Your living soils
By Mike Lorenc, Conservation Garden Park


When we look out at our landscapes we tend to see our plants: grass, trees, shrubs and flowers.   But take a better look at the ground our plants are anchored in and we’ll find an entire world of microorganisms living right under our feet.

Healthy soil is directly related to a healthy landscape. In fact, investing time into improving your soil might be the single best thing you can do for your landscape and everything living in it. You might think dirt and soil are the same, but they’re quite different. Dirt is just dirt, but soil is teeming with life. Insects, bacteria, fungi, earthworms and more exist in soil, and the more life it has, the healthier the soil.

Healthy soil makes for much healthier plants. Microfauna are the main organisms to begin the process of breaking down organic matter. Broken down organic matter leaves behind humus (no, not hummus. One “m” and pronounced “hyoo-mus”). Humus is the glue that binds soil particles together, creating channels for deeper water penetration and air flow into your plants’ root zones. Yep, roots need air too. Microorganisms convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, which your plants can use. Encouraging soil microbes in your landscape can provide a large source of nitrogen, decreasing your need to use store-bought chemical fertilizers.

There are many plants that even develop a beneficial relationship with the fungal microorganisms living in our soils. The rootlike structures on Mychorrhizal fungus act as supplement roots, taking up nutrients and water for plants and receiving sugars from the plant in return. Some microbes even attack the bad microorganisms that cause disease, keeping your plants from getting sick.

Protecting the soil environment in which these beneficial microorganisms live is a worthwhile effort. Here are some basic things we can do to protect what is living in our soils and encourage more in the future:


Amend, amend, amend

A few inches of compost, wood chips, chopped-up leaves, finely cut grass, or other organic matter piled on the soil’s surface is the most important step. Microorganisms eat organic matter, and this is their food source. Soil covering also reduces compaction—important because compacted soil is a difficult environment for soil microbes.


Stop tilling

Tilling disrupts soil structure that microbes have built and tears up the “soil food web” created by beneficial fungi. Tilling also brings buried weed seeds to the surface, where they can germinate and make weeding a much bigger chore.


Go easy on chemical fertilizers

Chemical fertilizers can kill microorganisms in your soil, which creates a need for more fertilizers—perpetuating a problem you’re trying to solve. Using Less fertilizer and more compost is a better way to create a healthy soil ecosystem.

Healthy soil microorganisms help plants be more able to handle stress and resist disease. They make nutrients more available, improve soil structure, and reduce the need for chemicals in our landscapes. There is also recent research to suggest that soil microbes are responsible for enhancing our mood at a similar level to anti-depressants. Microorganisms are the real un-sung heroes of our landscapes, and we can make some simple changes to help them out.


Flower Bed

Adding organic matter to the soil by top dressing planting beds with a heavy coat of mulch is the best way to improve soil health

Not only do organic mulches improve soil health, they also increase the attractiveness of planting beds.

Tree Root

The dead soil and surface roots around this tree demonstrate that weed barrier fabric does not allow for adequate infiltration of air, water or organic matter.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune -- Publish Date: 14 December 2018




Boy Scouts build out Community Garden! 
Boy Scouts of America

Our New Roots community garden program worked with the Burmese Karen/Karenni Boy Scout Troop of Utah, a troop consisting solely of refugee boy scouts, to build out the garden infrastructure at the new Central Valley Garden.

Over three days, three Boy Scouts completing their eagle projects led their troop to contribute over 200 volunteer hours of work at the garden space. Their projects focused on setting up the irrigation system, laying the garden beds, establishing pathways and building the tool storage shed. In addition to their volunteer hours, the troop raised material donations to complete the pathways and supply the storage shed with gardening tools.

The garden was developed in partnership with the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility (CVWRF) located at 800 W Central Valley Road in South Salt Lake. CVWRF board members who volunteered with New Roots previously reached out to our community garden program to offer a fallow employee garden space for redevelopment. The location combined with ease of access from public transportation makes the garden ideal for many in the refugee community.

With the help of the Boy Scout troop, the Central Valley Garden now has the capacity to host up to 48 families, making it the largest refugee-focused community garden in the city. It will join a local network of 14 gardens including New Root's Central Park Garden, the Canyon Rim Community Garden, and 12 Wasatch Community Gardens. This year, New Roots will host 117 families in community gardens, 48 of which are new to the program.

Learn more about our community gardening program and ways to support refugee gardeners by reaching out to our New Roots Program Manager, Jordan Bryant, at