Planting a Tree

Improper staking_LAH_5226How do you plant a new tree? Most people know to dig a hole “twice as wide and deep as the root ball” (according to the label I found hanging from the branches), then stick in the tree, making sure the roots are well buried. Amend the backfill with plenty of compost, pile it over the roots and tamp it down firmly. Finally, securely stake the thin trunk so it won’t wiggle in the wind. Right?

Wrong!

This advice was being questioned as far back as 1980, but it is still widely practiced, much to the detriment of the poor plants.

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Dealing with Compacted Soils

20160309_134005Last week I shared how to determine the make-up of your soil. This knowledge is helpful, but it doesn’t solve the problem of soil so hard, you can’t get a shovel into it. That’s what we’ll cover today.

Most often, soil that is rock-hard is mostly clay. Sand can get hard, too, but it’s much more forgiving. They don’t make pottery out of sand. So what do you do with your compacted clay? Here are some do’s and don’ts.

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Epsom Salts in Colorado: NOT

epsom saltsEpsom salts are often recommended as ways to improve your garden. A quick Google search turned up claims that they will improve seed germination, increase the size and number of flowers, reduce fruit drop, increase nutrient absorption, counter transplant shock, green up your lawn, prevent leaf curling, deter slugs, kill weeds, grow sweeter fruit, produce sweeter tomatoes with fewer problems such as blossom rot, increase pepper yields, and result in more and bigger roses on healthier plants. Wow. With benefits like these, we should all be putting Epsom salts in our gardens!

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Take the Test!

The sun is shining, the lawn is turning green, and the birds are chirping. In fact, it’s a balmy spring day. Surely there must be something you can do to start your veggie garden! As a matter of fact, there is, but it doesn’t involve a single seed.

If you’re like most gardeners, you’ve never had your soil tested. Every year you dutifully spread a layer of compost and/or manure over your garden, dig it in, and plant. After all, that’s what every book, article, and website tells you to do. You might even add some fertilizer, just to be on the safe side. But if you’ve never had a soil test, you’re flying blind.

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Too Much Compost?

 

veggie-garden-student-run-csu-perc-lah-094-1When I first encountered this concept—that a gardener could use too much compost—I immediately thought, “Is that even possible?” As an organic veggie gardener dealing with soil comprised of decomposed granite punctuated by lumps of sticky clay, too much compost seemed an impossibility. Isn’t compost the answer to all our gardening problems?

It’s true that “add compost” (or other organic matter, such as peat moss or leaf mold) is the best advice for gardeners dealing with either clay or sand. Organic matter opens up the solidly packed clay particles, allowing air and water—and therefore roots—to penetrate what would otherwise be an impervious substrate. In sand, organic matter acts as a sponge, holding on to both water and nutrients that would otherwise quickly drain away.

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Digging Up Dirt

shoveling-manure-home-plh-sI keep talking about dirt. That is, I seem to have a soil fixation. Perhaps that’s because gardens begin with the soil. Properly prepared soil produces healthier plants, reducing the need for chemical sprays and fertilizer, and making more efficient use of water. Last May I discussed what soil is, and how to amend it. Today I want to expound a bit on the various types of amendments. I’ll also repeat myself a bit. That sort of thing happens as one gets older.

While living along the Front Range has many benefits, our soils are really pretty pitiful. Unless you are content growing a limited number of native plants adapted to this area, you’re going to have to improve on nature. What’s an environmentally responsible gardener to do?

In new plantings, it is worth spending a little time and money for a soil test. Knowing what your soil has, and what it lacks, helps you avoid many time-consuming and expensive mistakes. Follow the test result directions to maximize fertility and soil health. There are natural materials available to raise your levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous.

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