Growing Wisdom

The one thing you must do for your garden

This Earth Day, consider the earth—as in, your soil.

Showy Lady Slipper
Showy Lady Slipper Dave Epstein

It’s Earth Day! This year’s theme, Trees for the Earth, is part of the ambitious goal of planting 7.8 billion trees for the planet by the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. You might not be planting a tree today, but whether you’ve been gardening for decades like me or this is your first season of it, today is a great day to plant.

Gardening is an amazing hobby—it’s something you can do your entire lifelong. I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about what aspect of gardening is most critical, and I’ve arrived at the earth itself: the soil, the stuff in which most plants grow.

Today, being Earth Day, is a good day to consider your soil. Whether your garden is something as small as a container or as large as an acre garden, if you don’t have good soil, it’s much more difficult to find success growing. Sounds obvious, right? And you might also not be sure what you can do to have good soil.

Two words encompass something you should be doing each year to your soil: “amend it”—as in, fix it. Amending your soil means adding nutrients or other medium like peat, compost, or even sand to change the consistency. Doing this on a regular basis provides vital nourishment for your plants, allows more oxygen into the soil (which is critical for proper growth), and builds a strong base for all your growing needs.

When amending, go organic and use slow-release fertilizers; strive for a sandy loam, which is great for growing almost everything. If you have specialty plants which require wetter or drier soil, learn what the soil you have needs and build it up with the amendments you need. To take out the guess work for what to add, have your soil tested. The folks at UMass will do it for only $15 dollars.  It’s easy and a great teaching moment for kids, too.


Remember, you can have the correct amount of sunlight, water, and perfect temperature, but if your soil isn’t good, you’re fighting a battle you might not win.


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