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Little Habitat Project Soil Actions


Level I: Choose One Action Item

Level II: Choose Two Action Items

Level III: Choose Three Action Items

Add Compost from Off-site Sources

Adding compost will help improve soil quality and health. Compost can reduce erosion, increase fertility, improve water holding capacity, regulate pH, promote soil microbial activity, and benefit beneficial insects. Compost will also introduce beneficial microorganisms to the soil and act as a food source for beneficial fungi, bacteria, and earthworms. The best time to apply compost is before planting, after harvest, or as a top dress during the growing season as needed. Compost can be sourced in bulk or in bags from local landscape supply stores.


Leave the Leaves

Leaving the leaves or using leaf litter as mulch instead of raking them up will provide many benefits to managed landscapes: nutrients to support plant health; organic matter to improve soil structure;, food for birds that rely on insects overwintering in the leaves; microbial diversity including microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi that contribute to decomposition and nutrient cycling; shelter for pollinators & insects, spiders, small mammals, and amphibians that play an important role in ecosystem function.

a field of crimson clover

Plant Cover Crops

Planting cover crops will help to reduce erosion, suppress weeds, and add nutrients back into the soil. Many cover crops, also known as green manure and living mulch, capture nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil through a process called nitrogen fixation. As the cover crops decompose, they release nutrients into the soil which becomes available for plants. There are several different cover crop options to consider, including legumes (crimson and peas), and grasses (barley and rye). Winter cover crops have the most success when planted in late August to early October to ensure establishment before the winter. If you are not planning on keeping the cover crop as a permanent ground cover, make sure you terminate the crop before it goes to seed.

Add Composted Wood Chips

Adding composted woodchips to the soil as a bulking agent to help increase porosity, improve water retention, and protect the top layer of soil from weeds. Woodchips create air pockets within the soil that are important for root growth and nutrient uptake. When a thick layer of wood chips is applied to the soil surface, it creates a physical barrier between weed seeds and sunlight. When sunlight is blocked, weed seeds are less likely to germinate and grow. Different sizes of woodchips can be sourced depending on the intended use. Source woodchips from landscape supply shops or local arborist companies.

    • Avoid walnut chips as this is toxic to soil.
    • Reapply as needed preferably in the Spring and Fall.
    • Leave a gap around the base of trees to prevent moisture from rotting the trunk.
    • If mixing woodchips into the soil,  allow them to partially decompose before using them. Fresh woodchips can deplete nitrogen in the soil. If you do not have time to let the chips age, apply them as mulch and avoid shallow-rooted plants.

Construct a Compost Pile

Creating a compost pile will help break down yard waste and food scraps into a dark, crumbly, and rich amendment teeming with microorganisms and nutrients. To make compost, mix one-part nitrogen-rich material ‘greens’ with two parts of carbon-rich material ‘browns’” to ensure the optimum ratio of nitrogen and carbon. There are different styles of composting such as active and passive composting. Active composting requires more frequent turning and watering which produces an end product sooner. Passive composting is less intensive, requires a holding bin, and takes around 8-12 months to get a finished product. Animal products, weeds, or pet waste should be avoided in home composting.

Create a Vermicompost Bin

Creating a vermicompost bin will help convert food waste into a usable soil amendment. Vermicomposting is a process of composting organic materials using earthworms. These worms will help break down the organic matter into nutrient-rich compost through their feeding and digestion process. This type of compost provides rich nutrients, improves soil structure, and increases microbial activity. To set up a vermicomposting system, you will need a suitable container, bedding materials such as shredded newspaper or cardboard, composting worms (typically red wigglers), kitchen waste scraps, and proper maintenance. Make sure you avoid animal/dairy products, oily foods, spicy foods, and highly acidic food items such as citrus.

Pick up and Dispose of Pet Waste

Picking up and disposing of pet waste in the trash can help reduce E. coli bacteria and parasites in the soil that can harm the environment, people, and other animals. The best disposal method is to put pet waste in a trash can to prevent it from entering local waterways. Pet waste can negatively impact water quality since it contains nutrients that cause algae blooms and wastewater treatment plants are not able to remove all pathogens. Pet waste can also make other pets sick with diseases such as parvovirus.

Creating Bare Patches of Soil

Creating bare patches of soil can help support ground-nesting bees. 70% of native bees nest in the ground in holes they excavate themselves. We don’t know much about where ground nesting bees like to live, but they seem to prefer sunny areas with exposed soil. To help ground-nesting bees, select a site that is open with good drainage. Clear most of the vegetation; it is okay to leave some low plants like grass to help keep soil in place. Don’t dig up the soil as bees need stable ground for nesting.

Bonus Resource

Interested in getting a soil test conducted on your own property? Check out the Analytical Laboratories Serving Oregon that offer a variety of testing options, including nutrients, contaminants, and plant analysis. Before submitting your sample, it’s a good idea to check the laboratory’s website or call them directly to clarify your testing objectives, the cost, shipping procedures, and turnaround time.

headshot of Kassi smiling and wearing a yellow cap and a gray sweatshirt with her hair pulled back.
Kassi Roosth
Urban Conservation Planner
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