Successful gardening depends on good quality soil. Although other factors are important, the soil conditions can help or hinder the growth of your plant. If you live in an area with poor soil, or soil conditions that do not meet the needs of your plants, there are a few cheap and free way to improve and amend your soil for a more successful garden.
Improve Soil With These Free and Cheap Amendments
Improving your soil doesn’t have to be expensive. Instead of buying compost or fertilizer from the hardware store and spending money, there are many ways to make soil amendments for cheap and free. First, be sure to test your soil and find out what your soil is missing.
Manure is one of the most well-known ways to improve your soil. Use manure from herbivores, think: horses, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, etc. Look in your community to find people with these types of animals. Many of them are trying to get rid of it and would be happy to allow you to have some for free.
Animal manure provides enough nutrients to replace fertilizer needed for your growing plants. 70-80% of the nitrogen, 60-85% of the Phosphorous and 80-90% of the potassium that animals eat are passed into the manure. Manure also contains organic carbon (not found in store-bought fertilizer) which is essential for healthy soil.
Leaves are great for providing nutrients to your soil. Allowing the leaves to fall and “mold” over the winter is a great way to use them again in the spring. I have a poplar tree and in the fall, I allow large piles of leaves to break down over the winter. Then I chop up the leaves in the spring with a lawn mover and till it into my soil for planting.
Leaf mold provides nutrients to your soil. Adding organic material improves the ability for the soil to hold onto water. As the leaf breaks down in the soil, it constantly adds nutrients and food for the plants to grow.
Leaves in the soil also prevent the soil from becoming too compact, allowing oxygen to flow through, regulating soil temperature. This allows water to drain through to soil well, helping to encourage healthier plant growth.
Wood chips are a great cheap way for improving your soil. As groundcover over soil, it helps retain moisture and a preventative measure to keeping weeds from growing. Allowing wood chips to be tilled within the soil and break down provides even more benefits to your plants and you soil.
As wood chips break down they release nutrients in the soil that encourage healthier plants. Wood chips also prevent the soil from drying out too quickly which means saving more water and using less. Adding wood chips will naturally compost into your soil for years, offering nutrients for a long time to come.
Adding wood ash to your garden is a great way to fertilize your garden for free. Wood ash does not provide nitrogen, but it does include: phosphorous, potassium, calcium and other elements to your plants that will help them thrive.
Wood ash is also a great alternative to lime, if you need to raise the pH of your garden soil. Add it to your soil early the spring and mix it well before you plant. It can burn your new plants if added on top of them. Small amounts can really make a difference.
Do your drink coffee everyday? Even if you don’t, many local coffee shops will save used coffee grounds for your if you ask! Coffee grounds are a free way to fertilize your garden and improve your soil.
Once the coffee grounds have been used, you can add them directly into your garden bed, or throw them into your compost. In your compost, coffee grounds help add nitrogen to your compost pile. Used coffee ground filters can also be added.
If you plan to add coffee grounds directly into your planter, keep in mind that the coffee grounds will need time to compost before releasing nitrogen into the soil. However, it will help with soil retention and keep the snails and slugs at bay. Coffee grounds are also rumored to keep cats out of your garden as they do not like the smell of coffee.
Using fresh coffee grounds will raise the acidity of your soil and should only be used in planters with acid-loving soil.
Many plants require calcium to grow and thrive. Egg shells can be a great free way to improve the calcium levels in your soil! Simply allow your egg shells to dry out completely after you have cooked your eggs. Then crush them into tiny pieces.
As the egg shells begin to decompose, your egg shells will release calcium into the soil. The finer you crush the egg shells, the faster the calcium will be absorbed into the soil. Adding these to your compost pile is a great way to improve soil conditions, but egg shells can also be added directly into the ground.
Used Hay or Straw
Used hay and straw are great ways to add green compost to your soil. Sow old used hay or straw into the soil in the fall and till in the spring. When hay and straw have been used, they are likely covered in urine, manure, and dirt. All are great additions to your soil.
Adding hay or straw to your garden bed once plants have emerged can act similarly to wood chips, helping to retain water and protect against weeds.
A few things to be aware though is that both hay and straw can contain seeds, which may grow in the spring. Livestock usually eat the leaves and the seeds, but there may be some left on the stalks. It’s also important to know whether the hay or straw was sprayed with any harsh chemicals, as you don’t want chemicals planted in your garden.
Grass clippings are a free way to add a lot of green compost to your compost pile. Grass clippings add nitrogen to your soil. One great thing about grass clippings is they decompose quickly and when added with carbon rich materials, make for great soil!
You can also use them as a mulch, much like straw, leaves or wood chips. Grass clipping can help retain water and prevent weeds.
Keep in mind that some lawns are spraying with herbicides and pesticides, and those grass clippings should not be used in the garden bed. Also, grass clipping can contain grass seeds, which grow quickly and can be burdensome.
Improving Your Soil Conditions
With a few cheap and free materials, you can enhance your soil and improve growing conditions. Many of these choices can be found within your neighborhood or kitchen. Add them to your compost pile or directly into your garden. You don’t need expensive soils and fertilizers to have nutrient rich soil.
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