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Gardener warns against common mistake that can decimate soil quality: 'Don't do this'

"Do this instead."

“Do this instead.”

Photo Credit: @inthecottagegarden / Instagram

When we say something is as "common as dirt," we're making a serious mistake. Healthy topsoil that's good for growing things is precious, and it can get contaminated, washed away, or depleted with surprising ease. 

Thankfully, one Instagrammer's suggestion for protecting the nutrient-rich topsoil in your garden could just spare you the need for your next round of fertilizer.

The scoop

Amy Chapman (@inthecottagegarden) shared this tip and many others on her gardening Instagram. 

"Don't do this," she says, holding up a plant that's been pulled up by the roots. "Do this instead."

According to Chapman, when you pull up plants, you're wasting a resource. 

"When you rip your plants up roots and all, you're robbing beneficial soil life of good organic matter to feed on," she says. "But if you cut the plants at their base instead, the roots will gradually decompose and improve the fertility of your soil."

This tip doesn't work for every plant species. For instance, some hardy weeds like dandelions and invasive plants like bamboo can grow back from pieces of root. But for less stubborn species, like ordinary vegetable plants and herbs, this is a smart tip.

How it's helping

Every living plant absorbs nutrients from the soil and uses them to grow its stems, leaves, roots, flowers, and fruit. Removing the plant removes those nutrients from the area, but if some of the plant is left to decompose, those nutrients cycle back into the soil, where they'll be available for the next generation of plants.

"Leaving roots in the ground will keep the earthworms and microbes in your soil a lot happier, giving you healthier soil and more abundant harvests," says Chapman.

It's also easier to cut a plant's stem than to dig up its root, saving you time and effort, and causing less disruption to the surrounding plants.

Meanwhile, you can toss the top of the plant into your compost heap and regain nutrients that way too. All of this goes back into your garden to produce free, healthy veggies for you, while the plants themselves purify the air.

What everyone's saying

One commenter was struggling with the method. 

"I did this with my herb garden a month ago and they have dried out and aren't really decomposing," they said. "What do you do when you're ready to plant again? Just add the new seeds in around the dried stalks?"

"Make sure your herb garden has worms in it," suggested another user. "If it's a closed bottom, it takes a wee while for them to start decomposing, but worms will help that process."

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