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Natural Awakenings Richmond

How to Make Backyard Soil Come Alive

Jun 30, 2022 04:31PM ● By Peter Girardi

Healthy soil equals healthy plants and trees in much the same way that a healthy gut equals a healthy human. A variety of organisms live in the soil, including bacteria, fungi, microarthropods, nematodes (fungal and bacterial-feeding), protozoa (amoebae, flagellates and ciliates), earthworms and insects. Very few soil organisms are pests. 

These organisms live on organic matter or other soil organisms and perform a number of vital processes: 

  • help soil form from original parent rock material 

  • contribute to the aggregation of soil particles 

  • enhance cycling of nutrients 

  • transform nutrients from one form to another 

  • assist plants to obtain nutrients from soil 

  • degrade toxic substances in soil 

  • minimize disease in plants 

  • assist or hinder water penetration into soil 

Keeping soil covered with plants, cover crops, grass or mulch will help keep it healthy and full of living microbes. Bare soil gets too dry, too hot and can damage or kill the microbes living in the soil, and it is more prone to runoff and erosion. Plant a yard like a healthy forest, with different species and sizes of trees and plants as well as groundcover plants.  

It is never too late to start improving a yard or soil; just start small and the rest can happen organically over time. Some of the steps you can take include: 

  • Begin composting at home and get the compost back into your yard and soil.  
  • Mulch a larger portion of tree roots in your yard.  
  • Convert some of the grass into a garden using native plants.  
  • Eliminate the use of herbicides or pesticides to help protect the living microbes in the soil.  
  • Keep leaves around the trees and yard and use a mower to render them into smaller pieces. 
  • Support local farmers and community gardens that are caring for the soil.  

Peter Girardi is an ISA Certified Arborist with Truetimber Arborists, Richmond's Tree Care Company. For more information, visit

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