How To Keep Your Soil Healthy For Your Plants

Written by David S.

A modern concept of growing plants that has been around for a long while is the ‘healthy soil, healthy plants’ idea. Many of today’s growers focus on building soil health and count on a balance of beneficials that keep the “bad” diseases and pests away. That process ranges from 100 percent sustainable and DIY to a mix of DIY and reaching for products that help you find healthy balance in soils of all types.¬†

Gardening Concepts that Create Healthy Soil 

One of the most popular gardening techniques used to create healthy soil is no-till. No till gardening simply means that you disturb the soil the least amount possible. By keeping the soil intact, you allow the natural relationships of the organisms that live in soil to remain in place and fulfilling their roles.

No till sounds like the perfect approach to gardening, and it can be. It is also a ton of work. There is only so much you can do with cover crops, compost and water management to keep soil alive and healthy. That is one of the reasons why letting garden plots lay fallow was so important. 

In flower beds where you want the productivity to remain constant, it is impossible to use no till and many other types of soil building planting to achieve the high nutrient levels needed to keep a plot or container of soil active and healthy. You will need products to supplement that process unless you have a very large farm where you can produce amazing quantities of compost and or manure. 

The following products are helpful in building a balanced soil that is healthy:

Products you might consider 

E.B. Stone – Edna’s Best potting soil – Indoor or outdoor – holds water thanks to Yucca extract, and it is 100 percent organic.¬†

Pennington Epsom salt РA soil amendment with a focus on adding magnesium and sulfur to soil. An excellent product for roses, flowers, lawns, and vegetables. 

Down To Earth Azomite Рis a box of trace minerals that are essential to plant health. Azomite is volcanic ash that has begun to weather. It provides access to minerals that are hard to find. 

E.B. Stone РPumice Рis an aggregate which helps to improve soil drainage. Pumice is a good product for any plant that requires dryer soil such as succulents and cacti. 

Malibu Compost – Bu’s Blend Top Soil – is a top dressing and fertilizer that contains manure from dairy cattle that are humanely treated. It is also a biodynamic¬†product meaning it has extracts from plants and a healthy level of beneficial biota.¬†

John & Bob’s Soil Optimizer Fertilizer – is concentered and full of humate compost. The product is organic and made from tree humus. Use it to amend soil by digging it in before planting or as a top dressing where its benefits will leach into the soil through watering. The humus layer of soil is the very top layer where in a forest the fallen leaves and branches decompose and fertilize the soil around the trees. This is the same idea and its concentrated formula is awesome for containers.¬†

Down To Earth Fruit Tree Fertilizer – is a fertilizer designed for tree health and nutrition. It has a NPK formula of 6-2-4 which gives the tree a boost of nitrogen, a touch of phosphorus, and a serving of potassium. They also have a formula for trees and shrubs which offers a 4-2-4 formula.

FoxFarm Tiger Bloom Fertilizer Рis a liquid phosphorus dominant fertilizer with nitrogen that is both applicable to soil amending and for hydroponic systems. FoxFarm Tiger Bloom fertilizer is a bloom and fruiting application for increased healthy flowering of fruiting plants, such as trees, shrubs, and flowers. 

Down To Earth Fishbone Meal Fertilizer Рis a plant fertilizer that focuses on phosphate. It is available in various NPK formulas such as 4-12-0 and 4-20-0. It is excellent for gardens and flower beds 

Down To Earth Starter Mix Fertilizer – is a fertilizer that is ideal for starting seeds or transplanting small seedlings. It is balance with an NPK formula of 3-3-3.

Pennington Ironite РFertilizer Р100% nitrogen based for greening up a plant. Ironite is part of my soil building kit when I make new soil for trees and shrubs in containers or when those trees or shrubs need to be repotted. 

Pest Control Products

All Seasons Horticultural Oil Spray (Organic Mineral Oil) РAn awesome product to help discourage or destroy fly, mite, and spider, and moth eggs and pests keeping pest populations small. All Seasons Horticultural Oil Spray is organic and is the organic form of mineral oil. Part of building healthy soil begins with a balance between beneficial insects plus predators that keep harmful biota populations low. All Seasons Horticultural Oil Spray helps do just that. It is also very applicable for all stages of plant development. Ideal for fruiting plants and trees. 

Monterey Garden Insect Spray Рis an OMRI listed organic pesticide useful against pest that feed on fruit and plant sap Рincluding those that eat leaves or mine. Monterey Garden Insect Spray is a systemic, which means that it is applied to the ground around a plant. The plant uptakes the pesticide with water and the dose is enough to kill insects and pests that feed on plant parts, plant sap, or fruit. Systemics are very effective at controlling worm and caterpillar as well as pests such as leaf minors. Systemics that have longer shelf lives should not be used until after flowering has ended and fruit set is in progress as they will kill bees.  

Beneficial bugs РThere are a long list of beneficial organisms such as nematodes that help to correct the balance in poor soil. Some are predatory and keep unwanted pest populations down, while others help to convert soil minerals into chemical forms that plants can utilize. Predatory bugs include ladybugs, praying mantis, predatory spider mites, and Braconid wasps (kills aphids.) Predatory nematodes help to keep pests away too. 

Alternatives to Chemical Pest Control 

There are ways to control garden and yard pests without using chemical pest control methods. Even organic pest control can be harmful to beneficial organisms, such as bees. If the goal around your yard and garden is to build healthy soil, then using systemic pesticides can reduce the population of beneficial and harmful organisms in the soil and around your plants. Toxins do not dissipate between trophic levels. If the stink bug that eats your treated roses is then eaten by a praying mantis, the mantis receives all the toxins in the stink bug. If the praying mantis is then eaten by a blue jay, the blue jay receives all the toxins in the mantis. Because the stink bug is small and the mantis larger, it may not kill the mantis unless the mantis eat too many poisoned stink bugs. The same is true for the blue jay. 

Options for not using chemical pest control include:

  • Installing bat boxes – bats are nocturnal and so are moths. Moth caterpillars are one of the most damaging insects for gardens, crops, and flowers. There are many night-flying insects and bats do an amazing job of eating many of them. A bat box puts bats right in your garden.¬†
  • Installing birdhouses for insect-eating birds. Phoebes, nuthatch, and other birds will nest in your yard if you provide the correct type of birdhouse. Birdhouses and bird feeders are two tools you can employ to attract a specific set of birds to your yard.¬†
  • Predatory insects are also an option. Generalized predators such as praying mantis and ladybugs do a fair job of destroying pest insects. Prey-specific predators, such as predatory wasps are also a good option. Small wasps that are prey-specific are not dangerous to you. They are not like yellowjacket wasps. Most predatory wasps are solitary rather than social.¬†

Green Thumb Nursery is an amazing place to find many products that can help you create health soil. A good tip for all who garden is to remember that a container garden is an artificial environment. It is 100 percent on the gardener to maintain the growing environment in a container. The above products are one way to make that chore easier. 

Healthy soil helps to create healthy plants and healthy plants have more blooms, produce more vegetables or fruit, and are a positive addition to your yard. Stop by any of our five Southern California locations and explore the beneficial products that help you create healthy soil without all the work. 

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