Plants are a lot like people: they need a good amount of healthy food to grow. However, plant food looks quite different from ours. One source of food is sunlight. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants are able turn sunlight into sugar. We are not able to do this; the only product humans are able to produce via sunlight is Vitamin D.
Beyond sunlight, plants need good, nutritious dirt. Vegetables and some flowers are considered heavy feeders — meaning they need a lot of rich minerals in the earth around their roots in order to thrive and produce the fruit and blooms we love to enjoy.
Tomatoes, corn, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and dahlias are examples of annual plants that need rich soil. Perennial trees, shrubs, and flowers also do well to receive yearly nutritious amendments to their topsoil via compost or mulch.
Nature does a great job of amending its own soil. In the woods, dead trees and autumn leaves provide rich ground cover that breaks down over time and reinvigorates the soil with needed minerals and compounds. In the prairies, the cycle of life, death, and decay of the grasses along with the manure of ruminants that are designed to eat those grasses provides a healthy amount of compost on this unique land.
In our gardens, we often have to carry in the necessary components to grow healthy plants. Here are three products that ensure your garden soil is primed for growing.
Topsoil. When houses are built, builders often scrape away the earth to build good foundations for the structure, and compact the topsoil with their large machinery in the process; this often leaves houses surrounded by clay, compacted soil, and subsoil. All of these are hard to grow plants in because they retain water. Topsoil, on the other hand, is literally the top layer of soil. Depending on the area’s geographical history, topsoil can extend between a few inches and a few feet. The best kind of topsoil to grow in is loam, comprised of a good mix of silt, sand, clay and organic matter. In this kind of topsoil, worms, microbes, and other organisms that keep soil healthy thrive.
While topsoil is a great growing medium, when it is store bought, it doesn’t come fertilized. Growers will need to add their own through composted manure or other kinds of compost.
Composted manure, also known aged manure, is manure, such as cow or horse, that has been processed to kill weed seeds and pathogens. To compost your own manure, you needs at least a cubic yard of manure mixed with other organic matter, such as hay or straw. The biological activity in that volume will heat up the manure. You want to make sure it heats up to at least 160 degrees, turning it from time to time, so all the manure is equally processed.
Other kinds of compost include fish emulsion, decomposed leaf litter, pelleted chicken manure, mushroom compost, composted seaweed, etc. Like composted manure, all of these products will add nutrition to the soil and can be used to help your garden plants thrive. However, each one of these kinds of compost have different kinds of minerals and elements. For example, pelleted chicken manure is a good source of calcium and boron, whereas mushroom compost provides moisture-absorbing humus and nitrogen.
For this reason, a lot of gardeners benefit from using a mixture of different types of manures together. To apply compost to your garden, it is often best to topdress the soil. This simply means adding a layer of compost around the base of the plant. This allows the compost to work its way gradually into the soil around the roots over time.
If you are starting raised beds or potting up starters in larger pots, you can blend topsoil with your compost mixture at ratio of 1:1 to give your plants the food they need to grow.
If you need to amend your garden’s soil, stop by the Wolff’s Plant Information House, where the Wolff’s staff can give you all the information you need to get started.