Spring is Near -Time to Plan and Prepare

Spring is approaching and you need to get your yard in shape for gardening. Lets start with soil testing. Most people think that they can just throw down some topsoil and toss in some plants, and everything will be ok. Weeks to a month later, you notice your plants aren’t doing too well. You water them, add fertilizer, do all that you think you can do to save them, and nothing seems to work. You have just wasted time and money because now your Designn and your plants are in ruin. All this could have been prevented with a simple soil test. You can contact your local agricultural extension office on how to go about getting one done. It is as easy as taking soil samples from various areas in your yard where you plan to garden and mailing it off for testing. Pricing can range from $7-$30US depending on the complexity of the tests you are doing. Do-at- home soil tests are also available. Visit your local gardening store or gardening website. A basic soil test establishing texture, organic content, and pH should suit the average gardener. There are other factors that a soil test can measure, but these are the 3 most important.

Soil pH
The level of acidity or alkalinity, or pH, plays a very important role in the chemical balance of soil. Just as your blood needs to maintain a pH level of 7.35-7.4 to perform properly, your soil also needs to maintain a certain pH level in order for your plants to perform properly. Soil pH of 7.0 is considered neutral. Most plants perform their best in slightly acidic to neutral pH (6.0-7.0). If your soil test puts you in this range, then your soil’s chemistry is good to go. If your pH is too low, try raising it by adding ground limestone or wood ash. Be sure to follow the directions as a little does go a long way. If your pH needs to be lowered, pine needles, shredded leaves, sawdust, peat moss, or sulfur can do the trick. Pine needles are not only good for their acidity, but also work great and look good as a mulch!

Soil Texture
Your soil can be classified as sand, silt, loam, or clay. A great soil is a loamy soil. It’s the perfect blend of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter that creates a nice crumbly, rich looking texture. When squeezed in your hand, moist loam will form a ball, which crumbles when poked with a finger. Loamy soil absorbs water and stores moisture well. Few gardens begin with the perfect sandy loam, so amending the soil to achieve this texture as much as possible is recommended.

To perform an at- home soil texture test, obtain a clean, clear, quart jar. Fill it 2/3 full of clean water. Take a sample of soil (maybe ¾ of a cup), and put it into the jar; fill the jar with water leaving about an inch of space at the top. Tighten the lid on the jar, and shake vigorously for 1-2 minutes allowing the soil particles to break down. Set the jar on a flat surface, and after about a minute place a mark where the soil has settled. This is considered the sand layer. Wait another hour, without disturbing the jar, and place another mark on the next soil layer. This is the silt layer. Wait another 24 hours or until the water is clear and place another mark. This is the clay layer. Sandy soil contains 80-100% sand, 0-10% each of silt and clay by volume. Loam soil is 25-50% sand, 10-50% silt, and 10-30% clay by volume. Clay soil is 0-45% sand, 0-45% silt, and 50-100% clay by volume.

How to begin amending your soil? Turn your soil (approximately 1 foot deep) with a shovel, Rototiller, pick, or any other gadget that will get the job done; add organic matter, such as compost, and bags of topsoil mix. I prefer Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Flowers and Vegetables. The stuff really works! Buying cheap soil is just that—cheap! You get what you pay for. The cheap stuff is more than likely composed of lots of inert matter—in simple terms: junk. It is not adding any substance to your garden soil. You can purchase it and add to it, but in the end your cost will equal out to simply buying quality from the start.

So, lets see: have our soil test complete, pH is fine, soil is amended and loamy, organic compost is looking good…we’re one step closer to planting.

Know Your Gardening Site
If your garden area is full sun, you don’t want to purchase plants that thrive in shady conditions and vice versa; if your area is excessively moist or excessively dry, you want to select plants that thrive in those conditions?

How much room do I have to work with? A simple measuring tape, yardstick, or ruler can help you solve this question. This is important information because when you go to select your plants, you want to make sure you purchase enough to fit in your gardening area. Buying too many plants is not a problem because you can always use the extra for container planting;but if you don’t purchase enough, that’s gas, time, and money being wasted.

Use flour as a simple method for outlining your gardening area. Yes, that’s right, FLOUR. It offers no harm to your soil or plants and allows you to easily create unique or curvy patterns to your garden site.

Your Selections
Now, lets take a trip to the local gardening store, and begin selecting plants that fit into our gardening criteria. Begin planting, and be sure to follow the plant’s instructions on how far apart to plant. Don’t worry about your garden not having that immediate lavish magazine cover look. This comes with time and growth of the plants to their full potential. If you’re creating rows, keep tall plants in the back, medium in the middle, and small towards the front. You don’t want your plantings getting lost in the mix; you want to be able to show off all your great selections.

For newly established gardens make sure to water, water, and water some more for the first week. Thereafter, an occasional 3-4 times per week or even daily, depending on weather conditions, is necessary. Did it just rain? Has it been extremely hot? Does my soil look like it came from the Sahara Desert? Is there visible water on the soil’s surface and ant boats sailing through my garden? These are questions to ask yourself that will help you monitor your watering.