Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back to Basics: Soil

So you have your plan for the planting, the seeds are ordered, maybe they have arrived and are just waiting for the right weather to plant.  Maybe you already ordered some new roses or shrubs for an ornamental hedge.  It is all so very exciting.  But wait aren't you forgetting something?  Like the basics, as in what are you planting everything IN.  Yes, don't forget the soil.  Preparing the soil before planting is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a good growing season for any type of plant, annual or perennial, vegetable or ornamental. 

A good place to start is with a soil test.  You can get a soil test kit from any Fairfax County  library.  The test will tell you if you need more garden lime (to de-acidify) or acid (to acidify).  In this area chances are that you will have acidic soil and need to use garden lime, also known as hydrated lime.  The soil test will also tell you any nutrients that are missing, such as calcium.   But if you don't get around to doing a test of your existing soil you might try raised beds.  They are a great way to control the soil content and they have other advantages such as they drain better, the soil warms up faster and it is easier to keep down weeds.  A raised bed can be just lots of compost, leaves, composted manure and more leaves piled up or it can be layered in a enclosed bed made of wood or bricks or some thing to hold the soil in.  Either way it is easier to incorporate more compost and other amendments and you do not need a tiller.  You plant the seeds or plants directly in to the raised bed.  Of course if you are used to tilling every spring for vegetables and occasionally for new beds that works too.  But I always go for the easy way!  There is something called lasagna gardening that uses lots of layers including a great deal of peat moss.   The general idea is sounds, but peat moss is not a renewable resource, plus it gets expensive.  Replace peat moss in raised beds with compost, your own if possible.  Coconut fiber, coir, is supposed to work as well as peat moss but I have not personally tried it.  When I make my own potting soil I'll give it a try.  I will report back then! 

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