Soil Preparation: Building your soil’s health naturally and organically

All too often, I see customers load up with lots of plants and very few soil building products. Granted this is a dated analogy by today’s pricing, but the truth of the saying is still relevant:  “Don’t plant a $5 tree in a $1 hole.”  And whether it’s a tree, shrub, perennial or spring-flowering bulb, insuring a healthy soil in your new transplant’s root zone is key to long term success.

Beautiful gardens start with healthy soil.

Beautiful gardens start with healthy soil.

What is so often forgotten is that the soil is an underground ecosystem that supports the plants that grow in it. It is a symbiotic relationship between plant and soil that is as old as time. So we want to use soil building ingredients that feed all the microorganisms and earthworms that make the soil alive and healthy.  I keep it simple because over-amending the soil can be just as detrimental to your plants as not doing anything at all.

The first and most important thing to do is forget about using peat moss.  We’ve been taught from way back that a bale of peat moss is a gardener’s best friend. Wrong! Peat moss is an essential ingredient in soil-less potting mixes, but it has no value when it comes to nourishing the soil.

Yum Yum Mix Winterizer

Yum Yum Mix Winterizer

Instead I use a Yum Yum Mix soil food and a top quality compost as the foundation of my soil preparation.

  • For xeric (waterwise) plants that prefer growing in a “lean” or infertile soil, I dig in a handful of Yum Yum Mix (or Yum Yum Mix Winterizer if it’s fall) into a nice wide planting hole.  I will supplement that with a few tablespoons of Planters II trace mineral fertilizer. This provides an essential boast of trace minerals that many native plants crave and helps to activate the soil’s microorganisms.
  • For plants with moderate water needs, I combine the Yum Yum Mix with compost (usually 1 part Yum Yum Mix to 3 parts compost) and work it into a nice wide planting hole. The Planters II should be included as well.
Plant Success Mycorrhiza Root Inoculant

Plant Success Mycorrhizal Root Inoculant

And I strongly recommend the use of a mycorrhizal root inoculant (Plant Success Mycorrhiza Root Inoculant) sprinkled into the hole at planting time or watered into the soil if the plants have been in the ground and you forgot to add it when they were planted.

The use of mycorrhizal root inoculants is especially important when planting into soils:

  • Disturbed and compacted by construction
  • Damaged by long term use of chemical fertilizers and chemicals (such as when planting into old lawn areas where weed-n-feed fertilizers, fungicides and insecticides have been used).

In both cases the soil’s microbial population has been killed off and the soil’s natural tilth that supports good water percolation and water holding capacity has been destroyed. The best way to restore soil health and its ability to grow healthy plants is to use a combination of natural and organic ingredients along with the root inoculants.

Text and photos by David Salman

Garden Goods >> View All

  • Yum Yum Mix

    Starting at $15.95
  • Yum Yum Mix Winterizer

    Starting at $42.95

    Per 25 Pounds

  • Root Stimulator Combo Pack

    Starting at $19.90

    Per Combo Pack


5 thoughts on “Soil Preparation: Building your soil’s health naturally and organically”

  • Marlene Meyer
    Marlene Meyer 09/04/13 at 7:45 am

    No comment but a question...can you recommend a good plant food for plants that are already planted and mulched?

    • David Salman

      Marlene:
      For plants that are already planted and mulched, you have a couple of options. You can pull back the mulch and apply a mix of compost and Yum Yum Mix to the soil's surface and recover with the mulch. Water it in and you're good to go. If you don't want to go to the effort of pulling back the mulch, you can water with a blend of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion. Either way, it's best to do this later in the fall, after you're area has had a few hard frosts.

  • David Salman

    Here is a link to Pam Penick's blog. She's a writer and gardener in Austin. And she's blogging about a plant sent to her several years ago to test in the Austin area.

    http://www.penick.net/digging/?p=23123

    This fantastic Vernonia will be available through the catalog this coming spring 2014. I let Pam know and she'll update her blog.

  • LyNel Gross

    About this ""soil??"" building thing. I have rocks. You can scrape forever & get very little soil & lots of rocks of many shapes, sizes & colors. I need lessons & advice for preparing my soil for a garden. I live in Colorado, South Park, 10,000 feet. I'm 72 so can't strain a huge spot to grow in. Any ideas for me. I sure would love some flowers. Love the lavender or heather. I think I'm a zone 3. In Feb. one night gets to -40. Rest of time it's around 0 or a bit below. Jan., Feb., March are the coldest. The -40 only lasts for about 2 hours. Any help or advice would really be appreciated.

    • David Salman

      Ms. Gross, your plant choices at that elevation are pretty limited. And the lack of any soil is an additional challenge.

      But if you can have someone bring in soil and build some planting beds you can plant Rocky Mt. Columbine, Campanula rotundifolia (Bluebells), European Sages (Salvia nemerosa varieties) like 'May Night', 'Marcus', and various great alpine plants from Laporte Avenue Nursery in Fort Collins. Plant in spring.

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