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The basic principle of cultivating the soil in your garden is simply to break up and loosen the soil in the garden. But do you really know why? and how? and when? Cultivating is actually a combination of two things, removing weeds from the garden and loosening the soil to improve the retention and penetration of air, water and nutrients. Both are accomplished at the same time
Why You Need to Cultivate:
- Sun and wind dries the soil surface into a crust. Cultivating breaks up the soil surface, allowing easier penetration of air, nutrients and water deep into the soil where plant roots can access them.
- Air that is able to penetrate the soil surface is also important to the micro-organisms in the soil that perform all kinds of important tasks improving the soil and creating nutrients for the plants.
- Cultivated soil makes it easy for newly germinated seeds to sprout through the soil surface.
- Although cultivating will bring some weed seeds to the soil surface to germinate, cultivating will also pull up and expose young weed sprouts. These young seedlings will die when left exposed on the soil surface. Weed seed germination is also interrupted by cultivating.
- The removal of weeds decreases competition for water and nutrients, leaving everything for your plants to feed as needed.
- By improving moisture penetration and therefore retention, cultivating reduces the need for supplemental watering.
- A cultivated garden looks neat and fresh.
How to Cultivate:
- Loosen the soil only a couple of inches deep when you cultivate. Cultivating too deeply only encourages the surface to dry out faster. Hand tools are ideally suited to the job.
- Do not disturb plant roots, causing damage to your plants. Cultivating between the rows and not getting too close to your plants will prevent damaging roots.
- Specific methods of cultivation are explained along with appropriate tools below.
When to Cultivate:
- Only surface cultivate as necessary, over working of the soil is of no benefit. If you can clearly see that the surface has crusted over and that many weeds have sprouted, it is time to shallow cultivate.
- Do not cultivate when the soil is wet, it will only cause further compaction. The soil should be quite dry, more dry than you think it should be is better than too moist.
- Before you seed a bed. In particular, small fine seeds will have an easier time sprouting in cultivated soil.
- Before planting flowers and vegetables.
- Whenever you top dress the soil with compost or organic fertilizers, shallow cultivating will loosen the top crust of soil and integrate the added nutrients, reducing runoff from rain. Let the earthworms and micro-organisms do the work of fully integrating the nutrients into the soil.
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