The Dark Knight

There’s a hero in your garden, working tirelessly, relatively unseen, often unacknowledged. Its rewards are few, often infrequent, but it toils on nonetheless, day and night. It’s your soil.

Dark Knight article

Often, I am invited to a garden to advise the owner how best to maintain it and a familiar situation unfolds. The owner will have spent hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds recreating borders, renewing their planting schemes, on many occasions working hand in hand with a garden designer, and the view is impressive. Then my head drops. I peer down to the ground, scratch around a little, and my heart sinks. They’ve dressed their garden up for its new future, but it’s wearing its tattered, worn out shoes from its infancy. There is no spring in its step. It’s tired underneath and it cannot pull off the performance for long. The garden owner has done nothing to care for the soil.

Every garden should be built from the ground up, literally. Soil is formed primarily from rock erosion so it contains a certain level of mineral content. This mineral content helps provide your plants with nutrition. In addition to rock erosion, soil also contains a health level of decomposed organic matter, as a result of plant and animal decay over time. It is this organic matter that provides its bulk. Dig into your soil and you will see the different layers that constitute it. These are called horizons and consist of (from the bottom up) parent rock, subsoil and topsoil.

The roots of most plants will not penetrate deeper than the topsoil level because the majority of nutrients they require are found at this level. It transpires therefore that the deeper your topsoil, the happier the majority of your plants will be. To assess the mood of your plants, look at their appearance. To assess the mood of your soil, give it a feel. Good soil should be dark, crumbly and contain a healthy volume of worms, bacteria, insects and other micro-organisms. It is these little guys that are helping to break down the organic matter which in turn improves your plants’ ability to access the nutrients from this organic matter more quickly.

A good soil containing healthy amounts of organic matter will also contain a good balance of the three main elements that plants require for good growth:

(1) Nitrogen supports the green growth in plants through providing protein, which results in increased stem length and leaf size, paramount to helping the plant generate sugars to fed itself.

(2) Potassium is required to improve the quality and size of the plants flowers and/or fruit.

(3) Phosphorous counter-balances the effects nitrogen has on the plant’s metabolic rate, so it keeps it all in balance and it ensures the plant has a good, strong root system.

However, the problem lies here. These elements are leached out of your soil on a continuous basis through rain or lost by being consumed by plants. Only a minority of people ever consider that they should be replacing these elements by feeding their soil. You can do this two ways. The first is a short-term fix, through using inorganic fertilisers such as tomato feed, seaweed solution, or even the amateur gardener’s favourite tonic, MiracleGro. However, this really is only a very short term fix as these solutions do nothing for your soil’s structure, so they too can be leached out through your soil.

The answer is soil conditioner.

Soil conditioner is, in essence, organic matter. At Oxford Edens, the conditioner that we supply most of, consists of many ingredients, but predominantly rotted down leaves, grass clippings and manure and it will ensure your soil’s structure is improved (improving air and water flow), its mineral content is enhanced and your depth of topsoil increases over time. Whether you have a sandy soil which retains nutrients poorly and needs to be bulked out and nutritionally enhance, a clay soil that compacted and draining poorly and needs better structure for air flow, or a chalk soil that is too shallow (as they often are), you need to improve your soil, ideally in the autumn/winter (dependent upon soil type) and spring. Neglect this at your peril. Your garden will not thank you for it and your dark knight will be visible, in the form of a shrinking violet.

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Oxford Edens is a gardening business based in Oxfordshire, specialising in garden development and maintenance of both domestic gardens and commercial grounds.  We are registered with the Environment Agency as a business that produces composts in an environmentally manner, recycling wherever possible.

For more information visit http://www.oxfordedens.co.uk or email us at enquiries@oxfordedens.co.uk

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