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Matching Land use to Landscape

Updated: Mar 6

The 5 Priorities of Soil Health Management

A wooden lawn chair in an outdoor garden
Photo by Surja Sen Das Raj on Pexels

How do you build soil health in your environment? Of course, it depends on what the soil needs.

One way we can learn what the soil needs is to test the soil

We can also assess our priorities and how to use the five priorities of soil health management, outlined by Chris Lawerence of Virginia USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to fit our yards, gardens, farms, and landscapes.

If you want to build soil health but need help figuring out where to start, consider how you can match land use to the landscape. 

Matching the Garden to the Landscape

Do you want to grow a pollinator garden, but live on a steep slope? Then you may want to prioritize growing perennials, shrubs, and ground covers that are native to your region. Growing a mix of native plants helps maximize living roots to keep the soil in place, build biodiversity in the soil, and keep the soil covered. Plant Virginia Natives, a collaborative initiative across Virginia, offers regional-based resources and guides to help you find native plants. 

If you plan to grow food in the garden, consider which crops can aid in replacing and increasing the nutrients in the soil. Fairfax County Master Gardeners shares ideas on how to plan a food garden that benefits the soil in the article Crop Rotation & Other Strategies to Minimize Pests

A group of people standing in a pasture with cows in the background
Photo courtesy of Mountain Glen Farm, April 2023

Matching the Livestock to the Landscape

Do you want to add different livestock to your farm and practice rotational grazing? Think about how the animals complement each other's eating habits. In our conversation with Becky Szarzynski of Mountain Glen Farm on 4 The Soil: A Conversation podcast, she described how the different herds grazed together.

"The way [the sheep and cattle] graze together was just really beneficial for, not just each other, in terms of the parasite load that we've all heard about, but also with the grazing management aspect," said Becky. "The sheep would eat something different than the cows...and they worked really well together."

Becky also added pigs into the grazing rotation. They love to eat many of the "weeds" in the pasture and make way for other plants to grow.

"Having these different types of animals on our landscape will achieve different types of plant communities, and again diversity is key," said Becky. "Monocultures are not resilient for our landscape…We want diversity so that we create resilience in our plants, [and] also in our soils."

A shovel standing in a pasture full of biodiverse plants
Photo courtesy of Mountain Glen Farm, April 2023

Where do we start? Ask the Landscape

Rather than demanding a certain outcome, we can use the power of observation to match our use of the land to the landscape. 

Jeff Ishee, our podcast host, shared a memory of his father in the garden on Episode 24-1. As a young gardener, Jeff asked his father, "What is the most important tool to you in the garden?" His father pointed to the lawn chair and said, "The power of observation is critical to gardening. You need to just sit back, sit down, and observe…and you'll learn more about everything concerning your garden."

If you are unsure how to prioritize soil health, the Virginia USDA-NRCS outlined 5 key priorities to help guide soil health management systems. These priorities can help you clarify your targets and measurable outcomes as you implement the four core principles.




Soil Health Virginia, Natural Resources Conservation Service - United States Department of Agriculture 

Explanation of Soil Tests, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Crop Rotation & Other Strategies to Minimize Pests by Janet Scheren, Fairfax Master Gardener Intern 

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