Preparing your garden beds.
There can be no better axiom for successful planting than the ‘$10 hole, $1 plant’. No point in forking out your hard earned cash for a plant and then consigning it a life of misery in an dry dusty hole. Plants are the most resilient of things but will do so much better if given a fair go.
Preparation of beds is simple but crucial to the success of your garden.
Two things are critical- the physical condition of soils (hard packed clays or open sandy soils) and the fertility of it. You can amend both to get a great profile.
- Physical condition- clay soils.
Clay soils are composed of fine particles of broken down rocks, so fine they pack together tightly and don’t allow roots to migrate easily in search of water and nutrients nor allow roots to ‘breathe’. If you can roll soil into a snake shape you have clay soil. Clay soils need opening up to a depth of at least 300mm and then have coarse clean sand and humus material added.
- Physical condition-sandy soils.
So easy to dig holes in sandy soils! However, water and nutrients pass through very quickly and lost to your plants. If you try to make a ball with the soil and it crumbles apart you have sandy soils. Adding humus material like aged mulch, straw or spent mushroom compost enables moisture to be held in the profile.
- Sandy loams-
If you can form a ball of soil that loosely holds together and can hold water (try squeezing some out) then you are on the right track.
- Soil chemistry-
A complicated subject so lets try to make it simple. Plants generally grow best in soils that are slightly acidic to neutral. Acidity/alkalinity is measured on a pH (‘the power of Hydrogen’) scale that measures from 1 (very acidic to 14 (very alkaline). pH 5 is ten times more acidic than pH 6, pH 4 is 10 x more acidic than pH 5. Pure water is neutral (pH 7). A pH of 5.5 to 7 is the best range for plants to take up available nutrients. You can buy a simple test kit to show your soil pH.
Nutrients. Fertiliser is not plant food. Fertilisers are salts of minerals that are naturally occurring and needed for proper functioning of plant systems to enable electrical signalling to be undertaken, just like us. Plants make their own food from nothing more than sunlight, CO2 and water.
Chemical fertilisers (made in factories) are water-soluble so when a plant absorbs water through fine root hairs it must take up those salts. This can lead to imbalances or worse, death. A better solution is to use low nitrogen organic sources.
Get the soil condition and pH right, provide sufficient organic fertiliser, apply mulch and you won’t be able to stop your plants thriving!
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