Other Herbs

Scented Geraniums
Organic Produce

Gift Shop
    Gift Certificates

What's New
Growing Tips
USDA Zone Map



Don Trotter

Hello Fellow Earthlings, and welcome to the garden. Today we are discussing how we gardeners can reduce and eliminate plant diseases by building up the quality of our garden soil.

I realize this sounds a little silly, but it is the way nature keeps disease pathogens at bay. We are only going to do what has been done for millennia by nature herself.

By improving our soil conditions we can show those pesky plant diseases and fungal headaches the door while making our plants happier and eliminating the shortsighted dependence on chemical or synthetic fungicides. So let's take a stroll out to the garden and get a good look at the dirt.

Soil conditions vary by region and there can actually be several different kinds of soil types on a single rural homesite. Most of the homes built in the last twenty-five years are built on processed and compacted soils that are mechanically mixed. This gives new homeowners a solid patch of earth for the stability of their new home but really throws a monkey into the wrench for gardening enthusiasts on these new home lots.

These mixed and processed soils are a conglomerate material that may actually include several different soil types and small crushed rock aggregates. These mixed soils cement very well for stability but plants often have difficulty establishing deep root systems in them.

This is where my favorite word in the world comes into play. Yes it's MULCH again. Did you actually think there would be a column without it?

Many new home gardeners get their handy landscaper to blend up some organic matter into their soil by roto-tilling it into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil. This is a good thing but not nearly enough soil amending to ensure a healthy garden.

If this is all of the soil amending that is done on your lot you may notice that you seem to have to water quite a bit to keep your plants from wilting and diseases and insect pests seem to be a constant battle.

The reason for this is that your soil craves more organic matter, and quite possible could use some mineral assistance to help to break up the compaction. The organic matter part is easy, MULCH. The mineral part can be accomplished with a variety of materials including lime, gypsum, and fossilized kelp for calcium and some other minerals. This calcium will increase plant's abilities to reach deeper into the soil by breaking up the cemented soil particles.

When your plants can reach deeper into the soil, you can water less often and save some money on your water bill each month. The mulch feeds the beneficial microorganisms in your soil that creates humus and converts the mulch into nutritious food for your precious plants and lawn. This mulch also loosens the soil surface so that water can enter the soil more effectively reducing runoff and allowing you to send no water into the storm drain system. This saves you more money because you are not wasting water and even more importantly, you eliminate the potential of adding to water pollution in our streams, lakes and our ocean.

The mulch also acts as an insulator in hot and cold weather, keeping your soil at an even temperature so your plant's roots stay cool. This makes them very happy and increases plant health.

A wise old man once said, "The best pest and disease control method is to grow healthy plants". There is no more true statement for gardeners. By adding a layer of organic matter (mulch, compost) to the top of your native soil you can be assured that you are doing many gardening tasks at one time.

The end result of this practice is that you will certainly improve the quality of your garden soil. You will save water and thus will save money. You will eliminate the possibility of runoff water polluting our wetlands and water resources. Your soil begins to "come to life", supporting a population of beneficial microbes that feed your plants and compete with diseases for space. And your garden costs less money to maintain in a lush and beautiful way.

The real neat part of this equation is that the mulch or compost that you are adding to your soil to do all of these things is actually a recycled material.

So while you are doing your part to ensure a cleaner environment around your home, you are also reducing a burden on our over taxed sanitation facilities. There are no chemicals at any nursery or garden center that can do that many things that are sensible and economically logical.

The best part is that while all of this biology is working to improve your soil so that jackhammers and picks become a memory, it is also working to keep your plants free of diseases and pest problems. This practice saves you time in the garden on top of the money you save. You see, gardening naturally is economically smart as well as environmentally responsible.

Next time we will be discussing some late summer site preparation tips for planting those wonderful fall bulbs. See you in the Garden!

Got questions? Fax the Doc at 760.632.8175 or Email him: email

Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications.

Look for Don's book Natural Gardening A-Z from Hay House at bookstores everywhere and at all online booksellers and check out Don's columns in Hearst's Healthy Living Magazine coming soon.

Enjoy some of Dr. Curly's past gardening articles from our growers archive.

Back To Top

Back To Dr. Curly Index

Copyright © 2012