How to Make Soil Fertile

By Susan Landis-Steward , last updated February 14, 2011

Healthy fertile soil is home to microscopic organisms that interact to form the ideal growing environment for your plants and making it at home is crucial to have healthy plants. These include mites, bacteria, fungi, and on a larger scale, earthworms. You can create your own healthy soil with the judicious addition of compost, nutrients, and live organisms.

Start and maintain a good compost pile consisting of grass clippings, kitchen scraps—except protein sources like meats, and other yard debris. Turn your compost regularly and you will eventually have rich dirt to add to your soil. Do not put diseased plant material in your compost heap.

Use organic fertilizers to amend your soil. Try to achieve a balance of nitrogen (N) for increased chlorophyll production and faster growth, phosphorus (P) for root and flower development, and potassium (K) for overall soil health. You can buy already-mixed fertilizers or individual ingredients to increase nutrients in the soil. Look for products that include trace amounts of calcium and magnesium

Avoid over-tilling your soil. Every time you till, you destroy fragile microorganism systems, bury surface-layer organisms, and damage earthworm tunnels. Also avoid walking in your garden beds.

Build your soil's fertility by adding in layers of compost, fertilizers, and organic mulch. Use a shovel or fork to mix gently. After the growing season, plant a cover crop and cut it in the spring, after it blooms, allowing it to decompose in place. If you don't have enough cover crop residue to fully cover the garden, add a layer of mulch to a depth of two inches.

In early spring, add one-half to one inch of rich compost. If you have sandy soil or live in a hot region where decomposition is fast, make that one to two inches of mulch and reapply in the fall. Once your soil is ready, there is no need to add earthworms. They will find you.

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