Everyday Gardeners

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Top 5 Secret and Natural Soil Additives For A Healthy Garden

Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden

Eleven years ago I was a “traditional gardener”, meaning I used the traditionally advertised products on the market that were filled with chemicals to treat my garden. This led to over-fertilizing and using chemical pesticides regularly. Bottom line: I wantonly abandoned the idea of doing healthy things for my garden in favor of what the media told me I should do. At that time I would consider my garden an average garden even with all of my chemical efforts. Then one season a friend of mine suggested I grow in an environmentally healthy fashion and stop listening to the hype. I thoroughly researched the importance of how to go chemical free and gradually converted my entire property over to about 98.9% organic and natural. An amazing and surprising thing happened in response to that changeover – my garden grew more beautiful, astounding, and lush than it had ever been when I used all those chemical solutions.

The secret for using less chemicals and pesticides in your garden is this: good soil grows healthy plant roots. With healthy plant roots you have strong plants that can survive tough conditions. Over the last ten years I have discovered what type of amendments work best in gardens nationwide and in my own garden. I have my favorite list of five all natural products and organic matter that really work well in my front lawn vegetable garden (seen in the photo above) and in gardens all across the country.

5 Amazing Soil Additives

Rotted Manure

Without a doubt, rotted manure is an important organic amendment for your soil because of its nutrient rich content which is the basis for building a strong structure of carbon compounds within the soil. Be sure that the manure is well rotted or it will burn your plants. You can get it in bagged form at your local garden center or find a farmer nearby. Be advised that manure from a farmer sometimes contains grass and weed seed. I add a generous amount of well rotted manure to the garden soil before I plant a garden, then again annually as a top dressing around plants.

Worm castings

Worm castings is worm poop – that’s right – worm poop. Like rotted manure, worm castings create a strong soil structure and add beneficial biology to the root zone of your plants. Worm castings help hold moisture so you water less. Mix ¼ cup of worm castings into the soil planting hole for each plant. I use Organic Mechanics worm castings which are OMRI and Organic certified (below you see a mix of rotted manure and worm castings added to my spring front lawn vegetable garden).

Spring rotted manure application on Shawna Coronado front lawn vegetable garden


Soil Amendment Actino-Iron 2Actino-Iron is an all natural OMRI certified granular soil additive that combines the Actinovate organic fungicide with organic iron and humates. Actino-Iron is a product that is already used in many of the soil mixes you find professionally in the market because it helps control root diseases and keep your plants greener. I have used it for three years in a row and found it works very well to strengthen the root systems of my plants. Last year I had a drought and the plants stayed green and healthier because Actino-Iron builds a relationship between the root zone and soil microbes, strengthening the roots by growing more root hairs. I had a couple tablespoons in the root zone of each plant (see photo below).

Soil amendment Actino-Iron

Pure Elements SoilSuccess

Soil Amendment Pure Elements SoilSuccessPure Elements has several gypsum based products that are great soil amendments for all types of growing such as grass renewal, perennial beds, annual flower gardens, and vegetable gardening. My favorite is Pure Elements SoilSuccess Renew + Transform because it adds humates to the soil and helps reduce tomato bottom end rot. This is a good product to increase soil microbial activity and improve germination, shoot, and root growth in all your garden beds, particularly your vegetable beds. My plants are crazy huge this season and I applied about one pound of SoilSuccess per 100 feet of garden.

Homemade Compost

#1 rule of healthy organic gardening – make your own compost. Below is a photo of my overly stuffed composter doing its happy work in my garden. While there are many ways to make your own compost, the fact that it is absolutely free for you to build makes it one of the best ideas ever. Using grass clippings, kitchen scraps, dry leaves, and all types of natural things from your home like coffee grounds, you can create “black gold” for your garden beds. Compost has amazing nutrients in it which helps your garden soil be the perfect place for microbes to interact with root hairs. In other words, by adding compost, you are building stronger roots. I add compost to the soil in new gardens and also use it as a top dressing to smother weeds around healthy plants.

Shawna Coronado Soil Amendment Compost Bin

According the FTC, you need to know that I received products in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.

43 Responses to “ Top 5 Secret and Natural Soil Additives For A Healthy Garden ”

  1. I’ll need to do a bit of research for the commercial products and see what equivalents we have in Australia! Thank you!

  2. Shawna , thanks for the great tips .

  3. Great information! We have our own cows and nearby horse farms where we gather manure treasures. In our sandy Florida soil, compost and aged manure conditions our garden beds, making them fertile and more likely to hold moisture. Thanks for the nice post!

  4. Can I ask you… how do you keep roaches out of your compost, or do you have this problem at all? My compost is in a large resin type bin that is made for composting, placed in full sun, and I try to keep it just moist enough, thinking the heat and moisture would not only help with the breakdown but also keep the roaches and bugs out. However, every time I open the lid, it has TONS of roaches! I’ve been adding diatomaceous earth but it hasn’t helped.

  5. Excellent info, as always!! I look forward to reading your posts!!

  6. You are welcome – best of luck with your Australian search.


  7. You are welcome Melissa – thanks for your note. These soil amendments work great in sandy soil.


  8. I do not have problems with roaches or palmetto bugs. My thought is it is because I have a compost pile higher in carbon material. This reduces smell. Never place meats or milk products in your compost, that will attract bugs. Turning your compost regularly destroys insect nests and keeps the temperature of your compost pile at “hot” – super hot compost is not as fun to nest in for bugs. I am not an expert on this question, however, I suggest you search “Keeping bugs and roaches out of compost” on the internet. There are some amazingly good suggestions out there on how to rid yourself of the roaches.

    Best of luck Laura!


  9. Thanks Tammy! :-)

  10. Great article Shawna. I had not heard of a couple of the items you mentioned and am intrigued. We are planning a front yard renovation in the very near future so the information is timely for us. When we built the garden the first time I used organic products but didn’t go to all the lengths you did but it all helped so much. The beds were all mulched with the best grade compost…that would be the entire yard as we had no grass. It worked so well and kept the soil lively. I am really looking forward to giving your method a try this next time around. I’ll let you know how things turn out.

  11. Great article Shawna so happy to see it in the very popular magazine BH&G. We give every customer we meet an info sheet called Healthy Soil is the Key to Healthy Plants and let them know that organic is actually better for all the reasons you have discovered!!! Thank you!!!

  12. Thanks Patty – so glad you like the idea. :-)

  13. Thanks Laurin! It’s been an amazing journey for me – I learned the hard way – but organic and healthy is definitely better for the environment and your community! :-)

  14. Love the idea of making your own compost!

  15. I’ve been an organic gardener for 13 years, as part of my spiritual practice.

    Please remember that raw egg shells carry salmonella bacteria, and many compost beds don’t get hot enough EVERYWHERE to kill it. It can end up on and in raw veggies on your plate.

    The prevention is EASY. Just keep the shells in the carton until you’ve used all the eggs, then either boil the lot for 3 minutes or microwave them on high for 1 minute (2 minutes if you have a lower-powered microwave.) I crush them in a mortar and pestle, which also nicely removes any residual spice oils from that equipment. I sprinkle the eggshell over the soil directly to keep away slugs. I work it into the soil for tomatoes which need LOTS of calcium. Carrots love it to sweeten the soil.

    I don’t add it to my compost as my front yard is full of acid loving plants.

  16. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. :-)


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  19. Can I use the Actino Iron and the pure Elements soil success and renew transform together?

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  26. Hi, I am new to vegetable gardening. Last year we grew veggies for the first time. I did not do too bad. We had enough for us and to give away. I need a garden lay out. My garden was like a jungle by the end of the season. The tomato baskets fell over and would not stay upright so the tomatoes were growing like a vine all over the place! My green peppers barely grew. The zucchini, tomatoes and hot peppers did the best. Herbs grew well too. I compost by using the blender and blending all vegetable/fruit scraps and coffee grounds–and pour it into the garden. We do this all winter so when we trun the soil over prior to planting is is rich with organic matter.
    But–I need suggestions on plant placement, please. Any help will be appreciated.

  27. Your good intentions are negated by your shilling for brand-names. Iron powder or filings will do the same as “Actino-Iron” to prevent iron chlorosis in plants, for instance, for a LOT less money. You sound like a product placement agent.

    John Clark
    Chicago, Illinois

  28. I have a garden/soil additive. I do not remember the full name of it. The product is a beige powder and the part of the name I remember is c_____ dirt. Humans also use it for cleaning out the digestive system. Do you know the full name for this product? Thank you.

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