About a week ago, my husband surprised me with proof of his love: a pile of cow poop. I was SO excited! Actually, the cow poop was in the form of 20 bags of composted steer manure from Lowe's. And he spread 10 of the bags into the new flower bed he had just cut out of the grass for me. That manure will rot away all winter and create fabulous soil for my plants - especially the rose bushes I hope to plant there next spring.
You see, the big secret to a great garden is - da-da-dum - great soil. If your soil is good, even cheapo plants from WalMart can thrive. But if your soil is compacted and barren of nutrients, the most expensive plants from the nursery will struggle to grow and bloom well. A soil high in organic matter (like rotting manure, leaves, or the product of your compost bin) allows plant roots to easily grow through the soil. It retains water better and feeds beneficial organisms like earthworms. You might not like slimy worms, but your plants love them.
Composted steer manure is the easiest, cheapest way to improve your soil. You can buy 1 cubic foot bags of the stuff at Lowe's, Home Depot or WalMart for just over a dollar apiece. Spread a couple of inches over your garden soil before planting. The worms, rain, sprinklers and your planting shovel will mix it in eventually, so you don't have to rototill it in. Most of the composted manure that we've purchased hasn't smelled like manure. This last batch (in green and lavender bags from Lowe's) was an exception, and our yard smells like a dairy. It must not have been allowed to rot long enough, but the smell will disappear in a month.
So here's a big Thank You to my husband! I don't ever need more diamond jewelry as proof of your love, but I'll happily take manure once in a while.