General Tips for Gardening


Improving the Soil

One of the most important aspects of landscaping or gardening is soil preparation.  This is the most often overlooked aspect of proper plant installation and development.  Building a good soil foundation is the most basic part of successful gardening.  The soil that sustains plant life is very complex and very variable.  In the St. Louis area, we find high concentration of clay soil in West County, chert rock in Jefferson County, rich topsoil in North County and the city, and heavy deposits of rock in West and South County.  The source of all soil is rock, particularly the mantle rock which is the layer of disintegrated and decomposed rock fragments that exist in varying depths above the solid rock of the earth’s crust.

The details of soil complexity may not seem important.  However, without any special training we realize that plants do better in good topsoil, and very poorly in subsoil.  Erosion, construction, and a variety of processes, often leave the gardener or homeowner with only subsoil after the topsoil has eroded away or taken away by man.

Is it possible to grow plants in subsoil?  The answer is yes, but with the understanding that the conditions needed for good topsoil--proper portions of air, water, mineral materials, and organic matter must be incorporated into the soil.  We must create in days or months what took nature thousands of years to originally create.

We can begin to process topsoil development by incorporating organic material into the soil.  Organic material is usually considered to be compost or even seasoned manure.  With the addition of organic matter and nitrogen or other nutrients to assist organic matter decomposition by micro-organisms, the process can be speeded up.  Tilling the organic matter to a depth of 6” will significantly increase water percolation, fertilizer uptake and the overall quality of any plant life.  Do not be impatient, however, it all takes time.

Creating raised berms with fresh topsoil and compost will greatly increase the soil microbial activity.  Compost added to topsoil at a rate of 50% (soil to compost) has been proven very beneficial to the plants.

Incorporating compost into existing beds by layering 2” of compost in the fall will aid in better soil structuring.  The only drawback is the root systems may become too deep after extended periods of layering.  The secret of great landscapes and gardens is simple:  Improve the soil.