How to Make Your Backyard Soil Come Alive

January 26, 2022 · 2 minute read
How to Make Your Backyard Soil Come Alive

Over the past two years, I’ve gone down a lot of rabbit holes on the soil food web, living soils, mushroom mycelia, and pretty much everything else related to soils and mushrooms (including attending some non-arborist conferences).

I believe that healthy soils equal healthy plants and trees in the same way that a healthy gut equals a healthy human.

This past weekend I spent a few days at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference in Roanoke listening to farmers talk about their success stories with improving soil quality to improve their gardens or orchards.  

We started the conference with a few short movies the night before, but we also watched the movie “Kiss the Ground.”  Here is a link to the Movie Trailer:  I’m not going to summarize this movie here. It can get pretty depressing. But by the end, it will leave you with hope and motivation that we can do our part to help conserve our soils.

Here are a few takeaways from the conference that I believe can improve your yard, garden and, yes, even your trees: 

  • Soils should be living, not just dirt. A variety of organisms live in the soil. These include bacteria, fungi, microarthropods, nematodes (fungal and bacterial-feeding), protozoa (amoebae, flagellates and ciliates), earthworms and insects. These organisms live on organic matter or other soil organisms and perform a number of vital processes in soil. Other organisms are involved in the transformation of inorganic molecules. Very few soil organisms are pests. 
  • The role of soil organisms in soil fertility may involve the following: 
    • helping soil to form from original parent rock material, 
    • contributing to the aggregation of soil particles, 
    • enhancing cycling of nutrients, 
    • transforming nutrients from one form to another, 
    • assisting plants to obtain nutrients from soil, 
    • degrading toxic substances in soil, 
    • causing disease in plants, 
    • minimizing disease in plants, 
    • assisting or hindering water penetration into soil. 
  • Keeping your soil covered with plants, cover crops, grass, or mulch will help keep your soil healthy and living and therefore help your tree’s roots.
    • Bare soil gets too dry, too hot and can damage or kill the microbes living in the soil.
    • Bare soil is more prone to run off and erosion
  • Plant your yard like a healthy forest with different species of trees and plants, different sizes of trees and plants and ground cover plants.
  • Don’t be afraid to start improving your yard or soils.  Just start small and the rest can happen organically.  For example:
    • Start composting at home and get the compost back into your yard and soil.
  • Mulch a larger portion of your tree’s roots
  • Convert some of your grass into a garden
  • Eliminate herbicides or pesticides around your yard and trees if possible to help protect the living microbes in the soil that are working with your trees
  • Keep your leaves around your trees and yard and use your mower to mow them into smaller pieces.
  • Support your local farmer and your local community gardens that are caring for the soil. If you don’t know of any, start at a farmers’ market near you.

Lastly, take a break, go outside to get some fresh air and sunshine!