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Success with Soil

Posted on 15 January 2011

By Lita Malaseo for the Landscape Network

September 8th, 2008

Every plant starts somewhere – in some sort of growing medium. It’s what the growing medium does for the plant that dictates what a plant will do and how well it will do it. One of the most common problems with gardens and outdoor growing is the lack of a proper soil. There are many choices in soil to use. When you visit your local nursery, you can find atleast a dozen different kinds of soil for your garden. Which one do you use? Good question, and that is why some gardens look much better than others. There is soil that contains no nutrients, just organic matter. There are other kinds of soil that you purchase with the nutrients already contained inside. Which do you choose? Well, this depends on what you plan on doing with your plantings and what you are planting. It has become very commonplace for people to want to grow organic fruits and vegetables, and therefore only use organic soils and fertilizers. If you are going to be growing annuals, shrubs, or perennials, maybe organic doesn’t matter. Organic vegetables often do better than vegetables that have been grown in non-organic soils, and surprisingly the organic vegetables grow bigger and faster. Very interesting – this may make you wonder why we would use anything other than organic for our vegetables. Much of the fruit and produce that you purchase at the mainstream grocery store (other than natural grocery stores) has been scientifically engineered to be produced for the most possible profit to the grower. Unfortunately the dollar comes first when it comes to the choice between organic and non-organic. But for your home garden, stick with the organic soils and fertilizers for the best results.

If you are planting annuals, shrubs and perennials, organic isn’t as big as a factor – hopefully you don’t plan on eating them. The amount of soil choices can be very confusing, so this is what we have found best for annuals and shrubs: Peat Moss, mixed 3:1 with topsoil. That’s 1 part peat to one part topsoil. The peat moss gives the plant a breathable surface to set its’ roots into and provides the plant with an excellent environment to spur growth. Use caution with the peat moss, though, as it is strong and not dilluting it enough can hurt your plantings. A general potting soil is good for annuals, and some have small traces of fertilizers already in the mix. If you decide to use a soil that already has the fertilizer in the mix, adjust the fertilizer accordingly so that you are not overfertilizing your plants. If is usually safe to start with 1/2 the recommended amount of fertilizer listed on the bottle, observe your plant’s success, and then add more if you think your plant requires it. A very common cause of your annuals not looking their best are because of the combination of soil that already contains fertilizer and the addition of too much fertilizer to the soil. If your plantings are showing signs of fertilizer burn, just switch them to an all water schedule for a minimum of 4 days and then re-introduce the fertilizer to the plant, at 1/2 the recommended dosage listed on the bottle.

If you decide to use a soil that doesn’t contain any fertilizer, this lets you control the amount of fertilizer entirely. If you have somewhat of a green thumb, this is a good thing. This takes the guesswork out of how much fertilizer you should be adding to your soil, because it doesn’t have anything you haven’t put there.

Never try to re-use your soil for new plantings. As you water and fertilize your plants, the soil will slowly break down and lose its’ ability to provide a good environment. Salts can also build up in your pots, and counter act the fertilizer that you are using. For best results, just start with new soil.

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