Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens

Create a resource-wise garden! This hands-on guide helps you understand the unique characteristics of your garden's soil and shows you how to build its natural fertility with organic and sustainable methods.

  • Introduction: Niall Dunne
  • The Physical Properties of Soil: Stephanie Murphy
    • The Formation of Different Soils
  • Ecology of the Soil: Sina Adl
    • Marvelous Mycorrhizae
    • Customizing the Soil Food Web
  • Soil Fertility and the Essential Nutrients: Niall Dunne
    • The Nitrogen Cycle: Craig Cogger
  • Getting to Know Your Soil: Ulrich Lorimer
  • Conditioning Your Soil: Niall Dunne
    • For Peat's Sake: Sarah Reichard
  • Compost: Homemade Humus for Healthy Soils: Grace Gershuny
    • Compost Tea
  • Fertilizing Your Garden: Craig Cogger
    • Green Manure
  • The Magic of Mulch: Janet Marinelli
  • Soil Care Strategies: Niall Dunne, Christopher Roddick, Anne O'neill,
  • Ronald C. Smith, Caleb Leech, Greg And Pat Williams
    • Gardening in Challenging Conditions
    • Soil Care Tips for Specific Plants
  • For More Information
  • Contributors
  • Index

Soil Resources

Use the links below to find these recommended resources for sale at or on


The Nature and Properties of Soils
Nyle C. Brady and Ray R. Weil
Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2008

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Site


Alternative Soil-Testing Labs
(organic fertilizer recommendations, soil food web evaluations, and more)


Urban Composting

Cornell University Composting


Urban Soils: Applications and Practices
Philip J. Craul John Wiley & Sons, 1999

USDA NRCS Urban Soils Site (see especially Urban Soil Primer)


Improving the Soil
Erin Hynes Rodale Press, 1994

Start with the Soil
Grace Gershuny Rodale Press, 1993


Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations
David R. Montgomery University of California Press, 2007

Great Lakes Worm Watch (forest ecology and worms)

The Soil and Water Conservation Society


BLM National Science and Technology Center (soil biological communities)

Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners
James B. Nardi University of Chicago Press, 2007

Soil Foodweb, Inc

Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web
Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis Timber Press, 2006

USDA NRCS Soil Biology Primer


Organic Gardening: The Natural No-Dig Way
Charles Dowding Green Books, 2007


Perfect Plant, Perfect Place
Roy Lancaster DK Publishing, 2002

Right Plant, Right Place
Nicola Ferguson Fireside, 2005

Trees in the Urban Landscape: Site Assessment, Design, and Installation Peter J. Trowbridge and Nina L. Bassuk John Wiley & Sons, 2004


Easy Compost, 2001
Natural Disease Control, 2000
Natural Insect Control, 1994

To read excerpts from these and other titles, visit
To order books, go to or call 718-623-7286.

Sina Adl is an associate professor in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Canada. He is the author of The Ecology of Soil Decomposition, as well as book chapters, reviews, and research papers on soil ecology. His current interests are in soil food web function and soil protist diversity.

Craig Cogger is a research and extension soil scientist at Washington State University, in Puyallup, Washington. He received his PhD in soil science from Cornell University. His research interests include organic nutrient management, organic farming systems, and the use of animal manure, biosolids, and composts in agriculture and urban landscapes. He has written numerous journal articles and more than 30 extension publications and has taught soils classes for master gardeners for more than 20 years.

Niall Dunne is a former editor of Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Plants & Gardens News and Urban Habitats. He holds an MA in English from University College Dublin and an MS in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University. He currently lives in Seattle and manages publications for the Arboretum Foundation at Washington Park Arboretum.

Grace Gershuny is internationally known in the organic agriculture movement, having worked for over 30 years as an organizer, educator, author, and consultant, as well as a market gardener. She has written extensively on soil management and composting, including Start with the Soil and Compost, Vermicompost, and Compost Tea. Currently working as a consultant to the organic industry, Grace lives, gardens, and composts in Barnet, Vermont.

Caleb Leech is the curator of the Herb Garden and Hardy Fern Collection at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He began gardening as a child and today focuses on community gardens, shared landscapes, and the connections people feel with plants and place.

Ulrich Lorimer is the curator of the Native Flora Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He holds a degree in landscape horticulture from the University of Delaware, has perpetually soiled hands, is an admitted plantaholic, and tries to be outside as much as possible.

Janet Marinelli, former director of Publications at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, is an award-winning author of numerous articles and several books on plants and gardening, including Stalking the Wild Amaranth and most recently, the BBG handbook The Wildlife Gardener's Guide. She has a particular interest in imperiled plants and what gardeners and other nature lovers can do to help them survive in this age of extinction. You can find out more about Janet and read her blog at

Stephanie Murphy heads the Rutgers Soil Testing Lab, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She has a PhD in soil biophysics from Michigan State University, an MS in soil management and conservation from Purdue University, and a BS in agronomy from Ohio State University. Her research interests include soil management, quality, and conservation.

Anne O'Neill is curator of the Shakespeare Garden and Fragrance Garden and the former curator of the Cranford Rose Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Sarah Reichard is an associate professor at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research interests encompass the intersection of conservation biology and horticulture, including invasive plants, rare plant reintroduction to the wild, and sustainable horticultural practices.

Christopher Roddick is an ISA-certified arborist at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Formerly the head arborist at Scott Arboretum, in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, he is currently a tree consultant and instructor specializing in mature tree preservation, pruning, and tree diagnostics. He is the coauthor (with Beth Hanson) of the BBG handbook The Tree Care Primer.

Ronald C. Smith is an extension horticulture specialist at North Dakota State University, in Fargo, North Dakota. He has an MS in horticultural soil analysis from the University of Georgia and a PhD in landscape horticulture from Ohio State University. He has taught at university level for more than three decades and has worked in horticulture-related industry for ten years.

Pat and Greg Williams have applied their MIT engineering training to food gardening experiments on their farm in central Kentucky for over 30 years. They are regular contributors to BBG's Plants & Gardens News and have published their monthly gardening newsletter HortIdeas ( since 1984.


March 17, 2012
Jeff Haywood

I would like to know, how may I get my vegetable garden soil tested? I live on Prospect Place in Brooklyn. Does the staff comes out to survey the soil?

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