Secret of success: Improve your soil

Improving the soil of your garden is the most important aspect of gardening, yet is often overlooked. If you've ever marveled at your neighbor's garden where the plants were large and robust compared to yours, the difference is most likely the quality of the soil. Enriching your garden soil is not a one-step process. You don't just do it once and expect the results to last for years. A big effort can be done less often but every year you need to add more organic matter. The micro-organisms, worms and plants use up the organic matter. You need to replenish it regularly. Lift all the plants you want to keep out of the bed so you can work up the whole bed at once. Bring a combination of any of the following: dark, rich topsoil; composted manure, home compost; rotted leaves; grass clippings; peat moss; rotted sawdust, in a large enough quantity to make a layer 6-8 inches deep over your garden. Till this all in about 12 inches deep then replant your plants. Vegetable gardens and annual flower beds are easier to work up the soil in since you pull up all the plants at the end of the year anyway. Once the plants are out you can work in the organic matter. In raised beds, little if any tilling is necessary. When you originally make the beds, fill them with a mixture of good soil and various organic materials. Because you don't walk on these beds, the soil won't become compacted and as long as you use organic mulches to replenish the soil. Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.

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