Herbs can help your garden soil


Sue LaFontaine

Do you remember those few nice warmer days we had in January? Did this make you think about how you were going to plant your spring garden? Why not treat your soil? Healthy soil is the main ingredient for a thriving, resilient garden that will yield bountiful yields.

There are various techniques such as no-till practices or when we work in the garden to reduce compaction. However, did you know that you can also use herbs you grow in your garden to build your soil? Plants such as borage, comfrey, fenugreek, sorrel and many others can help soil accumulate nutrients, reduce soil compaction, act as cover crops or green manures, speed up composting or serve as mulch.

Putting these herbs to work can improve the health of your soil, which will increase the productivity of your culinary, medicinal and ornamental plants.

Grasses can be aggressive spreaders, so management is needed

Many of the best herb recommendations are aggressive spreaders, so they will require careful maintenance to keep them from encroaching on other areas of your garden. Some should not be composted with roots intact as new plants may grow from the roots. You don’t want the plants to set seeds, so cut them off before that happens. Be careful with buried beds, as they can spread – perhaps contain in raised beds.

If the soil is heavy clay or compacted with an impenetrable hard layer, try not to till (or only lightly till it if necessary). It may seem counterintuitive, but tilling the soil less will prevent it from losing its valuable structure. These are the pores that retain air and water.

In our cold climate, we know to let the ground thaw before working it to stop compaction. Wait for the soil to dry out before actively cultivating it. Adding compost can also help rebuild soil texture.

Sorrel offers a host of benefits

Herbs such as sorrel can improve the condition of the soil and they taste good. French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) or garden sorrel (R. acetosa) rather than native North American sheep sorrel (R. acetosella) are best to eat.

Sorrel is virtually maintenance-free and does not succumb to pests and diseases. By mid-summer the plant will be ready to cut about an inch above ground level, it will regrow more leaves for use later in the season. Pull these plants up the following spring and you will notice the benefit that the roots have given the soil texture. Plant it in the regular crop rotation every year or two in a different location.

Green manures are crops that are planted deliberately for the nutrients they provide to the soil after being harvested, such as legumes because they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and, with the help of specialized bacteria living in the soil, making it available for other plants to use. .

Dig legume plants into the top few inches of soil before they flower for this to be successful.

Legumes fix nitrogen in the roots but lose the element when the plant flowers. So when the plants are pushed back into the ground, they rot and gradually release nutrients for the next crop in a more readily available form. Field peas and beans, vetches, and clover are commonly used as green manures, as are non-legumes such as rye, winter wheat, buckwheat, and edible greens such as claytonia.

Mustard makes good green manures

Various types of mustard plants (Brassica spp.) can also be used as green manures. Mustard grows extremely quickly and is easily sown in the spring or fall for quick conversion to soil. Mustards contain chemical compounds that help suppress weeds and may even discourage harmful nematodes from attacking vegetable crops planted after incorporating this green manure.

Mustard grows quickly from seed in cool spring and fall days, but does not tolerate summer heat. Don’t let the seeds fall out and spread unless you plan to trap them in tulle or fine mesh bags. You can save them for use in cooking or to propagate new plants.

More next week on this topic.

Events to come

  • The public is invited to a special presentation by Helen Hollis from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 23. She will talk about the decline of Chimney Swifts and how we can help increase their population. This special presentation will take place in the large conference room of the Sandusky County Extension building, 2000 Countryside Drive. For more information, call Sue at the post office at 419-334-6340 and leave a message.

  • Toledo Grows will have its Seed Swap from noon to 3 p.m. on February 26 at Scott High School, 2400 Collingwood Ave., Toledo. Free entry. You will receive 10 tickets for seed packets. You can purchase additional packets for 50 cents each or bring your own seeds to trade. They must be dated 2022, packaged, labeled. No loose seeds. There are activities for children, gardening exhibits and lots of plant knowledge. Masks are mandatory.

Susan La Fountaine is Master Gardener in the Sandusky and Ottawa County Development Offices.

This article originally appeared on Fremont News-Messenger: Gardening: Herbs Can Help Your Garden Soil


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