Give your perennials a boost this spring with a layer of compost, aged manure or other organic material. It’s a great way to revive tired gardens, improve a garden’s overall health, and keep vibrant perennials healthy and blooming.
Research has shown that covering your garden with compost every year or two provides most, if not all, of the nutrients that most perennials need. It feeds the soil, which in turn feeds your plants. Let a soil test report and your plant’s performance determine if additional fertilizer is needed. Spring is the perfect time to add that too.
When purchasing compost, it should appear light and fluffy. Take a puff, it shouldn’t have a strong smell of ammonia, rotten food or other unpleasant smell. It should have a rich, earthy smell and not be covered in flies or maggots. If jumping worms are a problem in your area, ask your compost supplier how they manage compost to avoid spreading this invasive pest.
Once you have the necessary organic matter, you are ready to begin. Remove mulch if necessary. Keep it handy, so you can put it back in place when you’re done amending the soil.
Topdressing is the first step in the process. Simply spread a one to two inch layer of compost or other organic matter over the surface of the soil. Be careful not to bury the crown of your plants.
You can let the compost sit on the surface of the soil or lightly mix it into the top inch with a hand cultivator. Earthworms, ground beetles and other organisms will move it through the soil and around plant roots to where they are needed.
The second stage is especially useful for those with heavy or compacted soils. Once the compost is in place, do some vertical mulching. Use an auger on your cordless drill. Simply drill holes in the ground between the plants. This aerates the soil and pushes some of the compost into the soil, further boosting your efforts.
Vertical mulching helps to speed up the process a bit by bringing the compost closer to plant roots and soil organisms that will help incorporate it into the soil. The openings created in the soil allow air, water and fertilizers to enter the soil surface and reach the root zone.
Then be sure to put back the mulch you removed from the garden or add more mulch if needed. Maintaining an inch or two of organic mulch on the soil surface not only conserves moisture and suppresses weeds; he also continues to improve the soil. As organic mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil.
Investing time to create and maintain healthy soil goes a long way to making your garden a beautiful part of the landscape.
Melinda Myers has written over 20 gardening books, including the recent Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses DVD series “How to Grow Anything” and the nationally broadcast television and radio show Melinda’s Garden Moment. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.