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ECO gardener

Not all garden soils are ideal for growing plants. Different crops require specific soil textures and nutrients. If the soil is too dense, for example, plants will be prone to root rot. If the soil is too loose, it cannot hold water long enough for plants to absorb. Soils that do not have sufficient nutrients cannot support plant growth. This leads to lower yields and leggy plants.

If your garden soil is unsuitable for planting different crops, add nutrient-rich humus.

What is humus, and how is it different from other soils? What are the benefits of adding humus to your yard and garden? Most importantly, how do you use humus to the fullest? We’ll answer these questions in this guide.

What Is Humus?


In gardening, humus is a natural substance consisting of decomposed organic materials such as animal matter and plant debris. These materials are consumed by soil organisms like earthworms, bacteria, and fungi and then excreted into the soil as a brown or black substance with a loose, crumbly texture similar to compost.

Humus is found at the top few inches of the soil. It is rich in essential nutrients plants need to grow healthy such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Because it is nutrient-dense, humus is especially useful in growing various crops.

Benefits of Humus Soil in the Yard and Garden

plant sprout

What are the benefits of using humus? Humus has several benefits, such as:

Boosts air circulation: Adding humus to your yard and garden soil promotes better aeration, allowing oxygen to reach plant roots. This is vital for root respiration and nutrient uptake, enhancing plant growth and soil health.

Improves soil structure: Humus contributes to the formation of stable soil aggregates, creating well-structured soil. It enhances soil crumb structure, making it loose and crumbly, which allows for better water infiltration and drainage. The improved soil structure also provides a favorable environment for beneficial soil organisms.

Promotes nutrient availability: Humus acts as a natural reservoir for essential nutrients in the soil. It helps retain and release nutrients gradually, making them available to plants over an extended period. This ensures a steady supply of nutrients for plant uptake, promoting healthy growth and reducing the risk of nutrient leaching.

Boost water-holding capacity: Humus-rich soil has enhanced water-holding capacity. It improves the soil’s ability to retain moisture, reducing water runoff and minimizing the frequency of irrigation. This is especially beneficial in regions with limited water availability or during drought.

Improves soil fertility: Humus contributes to soil fertility by providing a rich source of organic matter. It supports the growth and activity of beneficial soil organisms, such as earthworms and microorganisms, which aid in nutrient cycling and decomposition of organic materials. This promotes a healthy soil ecosystem and enhances overall soil fertility.

Read: All You Need To Know About Organic Fertilizer

Protects from pests and diseases: Humus-rich soil creates a favorable environment for beneficial soil organisms that help control pests. It encourages the growth of predator insects and beneficial microorganisms that prey on harmful pests, reducing pest populations naturally.

10 Best Ways to Add More Humus to Your Yard and Garden

Woman plowing compost leaves

While beneficial, humus has to be replenished for the garden or yard to support plant growth continuously. Heavy rains, sun exposure, and other extreme weather conditions can also wash away humus from the soil. That’s why you must add more humus on top of the garden soil a few times to keep the soil fertile.

You can use fertilizer for flowering plants, vegetables, herbs and berries but it’s not as good as humus because the latter’s structure and nutrient profile are much better for growing plants especially for your container garden. So you need to choose the right soil for your crops like when you plant blueberries in containers. Blueberries have shallow roots so it must be planted in loose, well-drained soil with humus or organic matter content. Humus supports microbial activity, which is critical in maintaining a healthy garden.

Adding more humus to your yard and garden can significantly improve soil health and promote better plant growth. Here are 10 effective ways to increase humus content in your soil:

Composting: Composting is one of the most common methods to produce humus. Collect organic materials like kitchen scraps, yard waste, and leaves, and create a compost pile or bin. Over time, these materials will decompose, forming nutrient-rich humus that can be added to your garden soil.

Vermicomposting: Vermicomposting involves using worms to break down organic matter and produce nutrient-rich humus. Set up a worm bin and add food scraps, shredded paper, and other organic materials. The worms will consume the materials and produce humus-rich castings, which can be added to your garden soil.

Mulching: Applying organic mulch such as shredded leaves, straw, or wood chips to the soil surface helps retain moisture, regulate temperature, and prevent weed growth. As the mulch breaks down, it contributes to the formation of humus.

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Cover cropping: Planting cover crops like clover, legumes, or grasses during the off-season helps improve soil structure and adds organic matter. When these crops are tilled or mowed and left to decompose, they contribute to the soil’s humus content.

Incorporating green manure: Green manure refers to growing specific plants like alfalfa, buckwheat, or mustard and then adding them into the soil while still green. These plants add organic matter and nutrients, enhancing humus formation.

Using organic amendments: Organic amendments such as composted manure, aged poultry litter, or worm castings can be added directly to the soil to increase humus content. These amendments enrich the soil with beneficial microorganisms and nutrients.

Applying leaf mold: Leaf mold is the result of decomposed leaves. Collect fallen leaves and allow them to decay in a designated area over time. Once the leaves have broken down, incorporate the leaf mold into your soil to boost humus levels.

Incorporating biochar: Biochar is charcoal from organic matter like wood chips or agricultural waste. Adding biochar to the soil enhances its ability to retain moisture and nutrients, promoting humus formation.

Using green waste compost: Collect yard trimmings or find ways to source these organic materials. Green waste can be added to your compost. When broken down, green waste increases humus levels and improves soil structure.

Avoiding excessive tilling: Excessive tilling can disrupt the natural soil formation and decomposition processes. Minimize tillage and opt for no-till or reduced-till methods to preserve existing humus and promote its accumulation.

To add humus to garden soil:

  1. Get a shovel (or a trowel if you are covering a small space) to dig into the humus and spread the material all over the bare soil.
  2. Using a rake, spread the humus to an even layer of up to 3 inches on top of bare soil and under trees and shrubs.
  3. Do this several weeks before planting crops.

Humus can be added to existing garden beds; just sprinkle it on top of the soil with a trowel several times during the growing season. Because it’s crumbly, it’s easy to spread humus all over existing garden beds.

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Humus is incredibly useful in growing different crops and promoting microbial activity to maintain a healthy garden. With the tips above, we hope to have inspired you to use natural soil conditioners like humus for the garden and yard.

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