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Oxygen exchange in the garden simplified

Worms help provide oxygen through aeration.
Worms help provide oxygen through aeration.
Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Think of your garden as a living, breathing entity. Why? Because that's exactly what it is. Your garden needs air, water and nutrients to survive, just like you do. Unfortunately, oxygen flow is one of the most overlooked causes of disease in the beginner's garden. How do you know if your garden has breathing issues? How can you increase air flow to your plants? Read on for the answers to those questions and more as we explore oxygen exchange in the garden.

Don't confuse photosynthesis with oxygen exchange. It's true that plants take in carbon dioxide and let out oxygen. This process, known as photosynthesis, is taught in every elementary school across the nation.

Here's what they don't teach you:

In addition to photosynthesis, plants also breathe, just like we do. Yes, it's true. Plants need oxygen to survive, just like animals. They also breathe out carbon dioxide, just like us. That's why oxygen's presence in the garden is so vital. Without good air circulation, plants will die.

How do you know if your plant has breathing issues?

*Plants appear healthy, yet don't bear fruit. You have the most beautiful, leafy, flowery vegetable garden in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, there seems to be no actual produce. This is a classic sign your plants are lacking oxygen.

*Plants have been properly fertilized and watered, yet appear weak, stressed or yellow. Here's another contradiction. You're doing everything by the book, but your plants are dying. Likely, the cause is lack of oxygen. Why? Because it's the last thing beginners think of when caring for plants.

What causes plants to lose oxygen?

*Plants are too close together. Beginning gardeners want to get the most bang for their buck. They've heard about this square foot gardening thing. Why not plant veggies closer together? Because, this method can rob plants of air unless you allow for oxygen exchange. Competing roots rob each other until there's nothing left to breathe.

*Soil is too compact or too loose. Not every soil is good for plants. Heavy clay soil leaves plants little room to breathe. Sand leaves too much room for air to leave the area. The best choice is a mix of soils to balance oxygen levels.

*Soil has no drainage outlet. Water is essential for plant growth. On the other hand, when water is allowed to sit on roots without draining, it has the opposite effect. Plants literally drown. Another problem caused by standing water at the root is fungal growth.

How can you increase oxygen flow to your garden?

*Till and aerate in the spring and fall. Get fresh air to your plants and your lawn through bi-annual tilling and aeration. Both break up the soil to increase air flow and water absorption.

*Add worms. Beginner gardeners may not realize the importance of worms in the garden. Their trails increase the flow of oxygen in the soil. Red wigglers are a gardener's favorite.

*Amend heavy soil with sand and organic matter. Have your soil tested. If it's heavy clay, mix your garden soil with other amendments. A good mix is 1/3 clay, 1/3 sand and 1/3 organic compost. It's an inexpensive fix that improves air flow and drainage to perfect oxygen levels.

*Improve drainage, but not too much. Too much drainage can leave your plants high and dry. Too little drainage and your plants will be oxygen starved. Like most gardening techniques, good drainage lies somewhere in the middle. If your garden takes more than two days to dry out, it's not well drained. If it takes less than a day, it's too well drained.

Note: Beginning gardeners, don't despair.

While maintaining proper oxygen exchange in the garden seems complicated, it will soon be second nature to you. That's the beauty of gardening. Anyone can do it. All it takes is a few simple tools and tips, combined with a lot of trial and error. Remember, gardening is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the trip.

Portions of this article were previously published by this author on a now closed Yahoo property.