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Proper Soil Moisture

Moldy mildew on a plant.
Soil moisture is an important aspect of creating a healthy crop and plentiful harvest.

Typically, soil moisture is out of our control, unless growing crops in a high tunnel or greenhouse. In a perfect gardening world, it would rain as often as the crops need watered but that’s not always the case. Too much water can cause leaching of nutrients and diseases, and not enough water will result in a small harvest or plant death.

If the soil is dry throughout the entire growing season, the best way to retain soil moisture is to amend the top 6 to 12 inches with organic matter, such as grass clippings, worm castings, mushroom compost or straw.

Mulch, plasticulture or landscape fabric also are methods to retain soil moisture. This aids in moisture retention by preventing water evaporation. For mulch, a 2- to 4-inch layer is needed on the soil surface, but it is not recommended to mulch directly around the base of the plant.

Other tips include keeping gardens free of weeds and using drip irrigation or soaker hoses. If you need to remove soil moisture, tilling can help break up the soil and allow for better aeration; however, tilling also can affect the soil properties and nutrient base. Be sure not to till when the soil is really wet.

Consider planting in raised beds to control excess soil moisture. Other techniques include removing any excess debris, avoiding walking through the garden when it is wet and avoiding planting gardens in shaded areas. You also can dig trenches or use drainage tiles near problem areas in your garden.

By Tasha Harris, WVU Extension Agent – Upshur County