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.
It’s been an overall mild and rainy summer so far. If you’re like me, there no complaints with the mild weather. Mississippi is notorious for hot, humid summers so I’ll take slightly cooler temps any day of the week! July is a busy month in your yard and garden. Here are a few things to accomplish this month:
Do you have fire ants in your vegetable garden? Me too. Good news for all of us! There are some fire ant baits that are safe to use around food plants.
There’s nothing more satisfying than homegrown tomatoes. You don’t have to be a gardening expert to grow delicious tomatoes in your backyard. Here are a few tips that will help you grow the best looking (and tasting) tomatoes out there:
One of my favorite things to do during summer is ride around town and look at all the flowers planted in front of businesses and homes. A lot of work goes into having a nice landscape, so give yourself a pat on the back. Don’t let the heat deter you from continuing to maintain and grow your garden. Be sure to grab a bottle of water when heading outside in the Mississippi summer! Here are a few tasks to tackle during the month of June:
With the summer season fast approaching, I’ve been getting questions about fertilizing, primarily concerning the types of fertilizer and how much to use.I’m glad to get these questions because garden and landscape plants need fertilizer to keep them healthy and growing. Fertilizing at planting helps trees, shrubs and flowering plants get established. It also promotes shoot and root growth, flowering, and optimum fruit and vegetable harvest.