The Q&A Archives: Amending Soil in CO

Question: I recently moved into a new home. The yard was professionally landscaped before we moved in. The garden beds have plastic over the soil and then bark over the plastic. The soil appears very clay like. Aside from removing the fairly new plastic and bark, how do I amend the soil or do I need to?

Answer: Improving your soil is the best thing you can do to promote healthy veggies and flowers. To improve your soil, incorporate plenty of compost. In sandy soils, compost improves soil fertility, water and nutrient retention. In clay soils, it improves fertility and drainage. Add a 4-6 inch layer of compost and incorporate it about 12-18 inches deep. You can use manure if it is well-aged (6 months) or you won't be planting until it has lost it's heat and decomposed. Each planting season, add more compost. You probably want to incorporate a balanced fertilizer (e.g., 10-10-10) or add organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, bone meal, and seaweed/kelp. Gypsum or soil sulfur are amendments that are often added to clay soil to improve drainage. (Use one or the other, not both.) Follow package instructions for amounts.

After planting, add a 1-2 inch layer of mulch. Mulch is great to help retain soil moisture, reduce weeds, and as it breaks down it provides nutrients to the soil. Any organic matter can be used as mulch, including that bark, as well as compost, wood chips, straw, or pine needles. As it breaks down, dig it into your soil and add more. I'm not sure why they add the plastic, as it interferes with drainage. Some gardeners use it on the top of soil to warm it up in the spring to get a jump start on planting, but it needs to be removed when temperatures heat up. Good luck with your new gardens!

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