What is Carbon in Soil and Why Does it Matter?
Updated: Feb 27
Carbon is one of the most abundant elements on Earth. It is the common element in all known life—carbon can be found in humans, plants, and animals. Organic carbon is the building block for life on Earth, and plays a vital role in our environment.
Carbon isn’t a static element. It can be moved from one carrier to another, a process called the carbon cycle. Carbon is returned to the earth as plants and animals die and decompose, and is released into the atmosphere if soil is tilled or disturbed. As plants grow, converting CO2 into plant tissue, some carbon is leached back into the soil. In fact, Earth’s soil is estimated to hold up to 2,500 gigatons of carbon.
So why, as a gardener, should you care about carbon? Healthy soils help to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, slowing climate change. Soils high in organic carbon also have been proven to be more resilient, more stable, and more fertile.
Carbon sequestration, the process of storing carbon molecules, is critical in efforts to prevent climate change. Soil is extremely effective at storing carbon. However, tilling and working soil for gardening or cropping can result in depleted carbon stores. If soil isn’t properly managed, it releases excess carbon into the atmosphere, linking with other molecules to create greenhouse gasses. Healthy soil that has a rich biodiversity and that isn’t overworked is able to trap carbon more efficiently.
Although you may not be aggressively tilling your garden or landscape, it is important to consider where the garden soils and amendments that you add to your landscape come from. Many garden soils and amendments contain non-renewable resources that are acquired through unsustainable means. EarthMix® garden amendments are always made using all-natural, never synthetic ingredients. EarthMix® soil mixes are formulated with living soils and organic carbon material that is specifically designed with the longevity of the planet and your garden in mind.
A great example of EarthMix® soil’s commitment to environmentally sustainable soil mixes is our decision to make peat-free garden soils. Peat bogs act as huge carbon sinks, trapping and storing carbon deep underground. Farming in peat-rich areas and harvesting peat for garden amendments has led to the rapid decline of peat bogs. The peat in these bogs has been growing for millennia, and is considered a non-renewable resource. All EarthMix® Garden Products are peat-free. We use more environmentally friendly additives, like coconut coir, to achieve the same beneficial effects as peat in our soil products.
Aside from its environmental benefits, high organic carbon in soil creates a better soil structure, with greater aeration and water drainage. As organic carbon aggregates, it creates a more porous and stable soil structure. This helps to mitigate erosion and weathering issues in soils. The soil becomes more resilient, coping with changing conditions more readily without compromising its integrity. Organic carbon also serves to make water and oxygen more available to plant roots, improving plant health and vitality.
Although your soil may seem inert, there is a complex web of microorganisms and nutrients that make the soil fertile. Biodiversity in soil is essential to plant life. Plants need a number of nutrients and minerals to survive, and there are a ton of microorganisms that foster the connections between soil and plant life. Carbon plays a role in fostering this biodiversity, creating soil structures and compounds that make nutrients more accessible to plants. It has been shown that soils high in carbon are also high in mycorrhizae fungi and other beneficial organisms—from earthworms to beneficial bacteria. What does this mean? When plants are able to access nutrients consistently and easily, they grow healthy root systems and thrive above-ground. Carbon and beneficial organisms have a symbiotic relationship—homeostasis in the soil is essential for both to develop at healthy rates.
Now that we’ve covered the importance of carbon in soil, you may be wondering how to add organic carbon into your existing soil. Our motto here at EarthMix® is “Success starts from the ground up.” A holistic approach to your garden—starting with soil health—will help plants to thrive both below- and above-ground, fostering beautiful blooms, healthy trees and shrubs, and abundant vegetables. Products like Supernatural™, Garden™, Landscape™, and Proganix-O™ contain significant amounts of organic carbon that help to build soil structure and fertility over time. EarthMix® garden soils are always sustainably sourced and made in small batches in Nashville, TN, using only the highest-quality organic components. Help your garden to thrive for years to come with living garden soils from EarthMix® Garden Products.
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