Question: How often do you add nutrients to garden soil? Do you need to add to compost every year? -Tammy H.
Answer: When you cultivate crops in your garden soil, the plants you grow slowly deplete the soil of essential nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive. Amending your garden beds by adding compost to the soil goes a long way towards replenishing the nutrients during last year’s gardening efforts.
Compost, as well as other soil amendments, like manure and fertilizer, should be added to soil each year between growing seasons. In the southern and southwestern US, the warm weather conditions allow year-round gardening. In these areas, soils should be amended with compost twice per year, prior to planting in the spring and fall.
For plants that have been overwintered, compost can be added just before the growing season starts by side dressing the plants. Side dressing is a technique in which plants are fed by applying compost by working it into the soil next to growing plants. Side dressing can also be adding compost to the top layer of your beds as a mulch which will help with water retention and weed reduction, and provide an extended nutrient boost as it continues to break down into your garden soils.
Homemade compost that is fully decomposed can be added directly to freshly planted garden beds, or prior to planting and is ready to use whenever is most convenient for you. Store-bought compost should be added to your soil in one to two inch layers in the early spring prior to planting. Amending your beds as early as possible will allow the compost a little bit more time to continue breaking down and working itself into the soil.
When using homemade compost or compost that still contains a good amount of green materials, it should be added to the soil in the fall, so that it will have more time to age and decompose fully before planting time in the fall. Work in two to three inches of homemade compost into the soil during autumn. If you are creating a new bed and preparing the soil for the first time, the best way to develop your soil’s structure is to give it a large dose of compost in the first year by double digging it for a lighter, loamy soil so that your new bed will be a place where all of your plants will thrive for many years to come.