Alan Titchmarsh Column - August/September 23
Green Fingers…The Alan Titchmarsh Column
He’s a brilliant presenter, accomplished gardener, talented novelist and all-round horticultural inspiration. This month, Alan Titchmarsh discusses the holy grail of ensuring flowers and plants flourish to their full potential – soil quality!
We all know there are a combination of factors that come into play where having a healthy, active, attractive garden is concerned. Yes, I know you’re always going to need some reasonably good growing conditions; and of course, any gardener will tell you the best fuel for horticultural happiness is your own TLC.
However, outside of those things, it would be remiss not to consider soil quality as a major factor in ensuring what you put in the ground produces everything you hope it will.
I get asked a lot what the best way to bolster soil quality is, and the truth is there are a variety of methods. Naturally, keeping soil well-watered is important, but not over-watered. Instead, water deeply and less frequently than you would expect. To water deeply you need to keep the soil light and uncompacted too. I’ve even gone to the extent of walking on wood planks if I need to cross over soil, as this spreads the weight and avoids interrupting good soil structure with big clumsy boots.
To actually enrich the soil, I try to regularly add organic matter. Compost, obviously, is key, with well-rotted manure. This helps with boosting drainage, adding fertility, and encouraging beneficial microorganisms.
In a similar way, if you’re looking to capitalise on what’s already in the soil, consider the benefit of crop rotation, and the fact that plants or flowers can feed off the nutrients left behind from whatever was present before.
Changing the location of specific plant families each year also helps to prevent the build-up of pests and diseases and maintains soil fertility.
Finally, it’s always worth applying a layer of mulch – such as wood chips or straw – around plants. It helps to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, regulates soil temperature, and adds organic matter to the soil. It also looks good!
To determine how good your soil is, or isn’t, why not invest in a soil-testing kit? This will help you determine the soil’s pH and nutrient levels, and with that information you can construct an accurate plan for amendments to improvements to your soil quality.
Ultimately, don’t expect change overnight, as good things come to those who wait; but do take comfort in the fact you are doing all you can to move forward the health of your garden.