Soil Health

by Thomas J. Akin

I originally wrote this article for an ELA newsletter a little over 10 years ago; today I would call the article, “Is Your Soil Healthy?”  Let’s see how much I got right and how much the science has improved since then. Indented text shows my amendments to the original article that appeared in ELA’s print newsletter, The Ecological Landscaper, in 2004. Continue reading

by Dr. Elham A. Ghabbour and Dr. Geoffrey Davies

Natural landscaping depends to a large extent on healthy soil. In this context ‘healthy’ means that the soil is carbon- and nutrient-rich and that it retains water but drains well. It’s important to know that soil carbon consists of two main pools, one of which is accessible to microbes as food (labile) and the other that is much less accessible and is sequestered (stabilized). This sequestered carbon in the form of humic substances (HS) confers long-term stability to a soil, ensuring that landscapers’ efforts will last well into the future without major intervention. Getting a soil carbon analysis helps with assessment of the soil’s readiness for natural landscaping. Continue reading

This article first appeared in Yale Environment 360

by Judith D. Schwartz

In the 19th century, as land-hungry pioneers steered their wagon trains westward across the United States, they encountered a vast landscape of towering grasses that nurtured deep, fertile soils. Today, just three percent of North America’s tallgrass prairie remains. Its disappearance has had a dramatic impact on the landscape and ecology of the U.S., but a key consequence of that transformation has largely been overlooked: a massive loss of soil carbon into the atmosphere. The importance of soil carbon — how it is leached from the earth and how that process can be reversed — is the subject of intensifying scientific investigation, with important implications for the effort to slow the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Continue reading

by Emma Vautour

As a student of ecology and an aspiring ecological landscaper, it was a privilege to attend the 2014 ELA conference and learn from many of the leading figures in the field. The conference rooms seemed to reverberate with the buzz of so many excited earth-enthusiasts, communally appreciating what fascinates them most. The general liveliness was underpinned by finely-tuned, intellectual discussions of innovative techniques and new understanding. Continue reading

by Nina Bassuk

Soil compaction is the single most difficult and harmful environmental or abiotic condition that a tree or shrub can experience. There are other environmental problems such as drought, cold temperatures, poor drainage, or lack of sunlight, but for the most part these problems can be overcome by appropriate plant selection. In the case of soil compaction, no amount of skillful plant selection can remedy the problem. Quite simply, if a plant’s roots can’t grow into the soil, the soil might as well not be there. Continue reading

by Dr. Nina Bassuk

Soils under pavement need to be compacted to meet load–bearing requirements so that sidewalks and other pavement won’t subside and fail. Soils are often compacted to 95% peak (Proctor or modified Proctor) density before pavements are laid. When trees are planted into these soils, root growth is severely reduced or eliminated beyond the tree-planting hole.  When root growth is restricted, tree growth suffers as water, nutrients, and oxygen are limited. Continue reading

Tea‌g With Nutrients CoverWritten by Jeff Lowenfels
Published by Timber Press ©2013

Reviewed by George Batchelor

What do plants eat?  In his latest book, Teaming with Nutrients, Jeff Lowenfels writes for the gardener who is fascinated by plants and wants to better understand and visualize the world of soil molecules and root hairs, of hydrogen ions, covalent bonds, and nutrient movement through the phloem.  In the best of instructive traditions, his writing is not only clear, but his personal wonder and astonishment of the subject are contagious. Continue reading

by Phil Haynes

Everyone can empathize with the trauma a person must go through to withdraw from chemical dependencies, and I believe there are some real similarities with rehabilitating your lawn and soil, though not as bad as what you might see on Celebrity Rehab! Converting a lawn from traditional (chemical) care to organic care requires an ongoing discussion, and I use it as an opportunity to talk with potential and existing customers about what is actually happening with their lawns and what they can expect from me as their service provider. Continue reading

by Jeff Lowenfels

Authors spend a lot of time by themselves, as was abundantly apparent when I got a chance to Keynote at the ELA’s 2013 Conference on the subject matter of my new book, Teaming With Nutrients: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition. I found myself gushing with excitement as I was able to finally share the wonders of plant cells and their workings with someone other than Gracie, our inquisitive, but not that intelligent English Shorthaired Pointer. Continue reading

by Lisa Stiffler

Originally posted on Sightline Daily, January 22, 2013, by Sightline Fellow Lisa Stiffler, this post is part of the research project: Stormwater Solutions: Curbing Toxic Runoff.

If you’re concerned about water pollution, you’ve likely heard this message: The water that gushes off our roofs, driveways, streets, and landscaped yards is to blame for the bulk of the pollution that dirties Puget Sound and numerous Northwest waterbodies. You probably also know about the most popular stormwater solutions, including rain gardens and other green infrastructure that soak up the filthy water, cleaning it before it reaches sensitive waterways that are home to salmon, frogs, orcas, and other wildlife. Continue reading