Soil Health in Container Gardens (Part 1 of 4)

What is the best kept secret in container gardening?  The experts know how to promote faster, more vigorous growth, and significantly reduce the chance of pests and diseases... ssssh... it all comes down to healthy soil.

1. What does healthy soil mean?

Before discussing health, what do we mean when we talk about "soil" in container gardens.  Technically speaking, we are talking about "Growing media", and this, for the most of us, consists of store-bought "potting mix".  Growing media can be made up of a wide range of components, potting mix normally contains a mix of Bark fines or peat for structure, and then either organic composted matter / manure and slow release fertilizers to provide food and promote health.  You can make it yourself if you have space, or you can buy it ready made and devote your space to maintaining the soil health over time.

The make-up of soil is actually much more scientific than you might think.  Healthy soil is teaming with life in the form of microorganisms (Bacteria - sometimes called microbes) and , and it's what's happening on this microscopic level that is the secret to plant life.  One teaspoon of soil can be home to as many as 1 billion bacterial cells.

The difference between good soil and poor soil comes down to it's ability to maintain a healthy root environment and support massive colonies of microorganisms. 

The key factors in play are structure and food.

Soil structure is of utmost importance in controlling drainage and aeration. These 2 factors are crucial to providing the correct environment for life and growth. As container soils age the structural elements like bark fines or peat will naturally start to break-down and collapse.  This is easily observed, and you will notice the soil level dropping slightly in containers over time. As the soil structure collapses and compresses it becomes increasingly difficult for water to drain away and the soil starts to become heavy and water-logged. Air pockets collapse and it is harder for air to reach the root zone of plants.

Want to keep reading? Here's what's coming up in the next few months...

2. Why do we need to maintain soil?

3. How can we promote health and extend soil life?

4. How often should container soil be changed?

So make sure you keep checking in!