Connecticut Garden Journal: You can build better soil for your garden. Start now
Fall is a great time of year to build better soil in your garden. Soil is the soul of your garden. It's loaded with billions of microbes that help your plants take up water and nutrients and keep them healthy. By amending the soil with local, organic materials, you'll be feeding the microbes for a healthier garden.
But not all microbes are alike. In annual garden soils, bacteria dominates and it likes easy to break down organic materials such as untreated grass clippings, chopped leaves, compost, hay and straw. Make sure your beds are covered with these materials going into winter. Not only do these materials slowly break down to feed the microbes in fall and spring, but they protect your soil from wind and rain erosion. Don't work the organic materials into the soil. That will only destroy the microbial networks that have been created. In spring, simply move aside whatever materials are left, add a thin layer of compost and plant.
For perennial flowers, trees and shrubs, these soils are more fungi dominated and, like the forest, they like slow to break down organic materials such as bark and wood chips. Add a 3- to 4-inch thick layer of arborist's wood chips around these plants. Ask your local arborist to deliver some chips from a nearby job site or check out getchipdrop.com to sign up for a delivery. Often it's free. The chips let air and water easily flow through it.
Based on a soil test, you can also add lime and any nutrients your soil seems deficient in now. This will give the nutrients time to break down before spring.