Perhaps my previous title ‘Garden myths debunked’ was rather pretentious but I felt inclined to retain it for this one! It is so contrary to what I as a no dig gardener believe! It then occurred to me that in some circumstances it might be true! Can it really be, that some gardeners abuse their soil so much they need to cultivate to aerate?
In fact, clearly any cultivation aerates, but is it necessary, what does it do and is it desirable? In one sense aeration that promotes the breakdown of organic matter is part of the traditional gardening and agricultural scheme as I discuss in this previous post.
My argument is that nature aerates her undisturbed soil without the need for any mechanical aeration. We will turn a blind eye to errant moles and rabbits!
It’s the wrong type of aeration
Sometimes I read that I should dig the soil to aerate it. I get quite cross. It’s not that there are not legitimate reasons to dig, better gardeners than me dig. It’s just the reason given!
I know the railways protest “it’s the wrong sort of snow” and now its my turn, “it’s the wrong type of aeration”. When a soil is energetically cultivated the natural internal structures are ripped apart. Apart from destroying natural cracks and channels that provide drainage and aeration, soil aggregations - intimate mixtures of organic materials and particles - are exposed to the elements. The soil is aerated, it is super-aerated and organic matter is oxidized away. An undisturbed natural soil delivers essential oxygen to soil life in a much gentler, kinder and controlled way.
|No comment! Location withheld to protect the guilty.|
Aerating between established plants is a complete waste of time
It’s when I read I should dig the soil between my plants to aerate that I really go spare.
Light hoeing is fine for weed control and I can even - with difficulty - tolerate a light fluffing through for cosmetic reasons. But digging, please no, and rotavating between nursery rows is quite beyond the pale. Don’t people know that churning the soil between growing plants is not only bad for the soil, it’s bad for the plants! Loosening the soil between plants does let in air, but it also cuts away any roots that might in theory benefit. Yes, they grow back, but what a waste of their energy, when they are likely to be chopped again. It’s interesting to ponder what induces roots to grow out into the soil. They grow towards air and they grow towards water (importantly, they do not grow towards dry conditions in search of water). Soil at the very surface is that which is best aerated and after rain is wet. Roots want to grow to the surface and not be chopped away.
It is ironic to think about herbaceous borders dug over in autumn when the soil later becomes excessively wet in winter, where the ground is badly drained. An elevated water table displaces oxygen and deep roots die. The ones at the surface have been cut off or damaged.The first spell of dry Spring weather the plant is dead. It’s not ill fortune that killed the plants. To paraphrase the ‘red tops’, “it’s the digger that did it”.
|My the end of February it is time to cut down. As the soil is undisturbed I can do this even after heavy rain. Even now the plants are free standing, although none have been staked.|
|Perhaps not your idea of tidy! In a few weeks there will be lush green leaves.|