Soil, Water, and Mulch: The Three Key Steps to a Healthy Organic Garden

As a professional landscaper, I get to see and diagnose a lot of garden issues. I find many people at wits’ end, spraying for pest problems and dealing with unhappy plants. Most of the time, the pest problem or grumpy plant shouldn’t be looked at as the problem itself – more accurately, they are symptoms of a bigger issue in the garden.

Think of it this way – if you only ate junk food and never drank any water, you’d expect some health problems to start showing up. But treating just those health problems, the symptoms of that lifestyle, wouldn’t solve the real problem. When gardening organically, we look to prevent problems rather than treat them once they arrive.

The Holy Trinity of Plant Care: Soil, Water, and Mulch

A healthy soil is going to provide the nutrients plants need to do their best, while regular, deep watering keeps them hydrated and healthy. A good thick layer of mulch supports both your soil and watering habits by contributing nutrients, holding moisture in, and keeping the structure of the soil soft so that the plants can actually reach the nutrition that is there.

Is all this stuff really necessary?

You might be thinking that plants in the wild don’t need all this extra care– they do just fine on their own. That’s true in one respect, but then, you have different conditions and expectations of plants in your home garden than you do in the wild.

Think about it: plants in the wild are allowed to fall and decompose, adding organic matter to the soil. It isn’t a big deal if their leaves are chewed as long as they are successful at reproducing and outcompeting other plants. And many have a short period of bloom that’s structured more for pollinators’ pleasure than our own, and then they go dormant.

In a home garden on the other hand, we want plants to look good year-round. We have a weakness for large flowers and tasty fruit, and those plants have usually been bred more for those attributes than for surviving without our care.

Even if you plant natives, the conditions usually aren’t the same as in the wild – perhaps your soil has been compacted by construction, or you haven’t allowed centuries of plant matter to break down in your soil. Maybe your natives rely on being in a forested understory or having great drainage, while you’re in the suburbs or have clay soil.

Ready to learn the basics? Click on these articles to read more:

Organic Gardening 101: How to Amend Soil

Organic Gardening 101: How to Apply Mulch

Organic Gardening 101: Watering How-To


5 responses to “Soil, Water, and Mulch: The Three Key Steps to a Healthy Organic Garden”

  1. I admit one of the things I like least about being a gardener or master gardener is all the plant problem questions I’m asked. I’ve always been an organic gardener and have had (KNOCK WOOD!) very few problems with my plants. A large part is also the whole “right plant, right place” idea as well as expectations. I don’t grow things that need a LOT of maintenance and I don’t expect huge blooms the first few years. And, most importantly, I think of “garden” as a verb, not a noun!

    Monica’s last blog post..Fun-in-the-Field Friday

  2. It can be tough, can’t it Monica? As you touched on, one of the hardest things for me is helping people adjust their expectations of plants. I mean, plants are living beings! No matter how low-maintenance, they will always need some level of care to thrive, and if they are taking their time to grow big, that’s a good sign they are actually going to be low-maintenance and not take much pruning, isn’t it?

    Living and working with plants is a whole different experience than interior decorating…

    Genevieve’s last blog post..Organic Gardening 101: How to Amend Soil