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Why care about dirt?

Not all soil is created equal. Soil serves many important functions in an ecosystem. Whether it is in your landscape or an indoor pot, soil is the medium for your plants to thrive. USDA’s National Resources Conservation Services notes that high quality soil performs five functions at the same time: Soil...

  • Acts like a sponge, soaking up rainwater and limiting runoff. It also helps with groundwater recharge and controlling rainwater runoff in urban environments.
  • Acts like a faucet, storing and releasing water and air for plants and animals to use.
  • Acts like a supermarket, providing valuable nutrients, air and water to plants. Soil also stores carbon and prevents losing it into the atmosphere.
  • Acts like a strainer or filter, purifying the water and air that flows through it.
  • Detoxifies and traps pollutants, such as oil, pesticides, herbicides and heavy metals, keeping them from entering groundwater supplies. It also stores nutrients for your plants.

Much of Colorado’s soil is heavy clay and can be alkaline. To support the trees, shrubs, and other plants we enjoy in our urban landscapes, our soil may need some help. You can’t change the temperature, wind, or dry air we see in our state, but you can amend the soil to make it more hospitable to plant life.

The Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory at Colorado State University can perform a soil test to help you determine what needs to be done to improve soil health in your landscape. You can pick up a test kit at a local hardware store and mail your sample for analysis.

Talk with your landscape professional about the best amendments for your particular soil type. Compost is a common amendment—but be careful, as some composts can be high in salt. Learn what's in the compost before purchasing.

Fun fact: Soil is incredibly old: It takes at least 100 years—or as many as 500 years—to form a single inch of topsoil!

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