Working the soil…It’s that time again!
It is that time again, time to get outside to begin preparing the soil for the new year. I mentioned previously that I am not big on amending but lets face it there is only so much a plant can do without nutrients , so we’ve got to give it a little help.
Being a Master Gardener I would say it would be improper for me not to suggest that you begin with a soil test. I have a hard time saying that because it would then imply that you would be amending your soil according to their findings and that contradicts what I just said… That being said, you really should get one. If you never have it is as simple as can be, you dig a little hole about 4-6” deep and put the soil you find at the bottom in a baggy. Do this in a few spots in your yard or just maybe one in the lawn and one in your beds and mark the baggies so you remember what hole they came from. Some places will test several samples, others only one. You can get a soil sample done by A&M or other mail in testing sites by simply mailing them your soil at a cost from about $20- $35.00 and they will send you a handy little sheet telling what you where you are nutritionally deficient and how to fix it. There are also local nurseries who do it and sometimes for free. Once you know what you need, you may decide to amend according to the findings but at the very least you will know not to add chemical fertilizers that can exacerbate the problem by adding more of the same things you don’t need, which people notoriously do. Avoid chemical fertilizers in your yard as much as possible, always opt for compost or natural fertilizers like “Liquid Seaweed” as chemicals are destructive in the garden and require continued use that creates a vicious cycle and the effects are showing on our planet.
Now, lets talk about dirt. I have clay soil with limestone, some have rock, some have sandy soil and some of you lucky ducks have black land prairie, (we’re not talking to you,… just kidding) For those like myself who have a horrible excuse for soil in the form of hard clay and rocks, you need to add some sand or pea sized crushed granite (1/6) or Gypsom to break that up. You need to add some pine straw or pine chips (1/6) to add acid, (we are really high in Alkaline), organic matter (1/3) (compost will save the world) and you need rich dark (not sandy and orange) top soil, or garden soil (1/3) preferably with pearlite to absorb and hold water (math’s off a little.. but who’s counting?). They now sell bags of organic garden soil and raised bed soil at the Lowes and other convenient places and most nurseries have these as well. To create better drainage, you need to mix all of these elements and add them to your tilled and /or aerated beds and mix by tilling gently with a pitch fork or garden weasel being sure to leave lots of air in your soil.
Be sure not to walk on your soil once it has been tilled or you remove the air from the soil and compact it again. If you have an existing bed, try to get around your plants with a pitch fork and stab down into the soil at least 6-8”. This will aerate the soil and allow it to take in some of the mixture you are making. If you have a new bed, or one you are changing out, till it as deep as you can go with a shovel or tiller. Now, be very careful about using a heavy machine tiller because the weight of it can compact the soil beneath the area its tilling and create a “hard pan” under the surface. This is like concrete and only makes your drainage problems worse. You will want to add at least an inch of this mixture over the tilled area, (I add several) then fold in (pitch fork or hard rake) avoiding walking too much over the tilled area to allow air to remain in the soil, than add your Mulch on top.
It is very important that you NEVER work your soil when it is wet. It changes its composition, sort of changes its DNA as it were. It disables its ability to absorb nutrients and in essence can kill it. This is why Grandpa didn’t want me veering off the garden path, because of compaction and in wet soil it’s even worse. If your soil sticks to your tools or you are wearing high heels made from mud, it is too wet.
If you have rocky soil, you may have excessive alkaline and your soil test will tell you how to correct that. Typically it will suggest
sulfur but you can also add used coffee grounds which you can find for free at most coffee shops and apply occasionally to the soil. I would suggest you make the same soil mixture above and add one of these to give you a base acid level. The perfect soil consists of 25% air, 25% water, 40% mineral matter and 10% organic matter. It should be like a chocolate cake that holds tight in your fist and crumbles if you touch it, you should also be finding a whole lot of worms. This can take several years of this process to complete so don’t get discouraged, it will come. If you have really tragic soil (dirt) than I advise you make raised beds at least 1′ deep to give your plants a fighting chance. If you find that this process sounds a lot like work, then make it simple…add an inch of compost in the Spring and mulch in the Fall, but make sure you have at least 6 inches of loose material to work in.
Look, here’s the bottom line, there are all sorts of amendments you will hear about and I don’t want to tell you about all the different things you can add to your soil because I would be a hypocrite. I like to keep it simple for great results and I use the simplest methods in my yard and my yard is awesome! So try this mixture or buy a good quality garden soil from your local garden center (as long as it is dark and fluffy) and save your time for other things.
if you would like more information about soil conditioning, plant selection and organic gardening call me for a landscape consultation at 512-733-7777, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
quote of the day: “Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow.” -unknown,
Plant of the day: Pink Skullcap, full Sun, low water, evergreen mounding ground cover with little hot pink flowers.