Sunday, January 2, 2011


One thing to study and ponder during these next few months is soil related--we need to understand our soil in order to be successful in our beds.  We need to have a knowledge of its structure, and what we can do to make it rich and fruitful.  Soil is made up of organic matter (animal and products), and also of mineral particles.  A pH analysis can tell us if our soil is acidic, alkaline, or neutral (7.0 on the pH scale).  If you have extremes in pH, you'll be missing necessary nutrients for your plants.  By knowing a soil's pH, we can raise it (or make it less acidic, by adding lime), or we can lower it (or make it more acidic with sulfur).  I have a soil tester, and I highly recommend getting one.  I am lucky in my area, because my soil tests 7.0, or neutral; so unless I have a cultivar that needs an especially high amount of a particular nutrient, I usually don't have to add lime or sulfur.  NOTE: Hydrangeas like added sulfur).  If you don't have a soil testor, you can buy do-it-yourself testing kits, or another option is to have your local Extension Service do a soil test, which is either free or has a nominal fee.  In order to take a sample in,  you need to take several samples of soil, at least 5 inches deep, from one bed, and mix together.  (Areas with different types of plants will require separate samples).  After your initial test, you might want to retest every 3-4 years.  Here are some important facts I've learned from experience about soil:
  • STRUCTURE:  The most ideal soil for growing healthy plants is crumbly, or loam.  It is rich in organic matter and drains well.  It is a soil that holds  the nutrients well.  If your soil is sandy, it will dry out quickly, and not hold the nutrients well.  Clay soil is very hard to work with (like working in cement!), and drains poorly.
  • SOIL AMENDMENTS:  You can alter the pH of your soil by adding organic matter and minerals: 
  • COMPOST:  Decayed plant matter--and adding bonemeal, manure, or phosphate to it. 
  • PEAT:  Can lower the pH a bit.  Is lightweight and moisture retentive. Be sure to wet before adding.  
  • SAND:  Builder's sand can  aerate the soil, improves drainage in clay soil.  It should be coarse, not fine.  (Don't use beach sand--too much salt). 
  • LIME:  All limes raise the pH.  Use ground or crushed. 
  • SULFUR:  Lowers the pH, or makes it more acidic.  This can be quite caustic, so read the directions and follow carefully. 
  • IMPROVING YOUR SOIL:  When the days warm up, and the soil has dried out some (choose a day the soil is neither too wet nor too dry), you can amend your soil.  I think it's a good idea to amend each spring--at least with compost or manure, or both.  Turn over your soil, and work in.  When working with manure, use a well-rotted or dehydrated form. 
  • BONEMEAL:  Slow-acting, with a high phosphorus content, is good for root growth.  (Bonemeal is good for planting dahlia tubers, peonies, and feed roses throughout the entire season). 
  • BLOODMEAL:  This is especially good for pansies and top-growth. 
  • CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS:  I think (and have read widely), that a ratio of 10-10-10, a balanced fertilizer, makes an excellent general fertilizer for pretty much all beds.  SUPER TRIPLE PHOSPHATE:  This is what I sprinkle every early spring.  This is great for transplanted young seedlings, and is what I plant and use with all my bearded iris.  It's 0-45-0, and if I could only have one fertilizer to use, it would be Super Triple Phosphate.  I buy bags of it at the end of the season, when supplies go on sale, and then I have it in those first early weeks right after the snow melts.  Remember to mix this in and don't add with dry soils--that's why it's nice to add when the soil is still workable, but moist, in the early spring.
  • FAST-ACTING FERTILIZERS:  Either liquid or water-soluble, that are good for container plants.  I like Osmocote.  Remember to never apply these to dry soil.
Susanne Holland Spicker Mother, Grandmother, Homemaker, Gardener, Teacher, Photographer

Passion is defined as the love of, or the object(s) of affection and emotion. I am passionate about family, friends, flowers, food, photography and fabulous music! This blog is dedicated to those loves.

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