Life Underground

Tardigrade under a microscope

When planning and planting our gardens, we often focus on what we see above ground, like birds nesting in our trees and shrubs and colourful flowers that feed the bees and make us smile. But there’s a noisy world full of life beneath our feet. Here are some of the living things hard at work underground that keep our yards and gardens beautiful and thriving.

Small and really, really, small animals: Topsoil is filled with life. You’ve probably seen some of the creatures that live here while working in your garden, like worms, beetles, grubs and even something as big as a vole. If you had microscopic eyes, you could also see tiny nematodes, mites and tardigrades. Tardigrades are so adorable they have been given the name water bear.

Other micro-organisms: There are many soil-dwelling organisms that we can’t see, such as bacteria and single-celled organisms known as protozoa. There are billions of them in just a small handful of soil. Like the worms, beetles and grubs mentioned above, these micro-organisms help break down organic matter and create the nutrients plants need to grow.

Roots: Roots are living things that support the plants in our gardens. Big or small, they help stabilize plants, absorb water and minerals and store sugar and starches as plant food. Woven between these roots are mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae are the roots of fungi, and they work with plant roots to improve the absorption of nutrients and water for both plants and fungi.

It’s important to care for your soil in a sustainable way to support these organisms and help your yard and garden thrive. Reducing soil disturbance, leaving fallen leaves on the ground instead of raking them and growing native plants are easy actions you can take to keep your soil healthy.

Photo: Philippe Garcelon

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