manure annually to keep it healthy. You can apply this in spring or fall either one.

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Answered on October 12, 2012

After 14 years in our current home, my husband bought a Harley - thereby ending his gardening career. As I began working in the garden, I discovered that not only was the soil loaded with surface weeds - but if I dug beneath about 4", I found an entire world of junk such as rocks, logs and construction garbage. Most surprising to me - a neophyte gardener - was the fact that about the 8" depth I found large, long weed "conduit" systems, some with fully formed weeds awaiting their emergence upon the surface. The largest were 1/2" or more in diameter, and I followed a couple to their end point - some 20'+ (yes, FEET!) away. One actually ran the entire depth of our back yard from patio door to gate (approximately 35')!

However, I learned that when I removed the weed root systems, the soil suddenly became less compacted and more sandy feeling. I learned that most "dirballs" consisted of bundles of weed systems compacted in dirt.

In order to clean out and nourish the soil, I took an old cat box (which was designed to sift the cat litter through), and proceeded to shovel out the dirt, sift out the "undesirables", and set it aside. When I was finished with a particular area, I added steer manure and chicken manure (3 parts dirt to 1 part mixed manure), and put it back into the garden. I added some bone meal to the plants that needed it, and covered with mushroom compound. Then I fed the plants with Miracle Gro every two weeks. I verified this "home brew" with a couple of master gardeners at local nurseries, and both gave me a thumbs up.

FYI, the mushroom compound is actually designed (according to the packaging) to nourish the soil; however, I don't like the look of beauty bark or most other mulches, so I used 3-4" of the mushroom compound. It give the soil a nearly black appearance, which shows off the colors in your plants, minus the chunky, splinter-weilding beauty bark.

Any comments correcting or revising my system are welcome, as I have only been a garden widow for one or two years!

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