Healthy soil leads to healthy plants, and for convenience’s sake, people often pump their garden soil with chemicals and fertilizers that promise to deliver quick results. Those solutions fall short because synthetic and inorganic chemicals and fertilizers aren’t eco-friendly and deplete your soil’s organic matter over time.
If your garden soil needs a boost, and if you don’t have the time for routine soil tests, growing soil-enriching plants is a great option. They provide your garden with valuable minerals and nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. These plants will not only help you fight soil erosion but also break up compacted soil that would otherwise suffocate your plants. Down below are eight plants that enrich your garden soil, so you can get started today!
1. Red Clover
Red clover is a nitrogen-fixing plant. It takes nitrogen from the air and stores it in its leaves and stem. When the plant dies and decomposes, it releases the nitrogen into the soil. Although some people compare it to weed, red clover is an effective weed suppressor. Its deep roots starve out the weeds and prevent them from germinating.
Red clover is also an effective cover crop. It prevents soil erosion with its deep roots and extensive mass. Red clover can grow in different types of soil and under various weather conditions. It’s worth noting that the red clover plant’s symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium soil bacteria boosts nitrogen fixation.
Note: Red clover is considered an invasive species in some US states, so please check local laws before planting.
2. Empress Tree
The empress tree, also known as dragon tree, is a fastest-growing tree that can expand up to 20 feet a year when it’s young, and reach 50 to 75 feet at full maturity. Empress tree’s leaves have a good amount of proteins, fats, sugars, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which boost your soil structure and health.
It also helps with soil restoration and is suitable for inter-cropping. You can use the leaves as green manure or forage for livestock to obtain rich manure that can help replenish your soil with nutrients and minerals. You can plant empress trees in fall or spring, but ensure that they receive at least six hours of sunlight daily.
That said, the empress tree spreads quickly, so if you want to avoid a forest in your backyard, pick up all seeds that fall to the ground!
Note: Empress trees are considered invasive species in some US states, so please check local laws before planting.
There are many varieties of peas, and although they’re a nitrogen-fixing crop, you’ll need to harvest peas correctly for the soil to benefit from its nitrogen compounds.
For instance, after harvesting, don’t remove the roots and the stalks of your pea plants. The roots and stalks carry fixed nitrogen content thanks to their symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria – your soil will benefit from that later. Leave a few seed pods on the plant, and at the end of the growing season, chop the plant and leave it in the garden to decompose.
But, if you want the most out of this nitrogen-fixing plant, you can use them when their flowering. Surprisingly, the flowering stage is when pea plants hold the most nitrogen.
If you don’t mind sacrificing your pea plants, you can chop the plants and use them as green manure to fix your soil’s nitrogen levels.
Oats are a good garden crop because they improve soil health by suppressing weeds and scavenging excess nutrients, such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
Used as a cover crop for decades, oats help prevent soil erosion and make great green manure and forage for livestock. The best planting time for oats is from late August to October and since they have a short growing season, you can easily add them to your plant rotation.
This drought-tolerant plant’s roots help prevent compacted soil by loosening the upper layers of the soil for better aeration and water penetration. Sudangrass also possesses allelopathic compounds, which it releases into the soil. When weed roots absorb these chemical compounds through their root systems, they can die.
Apart from providing ground cover to prevent soil erosion and surpress weeds, sudangrass improves the soil health. Sudangrass scavenges (absorbs) excess nitrogen in the soil and stores it. When the plant dies, its roots break down into organic matter for the soil to absorb, thereby releasing some of that nitrogen back into the soil.
Vetch is a leguminous plant that’s not only nitrogen-fixing but also packed with phosphorus, which is another essential element for healthy garden soil. Commonly used as forage, vetch suppresses weeds and is great for preventing erosion, especially along banks or slopes. Since vetch affects the soil’s phosphorus requirements, at the end of the growing season, many gardeners use it as green manure to replenish the soil’s nitrogen levels.
Note: cow and hairy vetch are considered invasive species in some US states, so please check local laws before planting.
Dandelions can restore the soil’s minerals, including nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. The dandelion’s deep roots also mine calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, and silicon from the soil and make them available for surrounding plants.
While mining for nutrients, the roots loosen the soil, thus improving soil aeration and water penetration. Not only do dandelions attract pollinators, but they also prevent soil erosion.
8. Bat Guano
Now, technically this isn’t a plant, but bat guano (droppings) is a prized fertilizer. Growing trees that attract bats and pigeons can help you obtain their phosphorus-rich droppings while they forage on insects.
Native trees to your area will be best at attracting moths and other insects – this will indirectly attract bats. Bat droppings are rich in phosphorus and contain high levels of calcium and nitrogen. You can collect their guano and use it as fertilizer to enrich and improve your garden soil’s health.
It might not sound like the most pleasing method, but you will be amazed at what it does for your garden.
Gardening isn’t as easy as tossing a few seeds and hoping for the best! For healthy plants, you need healthy soil. Instead of pumping your soil with chemicals and synthetic or inorganic fertilizers, you can grow plants that help enrich the soil.
Hopefully, this article has helped you learn about some plants you can grow to boost your garden soils status! Drop any questions or experiences down below. Don’t forget to share the article if you liked it!