Healthy & Beautiful Gardens – Soil amendments

Hello, fellow gardeners. For those of you who read my articles regularly you know I have written previously about garden soil. However, I didn’t have the space to get really in depth with amendments so I’d like to do that in this weeks article as it’s so important.

Obviously, I’m very big on compost – the best is made at home and the second best is bought at a store or in bulk at nurseries and landscape suppliers.

Compost aerates and feeds the soil and all the beneficial microbes that help your plants flourish and stay healthy. However, in addition to compost there are many amendments that you may have heard about or seen in a garden center and you’re not quite sure what they are or what they do. Lets talk about a few of these today.

Although I don’t find it necessary very often, you might like to purchase a PH soil test kit; these are available at nursery centers and many stores. After purchasing such a kit, you simply follow its directions to check the PH of your soil.

If the PH is unusually high or low, you’ve got a problem. Even though you can add sulfur to raise your PH and lime to lower it, you’ll probably be doing this forever, as it will eventually break down.

Also check for nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium levels, as these are all “fixable” by adding more of the specific nutrient the soil is lacking.

Soil that is clay (and you can tell if it’s clay if it sticks together when wet) can benefit by addition of compost as well as gypsum. Gypsum is a natural mineral that helps break apart the clay soil cells so that water and nutrients move through it more easily.

Sandy soil just needs compost added, regularly. It will workmiracles for you and help with all your plant problems.

Let me just mention a “favorite” organic fertilizer here that many people use. It’s cheap and plentiful, and it’s manure. You can buy both cow/steer or chicken manure almost anywhere, but you need to make sure it’s completely broken down. Otherwise the manure can burn your plant roots (and this is especially the case with chicken manure).

I know because I did this once myself and learned the hard way, as most of us do. I prefer adding manure to my compost pile; then it really does its job, helping to heat up the pile and break down the material in it, rather than adding it directly to soil.

Greensand and Kelp are two of my favorite soil amendments – they are both “natural.” One is plant based, the other mineral, but the combination added to soil just produces unbelievable results with your plants – bigger and healthier flowers and veggies. Whatever you grow will benefit greatly. I recommend getting at least one box of each every year and adding a little to pots and your favorite plants.

Epsom salts – you may think salts are bad for your soil, and regular salt (sodium chloride) is, but Epsom salts are basically Magnesium salts, which are very good for your plants and soil.

Rosarians have been using this for a long time with great results. You can either just sprinkle a cup around a rosebush or most plants, or dissolve the salt in water and pour into pots or the ground.

There are several varieties of “sea” products that are all great for the soil. Kelp, as I mentioned above, comes in a granular form as well as a liquid. It’s highly concentrated and the liquid is incredible, although a little smelly. It’s not as bad as “fish fertilizer,” which is also very good for the garden by the way, albeit stinky.

The liquid kelp lasts a long time. I’ve had a bottle last two years, so its definitely worth the money. You can also dilute it and spray it on plants as well.

These amendments feed the soil, but also make nutrients available to the plant so I don’t just refer to them as “fertilizers”. The typical “chemical” quick to act fertilizers that you get at the big box stores only feed the plant, temporarily, and do nothing to build up the soil health, which is what you really want to do.

You create a “plant junkie” basically by feeding a plant with only chemical fertilizers. I like feeding the soil, which in turn feeds my plants. If you have earthworms in there, you know you’ve got good soil – that’s an indicator of soil health.

Speaking of earthworms, get a bag of “worm castings,” as these make another great amendment for soil. You may end up adding some worm eggs into the soil as well, which is a great bonus.

Another great “amendment” to improve your soil is a “green cover crop” that will later be “turned under” – typically clover is a good one for this, as it adds lots of nitrogen to soil. It’s helpful in both clay or sandy soils prior to crop planting. Grow the clover for one season, then turn it under with a spade or shovel. It will decompose right in the ground, and then you’ll be ready to plant your roses, veggies, shrubs, or anything else.

Well, I think I’m out of room here again, so will say goodbye until next week. And as always I am available for consultations and design work.

Remember to be water-wise since we’re in a drought now and our water district is paying $2.00 per square foot to remove lawn and replace with drought tolerant landscaping!

Until next time – have fun out there, and don’t forget to wear your sunscreen!

Linda McDonald

Landscape Designer

(951) 764-4762

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