How do I know if the soil in my garden is healthy?


Upon first glance, a garden may appear to be the picture of health. However, further examination may reveal that the garden isn’t all that it seems, and perhaps that healthy facade is artificially manufactured.

Chemical fertilizers and an abundance of water may temporarily boost the appearance of a garden, but gardens need more than a quick fix to maintain long-term health. The following are a handful of indicators that a garden has established itself and is likely to maintain its health for years to come.

Related: How to test your garden soil 

  • Earthworms: The presence of earthworms in the garden and surrounding soil indicates a healthy garden. Earthworms are essential to healthy plants because they aerate the soil by channeling through it. These channels enable rain to soak into the soil and air to reach roots. Earthworms, through their castings, also add important nutrients to soil. Dig a few inches into the garden. If you find an abundance of earthworms, it is a good indication that all is well.
  • Water infiltration: Take a glass of water and pour it onto the soil of the garden. If it takes five seconds or less for the soil to absorb the water, then that soil is probably doing well. However, soil that can’t soak up that water may be having problems, or there may be problems on the horizon. Those problems will likely manifest themselves when the temperatures begin to rise.
  • Foliage color and growth: A plant leaf can tell a lot about the health of a plant. Shriveled or pale leaves could be indicative of a problem. If the plant looks sickly, soil might need to be modified or the problem may lie inside of the plant itself. Take a clipping of a poorly growing plant and place it in a glass of water. If the water becomes cloudy or milky, there may be a bacterial problem. If the water remains clear, the plant may have a virus. The presence of fuzz or hairs growing on leaves could indicate the presence of a fungus.
  • Plant residue: The presence of stubble or leftover plant particles from previous plantings helps the soil retain moisture and suppress weeds. This material also can prevent erosion. It’s good to have some residual plant matter in your soil. If the soil is too “clean,” it may not be as healthy as you think.
  • Flowers: Certainly there are low-maintenance plants that do not produce flowers, but relying only on these plants in your garden can prove troublesome over the long haul. Bees, birds and butterflies are attracted to sweet, flowering plants. These animals and insects are essential to pollination, and without them the garden cannot procreate. A thriving garden is one that has a mix of plants, including some flowering varieties that will keep birds, butterflies and bees coming back again and again.
  • Minimal weeds: If the only thing you’re growing is weeds, then there is a problem in the garden. Weeds tend to be more tolerant of poor soil conditions and can quickly take over and force other plants out. Planting ground cover and using mulch is a natural way to keep weeds at bay. You may need to do some manual work on your hands and knees and pull out weeds as well. The fewer the weeds, the more likely your plants will grow tall and full.

Signs of a healthy garden include the presence of beneficial insects and good color and plant growth.

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