(MS) -- A healthy soil is home to an incredible number of creatures. The collection of soil critters from the tiniest microbe all the way up through beneficial mites to the mighty earthworm is called the soil food web.
When these underground citizens are in sufficient numbers in the soil, they prevent compaction, improve soil drainage, control plant disease, and most important they make nutrients and water readily available to plants. We can t have healthy plants unless we have healthy soil, and that is not possible without sufficient members of the soil food web in residence.
The problem is that no one told us these creatures need to be fed on a regular basis. Fertilizer feeds plants, not the soil creatures. Consequently, because we do not routinely give our soil web sufficient food in the form of organic matter, every year, year in and year out, most soil in America s home landscapes is not very good for growing healthy plants.
It turns out that the earthworm is the main caterer for the soil food web. It pulls much of the organic matter needed by the members of the web down from the surface into the soil. The whole soil system depends on the availability of that organic matter on the soil s surface, so the earthworm has something to pull down for everyone s lunch.
For ten million years, Mother Nature with her forests and prairies offered the soil food web an annual dose of organic matter in the form of autumn leaves and dead grass. Unfortunately, that ready source is not available to our lawns and gardens. We need to find a way to make organic material available to the earthworms over our entire home landscape; under the trees and shrubs, on the lawns, and in the gardens.
So here is the plan. Finely chopped leaves make a wonderful mulch, are great food for the soil creatures, and are the only appropriate organic material that is free. Every fall, spread three to four inches on gardens and under trees and shrubs. Spread 1/2 inch of chopped leaves over the lawn.
If you have no chopped leaves, then the best material is Canadian sphagnum peat moss. Mixed 50:50 with compost, put one half to one inch on your gardens and under all trees and shrubs. An even better way to feed the soil food web is to work one inch of peat moss into the garden soil with a garden fork (not a tiller) and then cover the garden with an organic mulch such as chopped leaves. On the lawn, spread 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch of straight peat moss by making piles of the material around the lawn and then with a grass rake spread it so you can t see it any more in the grass.
Your earthworms will carry peat moss deep down in the soil, and over time your soil will experience a microbial population explosion and your plants will look great and need less fertilizer.