As if the word soil doesn’t have enough of a negative connotation, our slang term is dirt. What could be more negative? Yet, soil is the supporter of all life. It’s the medium in which plants grow. Animals eat the plants and wind up on our dinner table. And, the circle of life goes on thanks to soil.
How does soil, or dirt, sustain life? It holds the nutrients and minerals that all flora and fauna need to live. Many of the minerals plants need are tied to the atoms of other minerals to support them in a form that can be absorbed by plants.
When we think of soil, we usually think of it first as the anchoring medium for plants. That’s because we dig a hole in the soil, put the plant in and backfill. The ecosystem beneath the soil surface is unknown to us because we can’t see that subsurface life going on, other than digging up worms for a fishing trip.
If we could see what’s going on beneath the soil surface, we’d see billions of creatures, including fungi, bacteria, worms and more, all working together to break down fallen leaves, dead plants and other organic matter.
Most of these subsurface life forms are in the top few inches of soil – the layer we call top soil. When we remove that layer and don’t replace it with soil of equal quality, the balance of nature is disturbed. The plants that we install to make a landscape can’t absorb minerals that aren’t there or aren’t available to plants because there are no microbes to convert them into a form useable by plants. Fertilizer is one of the ways in which we reintroduce essential elements to soil. We also replenish microbes in the soil by adding mycorrhyzae.
Some people refer to fertilization as feeding plants. The late plant physiologist, Dr. Alex Shigo, said that plants make their own food through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the complex chemical reaction in which carbon dioxide, water and essential elements are converted by sunlight into carbohydrates in green plants. So fertilization is actually soil conditioning rather than plant feeding.
Summer will soon morph into fall, and you’ll be faced with the decision of whether to fertilize your landscape plants. One way to make that decision easier is to have your soil analyzed. Our Plant Health Care professionals gather soil samples and send them to a lab where the soil is analyzed, and we receive a report showing the level of all essential elements in your soil. From that we can determine whether your soil needs fertilization and the amount of each essential element that you need.