Things to kow before spring planting

Tue, 02/03/2009 - 2:00pm
By: The Citizen

By Jane King
Fayette County Master Gardener

Some people believe that if their plants do not thrive, they need to fertilize and water more. One of the messages at the Healthy-Soil, Happy Plants class at the Fayette County Extension Center on Tuesday, January 21st, was that all the water and fertilizer in the world will not remedy poor soil preparation before planting. Master Gardeners George Long, Jane King, and Laura Johnson explained to the 21 participants the in-depth process that will insure plant success.

First and foremost, it is important to get a soil test. Georgia soils vary greatly, so it is important to ascertain the pH level of your soil and what amendments you may or may not need. Test now because it takes 2-3 months for your soil pH to change after you have added your amendments. Take random soil samples from the bed you are testing and bring them to the Fayette County Extension Office, 140 Stonewall Avenue, Suite 209, in Fayetteville. The cost for the test is $8.

After any needed amendments have been added, dig your planting hole three times the diameter of the pot the plant has been growing in or dig up an entire bed. Roots must have friable soil if they are to survive; the amount of root development determines the amount of plant growth. Till the bed thoroughly to achieve the 25% air needed for ideal soil.

Add builder’s (not play) sand to improve clay soil. Play sand will make the situation worse whereas builder’s (paver) sand will decrease compaction. Till again.
Organic fertilizers, such as manure and ground pine bark have the advantage of staying in the soil longer than inorganic (commercial) fertilizers, but their nutrients are not as readily available as commercial fertilizers.

If choosing a commercial fertilizer, it is important to understand the numbers on the front of a fertilizer bag. This will help you choose the best fertilizer for your needs. The first number stands for nitrogen which provides for the growth of the plant on top of the soil. The second number stands for phosphorus, which provides for the root development of the plant. The third number stands for potassium, which provides for the overall plant, as well as for protection from temperature extremes and disease. Thus, 10-10-10 means equal amounts of all three and is a good overall fertilizer. To remember the three and their uses, think “Up, Down, All Around.”

If you’d like to use organic enrichers/fertilizers such as compost, you first need a compost pile. Compost piles can be as simple as encircling concrete-reinforcing wire or elaborate as a wooden, three-bin structure, or you can dig a trench in an unused site and bury kitchen wastes there.

A pile placed in full sun will “cook” down faster, but semi-shade will work as well. In the wire or wood types, piles should include 2/3 brown material (dead leaves, shredded paper, coffee grounds) and 1/3 green material (grass clippings, kitchen vegetable waste); do not compost any animal scraps or oil. Compost piles should be kept damp, not wet. A compost thermometer will make sure that the pile stays between 1200 and 1500F, the optimum temperature to allow the microorganisms to thrive and multiply to their full potential. The spike needs to reach the center of the pile. Try a cheaper deep fat thermometer with a spike if you have trouble finding a compost one. Turning the pile will speed up the process because it insures the oxygen supply, but basically just leave it to Mother Nature, worms, and bacteria to turn your garbage into compost.

A sobering fact to consider: 18% of what goes into landfills today is food, the decomposition of which produces methane gas; methane gas is 20 times as harmful as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
After you’ve prepared your bed, amended the soil, added fertilizer, dug your hole(s) and planted your plant(s), you need to mulch the area. Mulch protects your plants by keeping the roots warm in the winter, cool in the summer and preserving moisture.

The best mulch is the leaves in your yard. Shred them and pile them up around the root zone of the plant, but keep them away from the stem or trunk.

For more information on composting, fertilizing, or anything pertaining to gardening, visit your Fayette County Extension Office.

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Submitted by LostIslander on Mon, 09/14/2009 - 9:12am.


Where is The Citizen's editorial/proofeading staff? Laid off due to the economy?

Submitted by Bonkers on Mon, 09/14/2009 - 11:10am.

It is a Chinese word meaning: to prostrate yourself! (no, not prostate!)

You can't work a garden without it!

Anyway, newspapers canned all proof readers years ago when we decided good English was superfluous. Also TV and E-mail came along.

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