Soil, Mulch, and Compost

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It’s easier to match plants that will thrive in your soil than alter your soil to match plants. Different proportions of sand, silt, and clay make up the texture of your soil impacts your drainage. The faster the soil drains, the more sandy it is. The slower it is, the more clay and compacted the soil is.

Be sure to test your soil, either with a soil ball squeeze test, soil drainage test or a soil ribbon test.  Your garden most likely has different kinds of soil throughout, so be sure to test your soil in multiple areas and where you’ll be planting.

Watch here to learn more about soils.

Read about soils and testing here.

Soil Ball Squeeze Test (Food and Agriculture Organization)


Mulch is a soil blanket! Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plants to help conserve moisture in the soil, suppress weed growth, regulate soil temperature, and help builds healthy soil.

  • Use materials like wood chips, bark, straw, or shredded leaves.
  • Apply a 2-3 inch layer around the plants, taking care to avoid direct contact with the stems.
  • Reapply mulch when it starts to look uneven or seems bare.

Learn all about mulch here!

Credit Jonathan Kemper
Image: Jonathan Kemper from Unsplash


Compost is a way to feed your soil and native plants. Decomposed, nutrient-rich organic material, compost can be worked into the soil or left on the surface like mulch. Compost helps improve soil health and provides nutrients to promote plant growth.

While compost is generally beneficial for native plants, some native species may prefer nutrient-poor soils. Research the specific requirements of your native plants on Calscape to make sure that composting makes sense. Compost is also an important part of sheet mulching if you’re taking out your lawn or removing invasive plants.

Here’s how you can use compost in your native plant garden:

  1. Apply compost in spring or fall when the soil is workable and before new growth begins. This allows the compost to integrate into the soil gradually.
  2. Water thoroughly: After applying compost, water the garden thoroughly to help settle the compost into the soil and encourage microbial activity.
  3.  Maintain a compost bin or pile in your garden or backyard and add organic waste such as kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and plant debris. Regularly turn the compost to speed up decomposition and produce fresh compost for future applications.
Credit Sasha Kim.
Image: Sasha Kim from Pexels