The summer heat in West Texas and surrounding areas can take its toll on humans, but even more so on plants. Making sure that your garden has sufficient water is a must, but so is maintaining your soil to provide optimal growing conditions.
Fortunately, there is a variety of ways to keep your soil healthy throughout the year, including when the temperatures start to rise. Let’s take a look:
- Improve compacted soil
Soil compaction, which occurs when air pockets in the soil collapse, causes roots to work harder while growing. In turn, that means the plant takes in fewer nutrients and water – and makes it harder for water to percolate through the ground.
What causes soil compaction? In general, it’s because of consistent foot traffic or heavy machinery, but also because of working the soil too often or when conditions aren’t ideal.
You can take several steps to improve – and prevent – compacted soil.
*An excellent preventive measure is to avoid tilling when your soil is too wet or too dry.
*Don’t till your soil more than once a year.
*Keep foot and vehicle traffic to a minimum whenever possible.
*Use an aerator to loosen the soil the soil in larger areas, while for smaller areas (such as gardens) you can mix in organic materials.
*Adding earthworms to garden beds will improve compacted soil. The worms will burrow their way into the soil to aerate and fertilize the ground.
- Adding organic matter
Mixing organic matter with your soil is a great way to keep your soil healthy during the summer months. The sources of the organic matter should be as diverse as possible:
Research has shown that manure contributes more to the soil than composting and their nutrients are readily available to soil and plants.
You need to take care when applying livestock manures, however. Allow at least three months between the application of the manure and harvest of leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach, etc.).
Also, some nutrients from manure are more likely to leech out of the soil and into groundwater and streams, where they become pollutants. In many cases, it’s best to restrict fresh manures to fast-growing crops like corn.
Compost is valuable because it comes from recycling any organic wastes while stabilizing more volatile nutrients. Regular applications of compost (in modest amounts) will improve your soil’s water retention while reducing the chances of disease.
Mulch applied to the top of the soil retains soil moisture and acts as protection against temperature extremes. Also, high-carbon mulches are effective for weed control.
Growing cover crops is an extremely effective way to feed the soil, build its fertility, and keep it structurally sound throughout the year. Examples of valuable cover crops include clovers, beans, peas, and alfalfas.
Growing in wide permanent beds while restricting foot traffic around them will help avoid soil compaction. Raised beds are particularly effective in that you can create your soil mix from scratch and adapt it to seasonal climates.