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Home & Garden

Learning to Grow in St. Charles: Tips on healthy soil for healthy plants

Maintaining the proper soil is important for healthy gardens.
Maintaining the proper soil is important for healthy gardens.

Looking out your window on a lovely summer day, you are drawn to the beauty of your … soil?

You may not think about your soil very often, but it provides plants with the basics: water, oxygen, nutrients and physical support. Here are some ways to keep your soil as healthy as possible, so it can do its job.

Did you know that plant roots need oxygen to live? Roots can’t make their own food and depend on the food made by leaves. To use that food, roots need oxygen, the same way we need oxygen to process our food. Roots get their oxygen directly from air spaces in the soil. If soil is waterlogged or compacted, there is little or no oxygen available to the roots and the plants will die.

Watering correctly prevents waterlogged soil. You can tell that soil is too wet if it holds its shape when pressed into a ball. As a general guideline, established plants need about an inch of water per week. To encourage deep root growth for healthy plants, one deep watering is better than watering shallowly several times per week. Consider buying a rain gauge so you know how much water your plants are getting, and provide supplemental water if necessary.

Avoid compacted soil by improving the physical condition, or tilth, of your soil. Soil that is loose will hold the right amount of water, yet drain well. You can improve soil tilth by mulching with wood chips, straw or dried (untreated) grass to add organic matter as it breaks down. To prevent soil compaction, limit walking through your flower beds, especially when the soil is wet and never dig or till wet soil.

Lastly, for the best plant growth, keep nutrients in the soil. Watering slowly and gently reduces run-off of nutrient-containing water. It also keeps the soil where it belongs, not flowing out of your bed (erosion). If it’s been over three to five years since your soil was last tested for nutrients, it’s probably time to do so. This will let you know if you need to amend the soil. The Kane County Farm Bureau offers soil testing in our area for a small fee. Find more information at http://www.kanecfb.com/media/SoilBrochure2018.pdf.

When you look out your window to admire your blooming flowers, don’t forget about the hard work the soil is doing to maintain that beauty.

Sue Styer is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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