Friday, April 22, 2011

Let’s get dirty!

My red jade crabapple tree last week.

Happy Good Friday! Happy Earth Day! Spend it in the garden! That’s right, it’s time for Friday in the Garden. Oh wait, you thought I meant the other kind of dirty….

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk dirt. Good soil is the foundation of a beautiful garden. When I started gardening, I’d dig a hole, plop a plant in, and wonder why my flowers didn’t flourish. Now I sit back and shake my head at my young, naïve gardening self. Just like people, plants need the right conditions to grow big and strong. If you fed your children a steady diet of gum and potato chips their growth would probably be stunted right? Same thing here.

Good soil does several things. It provides nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It provides the proper ph level for your plants. And soil with the proper texture allows water, air, and plant roots to move properly.

If you have bad soil, you’ll have bad plants. It’s that simple. So, how do you know whether your soil is “good”? It’s pretty simple actually. If you’re just starting out, the absolute best thing to do is have your soil tested by your local county extension office. Most of them offer free or very cheap testing.

Collecting a sample is easy. In the area you plan to plant, collect several (I normally do 5-6 depending on the size of the site) thin, vertical slices or hunks of soil about 4-6 inches deep with a garden spade. You need about one cup of soil. Mix the samples together and transfer it to a plastic container. Take it to your extension office. Then sit back and wait. It normally takes about a month to get the report back so plan accordingly.

Once you get the report back, you can talk to your extension agent and she will help you figure out how to amend your soil. (Adding organic matter, peat moss, compost, manure, etc. It’s different depending on your soil.)

Here’s what I normally do. First, remove the sod. My husband likes to skip this step. He simply tills up the grass and leaves it in the bed. This makes me crazy! I spend all summer yanking grass out of my flower beds. Trust me. Do yourself a favor and Remove the Sod.

I convinced Steve to Remove The Sod from a bed we dug last fall for spring bulbs.

Because I live in Kentucky and have thick clay soil, I till composted manure into the soil to create a nice loamy texture. DO NOT add sand to clay thinking that will improve the texture of your soil. It won’t. You’ll end up with cement-like soil.

Finally, plant your flowers and cover with a 2 inch layer of mulch to discourage weeds. Then sit back and enjoy!

The same bed last week, bursting with blushing lady tulips and grape hyacinths.

It’s a little more work upfront, but trust me, you’re saving yourself a lot of work later. Plus, your plants will thank you!

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