The wet weather this past winter has been a blessing and a curse. Many growers and gardeners report crusting soil due to the heavy rains landing on bare ground. The impact of the raindrops helps compact the soil. The challenge is this crust makes it harder for water to penetrate the soil, and more runoff occurs. Fortunately, there are ways to fix and improve your soil. Below are four favorites.
- Add Organic Matter
What soil wouldn’t benefit from more organic matter? This can be compost, leaf litter, worm casting, or cover crops are a few of my favorites. More organic matter in the soil helps bind the soil particles together, creating larger pore space in the soil.
This improves the soil’s ability to absorb and retain water. The organic matter also contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which slowly release into the soil providing steady nutrients.
- Add Mulch
Mulching soil is better before the rain because it ensures the raindrops don’t hit bare soil with full force. As a result, the soil is less likely to compact. It also helps the soil stay moist, which makes it less likely to crust. Here is a link to an excellent article about using compost as mulch.
- Use Cover Crops
Cover crops do everything organic matter and mulch do with live plants. Cover crops are planted with the goal of improving soil health. Legumes are an excellent cover crop because they can fix nitrogen in the soil. Legume cover crops include clover, beans, and lentils. Grasses also meet the cover crop requirement. They suppress weeds and reduce erosion. Ryegrass and fescue are excellent examples of grasses used as cover crops. Brassicas are known for their pest-controlling ability, along with improving soil health. These include radish, turnips, and mustard.
- Don’t Overwater
Irrigating plants is done to supplement rainwater. However, watering too much causes the same damage to the soil as too much rain. It causes soil compaction, loss of organic material and reduces the ability of the soil to absorb water. When soil is waterlogged, it breaks down the soil structure and works against all the good done in the three fixes above. This is just another negative impact of overwatering plants. Here is a link to an article that describes how to tell if you are overwatering your plants.
Crusting soil is discouraging because, at first, it can seem overwhelming to correct. However, adding mulch or organic material or using compost helps improve the problem quickly and easily. Using cover crops is an excellent practice, and paying attention to water is a consistent message. Healthy soil is one of the most significant contributors to your crop and plants’ success. Take care of the soil, and it will take care of your plants.