Herbeins Garden Center

What is Soil Health?

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Healthy plants grow from healthy soil…

remember this for later!

Soil has been around for millions of years but we’ve become so technical in our lives today that we tend to overlook it. People tend to ignore soils because they can easily remedy any soil issues quickly and topically. You can add lime or nitrogen to your lawn and have immediate color changes. But it’s really the soil that gets affected long-term unless you analyze the soil.

– Kip Connelly, PrescriptionSOIL Solutions owner

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What is soil health anyway?

Soil health is a vibrant ecosystem of the soil web consisting of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa all working together to create the nutrients, soil structure and humus that allows plants to thrive. Feed the soil and let the soil feed your plants. Think of it terms of a human for a moment…we can grab a bag of potato chips and our hunger goes away, but those are calories and nutrition that we burn through easily (some of us anyway). Or we could eat a more nutritious meal with protein, vegetables and a small amount of carbohydrate-whose components contribute to the longer-term functioning of the body. Minding only the N-P-K ratios that go into the soil for the plant to use neglects the health of the food web components, the billions of bacteria, fungi and protozoa that help make nutrients available to plants.

In short, healthy soil contains mostly topsoil with appropriate levels of organic matter and porosity, abundant levels of diverse soil biology and serves as both an anchor for plants and as a reservoir for water, nutrients and the microbial habitat.

When it comes to the first thing you should know…you need to understand that soils and potting soils are not the same thing. There are mediums (soil used for growing) that are to be used just as potting soil and others meant to be used in the garden. If you put topsoil in a pot or planter, your plant will have a hard time with drainage. This is a part of physics.

Another piece of knowledge to hold onto is that the soil you walk on and the soil in our flower beds are ALIVE. You may find rocks, organic matter and pockets of air, but the soil is teeming with life. Good healthy soil has a lot of biological activity that happens naturally. Understand that when we add amendments (humus, compost, mushroom soil) to our gardens, we are feeding soil microbes and helping them proliferate (a beneficial thing for our gardens).

The beauty of a soil analysis is that it tells us what the soil REALLY needs and what the soil already has, so that we don’t overapply anything. A heathy soil really will reduce the amount of weed killer, fungicides and fertilizers you’ll need to apply. This can save you time and money in the long run.

By having a soil analysis prepared by the Penn State Extension, you can opt to have Herbein’s Garden Center receive a copy of your test results to keep on file. We have a qualified specialist that can decipher your results for you and recommend any needed products to increase your soil’s health.

Instead of taking the “quick-fix” solution, try changing the way you think about your soil so you can move towards building long-term success, sustainability and vigor in your soil.

—pay a little more attention to Mother Earth and care for Mother Earth
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Here’s a short refresher from that 10th grade biology class you may have forgotten:

Microbes that live in soil benefit the plants that grow around them in a number of different ways. Most importantly for gardening success, microbes help increase a plant’s resistance to many kinds of stress such as drought, pest and disease stressors.

Microbes also drive the nutrient cycling that occurs in soils. A protozoa eats bacteria and doesn’t need all the extra nitrogen so it ejects the extra water-soluble nitrogen out of their cells making it available for plant roots to absorb. It’s nutrient cycling, it’s microbes eating microbes, it’s the underground safari. Other than increasing stressor resistance and nutrient cycling, microbes will, over time, help create a soil structure that increases moisture retention as well as nutrient retention.

– Organic Mechanics Soil Company President, Mark Highland

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