Colorful California Landscape: A Water-Friendly Garden
Colorful California Landscape:  A Water-Friendly Garden

Living Soil

A healthy garden contains biological life forms and these organisms need organic matter to survive and thrive.  These include earthworms, bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa.  When you ignore your garden, the biological life either decreases or dies.  Once this happens, your plants will be weak, susceptible to disease and insect attacks.  If the plants produce food, the yield will be low.

Soil Biology

Many plants require additional nutrients, better water penetration, and improved water holding capacity than what is found in local soils. The addition of organic matter to the soil increases water retention and penetration and also provides beneficial nutrients. There are many amendments one can add to the soil, but how do you know which ones you need? The science of improving soil is now very sophisticated. You can now have soil analyses performed that will tell you what types of organisms you have in your soil and at what levels. A soil amendment individualized to your yard can be made which contains the specific organisms that are recommended for your specific soil.

For example, our landscape architect, Guy Stivers performed the soil sampling on July 22, 2010 and provided us with the report. For our yard, the active bacteria, total bacteria, active fungi and total fungi were all within or above range. However, the "active to total" and "acive to active" ranges were low and out of balance. We need to improve our active/total and active/active ratios. Our protozoa (flagellates, amoebae, ciliates), nematodes (bacterial feeders, fungal/root feeders, predatory and root feeders) and mycoorhizal were all low. All of these deficiencies can be improved with addition of individualized amendments including compost, compost tea, organic fertilizers, microbial inoculation, and worm castings.

Below is a page from our soil analysis report.  Click on the picture to see a more readable version.


Two to three inches of mulch will keep soil cool, reduce evaporation of irrigation, lessen weed growth, and assist with erosion control.  Use natural mulch such as rock, wood chips, bark, shredded wood, or compost.  The textures and materials used for mulching can also provide interesting texture for your landscaping.  Avoid artificial mulch such as shreded tires or artificially dyed bark as these have the potential to leech toxic chemicals into the soil.

When you are mulching, consider mixing in worm castings into the mulch.  This will enhance the nutrition in the soil.  If you don't want to create your own worm castings through vemiculture, you may be able to find a nearby nature center that sells bags of worm castings.  Here is Southern California, the Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach sells bags of worm castings for just $10 per 0.7 cubic foot bag - a bargain!

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Stewardship requires the recognition that we are all caretakers of the environment and economy for the benefit of present and future generations. We must balance the impacts of today's decisions with the needs of future generations. - The Minnesota Round Table on Sustainable Development (1998)