The key to a healthy garden (vegetable, habitat, or ornamental) is understanding your soil. Soil requirements can vary among different garden types, but there are a few tried and true tips for building healthy soils.
Test your soil
Although it’s not required, knowing the primary nutrient levels and pH (scale of acidity) of your soil can save you a lot of headache. The results of your soil test can help determine what you need to add to the soil to maintain healthy plants. Here’s a list of soil testing laboratories for home gardeners from the University of California. Additionally, identifying soil texture will give you clues to how your soil will react to water and maintain nutrient levels. Here is a guide to determining your soil texture by feel.
Cover your soil!
Covering the exposed soil around your plants maintains moisture, reduces weed competition, and builds the soil’s organic matter over time. The best choice for a soil covering is slightly decomposed, untreated wood chips (fresh are fine, as well). These wood chips will eventually decompose into your soil, adding food for microbes and fungi. One important thing: do not mix the mulch into the soil. Keep it as a covering or else the decomposition process can tie up nitrogen within your soil.
Fertilize with organic compost
Your soil will need a little boost once a year. Rake aside your mulch and add about an 1″” of compost to your soil every year (don’t add too much- your soil will do a lot of the work for you). Mix the compost into the top few inches of soil, cover with mulch, and water the area.