All the dirt

soilCarefully prepared plant beds can reduce water usage by almost half. That’s because soil plays a huge part in a water-wise landscape. Good soil absorbs and holds moisture better and encourages plants to grow deep roots so they can access moisture even when topsoil is dry. Improving the soil now can help your plants become healthier and better suited to handle low-water conditions later.

What is good soil?

Good soil has organic material that:

  • Holds water well
  • Provides nutrients
  • Is aerated to allow water to penetrate several inches to reach deep roots
  • Has large particles that allow water flow and absorption. Dense soils such as clay are slow to absorb water, so they’re prone to runoff.

Get your soil tested

Healthy plants start with healthy soil. So, before planting or installing an irrigation system, make sure to test your soil. Your local cooperative extension can test your soil and tell you how to improve it. When collecting samples, keep the following in mind:

  • Remove a small amount of soil from a depth of about four inches at 10 scattered spots around the yard. Do the back and front yards separately.
  • In a clean plastic bucket (don’t use galvanized steel), mix the soil gathered from the 10 spots together into a single soil sample.
  • Pack your soil into the soil sample box provided by the agency.
  • Repeat these steps for the backyard and mail out both samples for testing.

Within a few weeks, the agency will reply with a letter explaining what your soil is missing and how to improve it.

How to improve your soil

  1. Begin with deep spading, plowing or rototilling – to a depth of about six inches – to break up compacted soil and allow root systems to grow deeper into the earth.
  2. While tilling, add organic matter such as compost or shredded leaves to improve penetration.
  3. Add soil amendments as recommended by a soil test.

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