Limiting Factors

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Spring has finally arrived here at 7,100 feet, and I’ve been feverishly planting—move the mulch, dig a hole, dump the perennial out of its  pot and stick it into the ground. Fill in any gaps with leftover dirt, replace the mulch. Rinse, repeat.

As I work around the lawn, adding flowers everywhere I can, I’ve noticed how abysmal my dirt is. Since we added compost, I assume that eventually it will qualify as soil, but right now I’m dealing with lumps of bentonite clay embedded in a deep layer of gritty, coarse sand. The clay was supposed to be seven feet down, but in the process of digging a basement, it got mixed  with the surface layers.

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Feeding Your Lawn

lawn_uplandin_20090615_lah_3607The summer is heading for fall, and it’s time to fertilize lawns. Go to any garden center and you’ll see piles of name brand lawn fertilizer, complete with directions on the back. Just follow these simple steps and you’ll have a healthy, green, weed-free lawn.

What these manufacturers don’t take into account is that different parts of the country have different soils. What may be excellent advice for Pennsylvania or Maine may not work for Colorado. Unlike much of the north and east, the Front Range loses more water to evaporation than it gains in rainfall. Combine that with the native rock from which our soils are derived, and we typically have soils that are alkaline, high in phosphorus and potassium, and low in organic matter and nitrogen.

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Planting Done Right: Part 1

Shrubs, Perennials and Ornamental Grasses

plants-for-sale-lowes-cs_2008aug02_lah_5106-1It’s spring. I’ve been digging in the garden—at least between snow storms. My back muscles (and knees and shoulders) ache, there’s dirt under my broken fingernails, and a huge smile on my face. In fact, there’s dirt in my teeth—I’ve been pulling weeds and shaking the soil off their roots before piling them into the compost bucket, and I keep forgetting to close my lips.

One of the joys of spring is adding new plants to our garden. What gardener can resist the dazzling displays at the garden center? Forgetting about budgets and the size of our yards, we load up the cart. Then we get home and the work begins. It’s time to start digging holes.

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New Advice on Soil Amendments

compost-in-bags-no-label-lowes-cs_lah_5090-1You’re gotten your test results back from the soil lab, telling you to add some organic matter. What’s the best thing to add?

In the past, I’d just bop on down to the local garden center and load up a few bags of… something. Soil amendment, composted manure, planting mix, potting mix, top soil, compost… there are hundreds of products, and the names are pretty random.

So are the ingredients. Since there are no legal standards, these bags can contain whatever the manufacturer wants them to. There’s no labeling law, either. If there’s a label at all, often you’ll see something like, “Contains (peat, forest products compost, and/or compost), wetting agent, fertilizer.” You have no idea if this particular bag has peat or compost, much less what went into that compost. And what’s a forest product? Bark? Sawdust? Squirrels?

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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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