Dealing with Compacted Soil

Rocks_Hwy50-BlueMesaReservoir-CO_LAH_8224-001My soil is rock hard! That’s a common complaint along Colorado’s Front Range. Our soils tend to extremes—we find that we’re either dealing with sand and decomposed gravel (the remains of glacial moraines), or clay. Then, to make things worse, soil becomes compacted over time. Roots can’t force their way through compacted soils, plus there’s no place for air or water. How do we turn compacted dirt into soil that nurtures life?

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Putting Your Garden to Bed

Early fall weather brings an invigorating briskness that invites us back into our gardens. Don’t resist. There is plenty to do:

  • carrot-sleeping-in-bedSpending time now on chores such as weeding and garden cleanup will reward you many times over when spring arrives.
  • Amending your soil this fall will give you a head start on next year’s garden.
  • Fall is also a great time to build a new patio or raised bed.
  • Protecting your less-hardy plants will increase the odds of them surviving a Colorado winter.
  • Finally, winter’s cold weather is a great time to read articles, take classes, and prowl the Internet to become a more knowledgeable gardener. Your county Master Gardeners are there to help, with research-based information that is tailored to your specific growing concerns.

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Improving Your Soil

Soil is the foundation of your garden. It pays to invest in creating the best possible soil for your plants to grow in. Living along the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains has many benefits. However, no one would move here for the black topsoil! Instead of the optimal 5% humus content, most of our soils have little or none. It’s up to us to improve on Mother Nature.

shoveling-manure-home-plhYou can easily increase the percentage of organic matter in your soil by adding compost or another organic amendment. This added humus will act as a sponge, increasing water retention in sandy soils. On the other hand, in clay it acts to improve drainage by increasing the size of air and water spaces. Plus, organic matter works with your fertilizer by holding nutrients in a form that is available for absorption by roots. As you can see, organic matter is an important component of healthy soil.

It’s best not to add too much organic material at once. Many organic amendments are based on manure, and could contain harmful amounts of salt, as well as weed seeds. Plus, the nitrogen in fresh manure can burn tender roots. Make sure to let manures age before adding them to your garden. Decomposition requires nitrogen. Any form of organic matter that isn’t completely decomposed will steal that essential element from your plants.

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