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Spread Compost This Fall for a Better Garden

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Topdressing a perennial garden with a layer of compost will improve the garden’s overall health. The organic matter is a great addition that will keep perennials healthy and blooming.


Topdressing your garden with compost every couple years provides most, if not all, the nutrients most perennial plants need. It feeds the soil, which in turn feeds your plants. This task can be done in the fall season with great results come spring.

If your plants are mulched, pull all the mulch away from the plants and keep it handy, so you can put it back in place once you finish amending the soil.

Topdressing is the first step in the process. Simply spread a one- to two-inch layer of compost all over our garden soil. Be careful not to bury the crown of any plant.

You can leave the compost sitting on the soil surface or lightly mix it into the top inch with a hand cultivator. The earthworms, ground beetles and other organisms will move it down into the soil and around the plant roots where it is needed.

If you're gardening on heavy or compacted soils, there's a second step you can take next. Once you've spread the compost, do a bit of vertical mulching. Using an auger bit on your cordless drill, simply drill holes into the soil between plants. Then push the compost into the holes .

This will speed up the process a bit by getting the compost closer to the plant roots and soil organisms that will help incorporate it into the soil. You will also aerate the soil at the same time.These openings in the soil allow air, water and fertilizer to penetrate the soil surface and travel to the root zone.

Last, put the mulch back around the plants. Maintaining an inch or two of organic mulch not only conserves moisture and suppresses weeds; it also continues to improve the soil. As the organic mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

Investing some time to create and maintain healthy soil goes a long way in making your garden a beautiful part of the landscape.

Recommended reading:

Learn more key soil-care techniques in the classic Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.

For a complete guide to making and using compost, read Organic Book of Compost, which describes all the ins and outs of composting in an easy-to-follow way.