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Garden Soil

The ideal garden soil is deep, loose, fertile, and well-drained (internally as well as on the surface), has plenty of organic matter, and is free of weeds and diseases. Such soils are difficult to find, but with proper preparation and management, less-than-ideal soils can be productive.

Water moves quickly through an internally well-drained soil and never completely shuts off air movement. Drainage is important because roots cannot develop, live, and function without a constant supply of oxygen.

Clay soils dry slowly after a rain because the spaces in them are small and water moves through them slowly. Sandy soils, on the other hand, have many spaces and dry out quickly. Clay and sandy soils can be partially changed to substitute for a rich loam by adding organic matter. Increasing the organic matter content of a clay soil improves the tilth, makes it easier to work, and improves the internal drainage. Adding organic matter to a sandy soil increases its water-holding capacity and improves its fertility.

The garden soil affects the way vegetable plants grow and look. When soils are cold, wet, crusty, or cloddy, seedlings are slow to emerge and some may not survive. Root rot diseases may take a heavy toll on seedlings, especially beans. Other soil-related plant symptoms are short plants, slow growth, poor color, and shallow and malformed roots. Soil symptoms of poor structure are crusts, hard soil layers below the surface, standing water, and erosion.

Increase the soil’s organic matter content by adding manure, composted leaves, sawdust, bark, or peatmoss; or by turning under plant residues like sweet corn stalks after harvest, and green manure crops (soybeans, rye, southern pea plants, and others). Plant residues should be free of diseases if they are to be added to the garden soil. Cover crops, such as clovers and vetch, planted in the fall prevent soil erosion and leaching of plant nutrients. They also provide organic matter and nitrogen when turned under in spring.

Manures vary in their content of fertilizing nutrients. The amount of straw, age, exposure to the elements, and degree of composting change their composition. Be careful not to over-fertilize when applying chicken litter to garden soil. Use no more than 200 pounds per 1,000 square feet of garden space. Animal manure is lower in nutrient content than poultry manure and can be applied at the rate of 250 to 300 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

Overuse of manures can add so much salt to the soil that plant growth is harmed. Most organic materials release some nutrients quickly and the rest over a period of time. (See Organic Gardening, page 5.) Even though adding organic matter improves soil fertility, manures and plant residues are not balanced fertilizers, and soils require additional fertilizer. Test soil every third year to be sure.

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Publications

Publication Number: P2364
Publication Number: P1782
Publication Number: P3076

News

The leaves of green tomato plants droop on the plants
Filed Under: Tomato Pepper and Eggplant, Vegetable Gardens July 6, 2018

Common Diseases of TomatoesCRYSTAL SPRINGS, Miss. -- Conditions have been ideal this summer for a disease outbreak that makes tomatoes wilt and look like they are just too dry.

Southern blight is a fungal disease of tomatoes commonly characterized by white, thread-like growth and brown or tan, round structures known as sclerotia at the base of the stem.

Filed Under: Crops, Organic Fruit and Vegetables, Soils, Soil Health, Beekeeping, Herb Gardens, Vegetable Gardens June 28, 2018

SAUCIER, Miss. -- Producers and gardeners looking for tips on growing herbs and improving their soil can attend a July 20 field day.

A sliced, ripe watermelon sits on a table outdoors.
Filed Under: Watermelon Cantaloupe and Cucumber, Watermelons, Vegetable Gardens June 19, 2018

Choosing a ripe watermelon at the market is easy if you know what to look for.  (Photo credit: Jonathan Parrish/Cindy Callahan)

Colorful flowers are planted next to a sign at the entrance of the North Bay Elementary School garden.
Filed Under: Master Gardener, Herb Gardens, Vegetable Gardens, Youth Gardening May 11, 2018

BILOXI, Miss. -- Students at North Bay Elementary School in Biloxi got another hands-on learning component this spring with the addition of a school garden.

Filed Under: Agriculture, Agricultural Economics, Flower Gardens, Herb Gardens, Vegetable Gardens May 7, 2018

GULFPORT, Miss. -- Mississippi producers and gardeners who want to learn more efficient planting methods are invited to a May 18 field day.

The Alliance of Sustainable Farms will host “A Garden Tour and Square Foot Gardening/Intensive Planting Demonstration” at the 34th Street Wholistic Gardens and Education Center. The event will focus on the square-foot gardening method, which is designed to save time, work, space and water.

Watch

Sharpening Your Tools
Southern Gardening

Sharpening Your Tools

Sunday, March 11, 2018 - 5:00am
Tomato Tips  - MSU Extension Service
Extension Stories

Tomato Tips

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - 3:00pm
Winter Gardens
Southern Gardening

Winter Gardens

Saturday, January 16, 2016 - 6:00pm
Winter Vegetable Gardens
Southern Gardening

Winter Vegetable Gardens

Saturday, January 9, 2016 - 6:00pm

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Friday, May 25, 2018 - 2:00am
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Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 2:00am
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Greenhouse Tomatoes and other vegetables, Field Vegetables, Mushrooms