I look back through my gardening books and I see so many of them with “old” information.

All information evolves/changes through time, with experience and observation. What happens to new information that becomes available?

Many times it’s easier to just stick with what one knows through their life (i.e. the “rut”), but this isn’t the best way. Change is painful and often avoided until the pressure forces it.

Dirt. It’s just stuff under our feet, right? Well … if you consider that more than 90% of life is beneath our feet, then I think we need to explore it all.

Practice starts with diversity. Monocultures (many of the same kind) will bring a crash. If you think about nature, it’s a lot of different kinds of plants, animals, each having their own job. Truly, the more diverse (different) the environment, the healthier it is, in most cases.

A clone is an identical copy of its parent. There’s good and bad with this. The good is obvious. The bad would be any weakness/susceptibilities to diseases/pests that are built in. Many nursery plants are from clones, and the problems “mom” had will be in the “child” as well. Some plant “parents” (picked for their good characteristics) are the source of millions of “children” … which show the same problems as their “mom.”

I, personally, am not a fan of cloning, choosing to allow nature to take its course.

Plant culture has delved into all kinds of propagation in the desire to capitalize on profits. What I see are the problems several years out from plant installation — whole rows of shrubs, perennials in beds, and masses of plantings, all dying from the same problem. Planting many different kinds and mixing it up will help avoid mass death.

A beginning: know your soil. Know plant requirements.

The life of whatever plant you choose depends on good soil … loamy, perks well, has good exposure and air movement, and at least six hours of sun a day, unless its shade-loving.

Problem is this “talk” makes no sense to the average homeowner. So, back to the definitions.

Perk is how fast water moves through the soil.

Loamy is how much organic matter is in the soil.

Exposure is how much direct sun it gets all day.

Air movement is the move/fluctuation of all air through/around the plant in a day.

Yes, it all matters.

Plants, like humans, are created to “work.” When synthetic fertilizers are used, several things occur: One is the plant becomes “lazy,” not seeking nutrients, nor exuding enticements for helpful bacteria or fungi. These bacteria and fungi are essential to good root growth, strong immunity, nutrient uptake and so much more. It truly is all connected. Synthetic fertilizer creates many negatives, long-term and cumulative. The solution — poop. Earth “understands” manure and knows how to use it. It’s not the answer but it starts things in the right direction.

Before the advent of mechanical devices and man-made applications, dirtfolks used what they had and understood the good things it did. Farmers didn’t have piles of barn-waste that they begged people to haul off. It was valuable and used. In fact, all waste was used in one way or another.

Even the American Indians buried fish waste alongside growing crops because they knew it helped the plants that fed them. Today we have the capability of seeing those truths on paper, explained and understood … as far as we can understand.

It doesn’t matter what the need is, whether it’s a garden, a flowerbed, a tree planted, a lawn, or any other kind of human interference in the soil, it all begins with a working knowledge of how and why the soil is square one. No matter the glossy pictures on packages or service advertisements, if there’s no understanding of the soil it all starts in, the outcome could be anything, and is often unpleasant.

“Out of sight, out of mind” applies to those of us who choose to use man-made products. We opt to not know the impact of our actions until it directly affects someone we know and love. Then it becomes important.

I choose to know all humanity as brothers/sisters and I’m responsible for my actions, especially when it’s a negative impact. Everyone is downstream of someone, so as you would want whoever is upstream of you to consider you, it’s your job to consider all others.

In an age when we have much possibility for communication and engagement, we’re more disconnected from our fellow humans than ever before.

We can choose to change that.

Sherrie “The Dirt Girl” Ottinger is a dedicated ecologist, speaker, writer and lifetime Tennessean. All comments and questions should be emailed to velokigate@yahoo.com.