by Patrick Geraty
Until a few decades ago it was widely assumed that water, a renewable resource, would always be in abundant supply. That view changed when it became apparent that increased industrial, agricultural and domestic use had depleted the supply of fresh water in some areas of the world. By the late 20th century, water was no long a rarely thought about necessity. It became a luxury object. Brands of bottled water appeared and began commanding huge shelf space at grocery stores and being consumed as an alternative to flavored or bubbly beverages at ball parks and movie theaters.
Although the Midwest has not been directly affected by the growing shortage in freshwater, it remains our responsibility to use water responsibly rather than take it for granted. Major changes in attitude and water usage are necessary to achieve sustainable water use for future generations. This is something gardeners need to be especially mindful of during the warmer months when gardens and lawns seem to demand larger amounts of water.
While a well-watered garden or flower bed will thrive in even the hottest weather, you can markedly decrease the amount of water your plants need by conditioning the soil with compost. Compost improves drainage and water-holding capacity, resulting in healthier plants that require less attention.
Other key benefits ….
Compost is economical. A one-time application boosts your payback from fertilizer. And, since compost can hold six times its weight in water, it reduces the need for irrigation. These factors reduce maintenance time and labor.
Compost improves plant/turf quality. It reduces transplant shock and decreases plant stress response to drought, disease and insects. Because intense heat is a natural by-product of compost as it forms from its raw material pile, compost contains no weeds, insects or insect eggs/larvae. A big plus for serious flower gardeners is that compost has been shown to repel ants by keeping moisture levels in flower beds high. Compost also reduces salt damage and provides nutritional balance.
Compost strengthens soil structure. It reduces the compaction of heavy soil, enhances sandy soil and increases both topsoil and soil fertility while rebuilding depleted soil. Over time, compost makes any type of soil easier to work.
The benefits of compost are long-lasting. While rain and watering cause chemical fertilizers to leach out of the soil, compost binds with it and continues to release its nutrients for several years.
Compost is versatile. You can use it as mulch on the soil surface or as a potting soil for container plants.
Fall is an ideal time to condition your soil, so when you are of the mind and have the time, do something good for yourself, your neighbors and for fresh-water-craving future generations: get some compost and work it in.