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Think Soil - Insuring Soil Health

  • Acidity and Alkalinity
    • The pH, or acidity level, of soil plays a significant role in how well plants grow.
    • Azaleas only grow well on acidic soils while acanthus prefer alkaline conditions. 
    • It is important to establish the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of your soil prior to  planting.

Prepare and Loosen the Soil

  • The soil should be loose so that the roots grown and penetrate beyond the topsoil.
  • Loosen the topsoil by tilling making it easier to plant. 
  • Plants will have difficulty growing when they still have to penetrate through compacted  ground

Improve the Soil Prior to Planting

  • Add organic matter plus either sand or pea gravel and mix into the top 6-8 inches of soil.
  • If using unfinished organic matter, like leaves or undecomposed manure, add it to soil at least one month before planting. 
  • Plant in Warm Soil BUT Avoid Direct Sun.
  • Many plants do not tolerate the cold. Planting should be started when the environment is warm. 
  • Check the ground temperature before planting. 
  • Do not plant under the scorching heat of the sun. 
  • Seedlings are delicate and could die before even beginning to grow. 
  • Plant on a cloudy day or under a slight drizzle or during the evening.

Things to Consider Before Beginning the Garden

  • Give thought to the geographic location.
  • Plant from a garden design compatible with the location.
  • Consider the investment.
    • Plan, do a budget to fully understand funds required.
    • Budgeting can be a key to success.
  • Include Life-Cycle Costs.
    • The on-going cost of water, fertilizer, and pesticides must be taken into account.
    • Unforeseen Circumstances Will Arise
    • Before starting make sure the funds to sustain the project are part of the equation.


  • Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium – these three nutrients are the basic nutrients that all plants need.
  • While organic material does provide these nutrients, you may have to adjust them individually depending on your individual soil.
  • This can be done with chemical fertilizers or organically.
  • To add nitrogen (N) use a chemical fertilizer with a higher first number 10-10-10 Natural Base or an organic amendment like Earthworks 3-4-3.
  •  To add phosphorus use either a chemical fertilizer with a high second number 10-20-10 or 14-20-14 Slow Release or an organic amendment like Espoma Bone Meal or rock phosphate.
  • To add potassium use a chemical fertilizer that has a high last number 2-2-10 or an organic amendment like Greensand.

Soil pH for Vegetables

  • In general the soil in a vegetable garden should fall somewhere be 6 and 7.
  • Vegetable gardens testing significantly above level will require amendments to lower the pH.
  • Acidifying fertilizers can also be used to help raise acidity levels. 
  • Apply fertilizer containing ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate like Earthworks 8-2-2 or Earthworks 5-4-5.
  • In some instances, applying elemental sulfur is effective.
  • Beware sulfur is slow acting, taking several months.


  • Water is the most important thing for your garden and it required for proper cell structure, stability and growth.
  • Too little water will drastically reduce productivity and could kill the plant if withheld for prolonged periods.
  • Too much water is equally damaging and could result in leaf diseases or root rot.
  • Too wet an area attracts snails and slugs as well as causing needed nutrients leach out of the soil.
  • Irregular watering can stress your plants leading to low productivity or bolting.

When to Water Garden

  • The best time to water your garden is in the early morning hours to provide the soil and roots time to absorb the water fully before the heavy afternoon evaporative processes begin.
  • Watering in the evening can lead to mildews, rusts and other diseases as the water sits over night on your plants.
  • How much water does the garden require?
    • Rule of Thumb - water thoroughly and deeply. A shallow watering drives the roots up instead of down resulting in a shallow root system leaves.
    • Tip – Quality soil is an important consideration to the watering program.
    • Veggies grown in sandy soil the water will run out of the soil profile leaving the plants wanting water.
    • If growing in water-retaining clay the soil may become water logged causing other sorts of growth issues. Get that soil healthy with a generous amount of organic matter and mulch it thickly to conserve water in the garden.

Types of Gardens

  • A garden may be classified according to:
    • A predominant feature.
    • The use of a garden such an herbal garden.
    • Origin of the design, i.e., gardens patterned after the themes of the Chinese, Japanese, French and English or the gardens in the Victorian era.

Garden Climate Zones

  • Planting under the right weather and the right temperature is a very important consideration for optimum plant growth.
  • The atmospheric/climate condition of the location must dictate which plants will survive and should be planted.

Controlling Garden Pests

  • Insects
      • There are good insects that actually benefit the plants like the bees and butterflies.
      • There are bad insects that need to be controlled.
      • These insects are usually unique to the area so a range of control products should be available to ward off the pest.
  • Animals
    • Dogs love to dig and they could do so in your newly planted garden.
    • Cats could use your vegetable garden as a litter box.
    • Rats gnaw their way to the roots of your plants and destroy them.
    • If you live in a farm your plants will also be at risk from chickens pecking on the leaves and cows eating the whole plant.
    • The best method to protect the garden from animal pests is with fences designed keep them out of the planted area.

Benefits of Gardening

  • Planting and maintaining a garden is a wonderful hobby and a way to relieve stress, to relax and get back in touch with nature.
  • Gardening is a wonderful family activity and lets parents spend some quality time with their kids while teaching them about nature and how to be ecologically responsible.
  • As the plant comes to maturity, the gardener will be rewarded with a healthy harvest equivalent to the amount of effort put into your garden.
  • The basic human need of to be engaged with growing things creates a sense of excitement. As well as a source of therapy for people with emotional challenges.
  • Growing a garden teaches discipline, responsibility and patience.
  • Gardening gives you a sense of accomplishment and independence, as well as a closer relationship with nature.
  • Gardening is a source of exercise, fresh air and helps take the gardener away from every day stresses of life.
  • Having your own garden and taking care of your own garden lets you focus on something you enjoy.