Category Archives: Garden Basics

Spring Soil Preparation Made Easy!

Spring has arrived.  The ground has thawed, the birds are back, and you’re ready to breathe life back into your garden.  But that hard, dry soil isn’t going to nurture any new plant life.  Proper soil preparation is essential to a productive growing season.  Whether you are growing veggies to enjoy or flowers to beautify your property, well-prepared soil will ensure your gardening efforts don’t go unrewarded.

Weed It.

Start by getting rid of any stray weeds that may have sprouted since last fall or other debris that may have made it into your planting area.  When weeding, be sure to pull plants out by their root, as any bit of the root left in the soil is likely to re-grow.

Soil TesterTest It.

Test your soil for nutrient levels and pH balance.  An electric soil tester is the easiest, most accurate way to do this.  A pH level below 7.0 indicates acidic soil, while a level higher than 7.0 indicates higher alkalinity.  Most plants grow best in a neutral pH environment.    Some plants, however, such as astilbe, bleeding heart, foxglove, and rhododendrons thrive in particularly acidic soil.  Evergreen shrubs and deciduous shrubs, on the other hand, thrive in more alkaline soil.  Check the ideal pH level for the plants you intend to plant.  You can purchase soil acid neutralizer if your acidity is higher than you’d like, or add limestone if you need to add acidity.

It is also important to remember that last year’s plants probably ate up a lot of the nutrients from your soil.  Added nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium will help this year’s plants grow.  A fertilizer with the “N-P-K” rating on the label will restore all these essentials.  The best soil amendment, however, is organic matter.  There are many good artificial soil amendments out there, but nothing beats Mother Nature in longevity, economy, and effectiveness.  If you don’t already, consider composting to give some natural nutrients back to your garden.

ROTHogTill It.

MiniTill

Soil compaction occurs when the soil particles become too close together to allow water or nutrients to be absorbed.  Tilling decompacts these particles and allows all the good things your plants need to be absorbed into the soil.

Till before adding your soil amendments (fertilizers, amendments to raise or lower acidity, or compost).  The DR® line of Roto-Hog™ Power Tillers tow behind your ATV or tractor and make tilling as easy as a ride through your garden.  They also allow you to make precise adjustments to the tilling depth from either a manual lever or remote controlled power actuator.  In the spring, before you have planted, till to a depth of at least 7 inches.  For smaller gardens, or for cleaning up in between rows during the growing season, check out the DR® Roto-Hog Mini Tiller.  This little beast comes standard with electric starting and plenty of power!

Feed It.

After tilling, add your soil amendments.  The uncompacted soil will be able to better mix with these materials.  Read and follow package instructions for artificial soil amendments, and if you are using compost, spread a 1- to 4-inch thick layer over the top of your garden soil.  If your compost is fully decomposed, it should be dark and earthy-smelling with few or no visible bits of materials that have not broken down.  If your compost has not fully broken down — i.e. there are many visible bits of non-broken-down materials — it is still okay to use on your garden, but keep in mind that it will rob the soil of some of its nitrogen in order to continue to break down.  Consider adding nitrogen to counter this effect, in the form of manure or an artificial nitrogen amendment.

Till your garden a second time after adding your amendments.  This will mix them in and ensure that all those good things you’ve added get to your seeds and plant roots, where they’re needed most.

And now your soil is ready!  Happy planting!

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The 3 “S”s of Seed Starting

SproutSOAKING ~ SCARIFICATION ~ STRATIFICATION

In most parts of the country, March is a good time to be starting seeds indoors.  It’s a way many of us can get a jump on the season, as we impatiently wait for better weather which will let us work outdoors in our yards and gardens once again.  Starting your own seeds saves money, while allowing you to experiment with new plant varieties that are often not otherwise available.  Most annual vegetable and herb seeds are easy to germinate either in natural outdoor conditions or using specialized heating tools. However, some seeds, particularly perennials, require special techniques to “trick” them into germinating.  So, whether you start seeds indoors or in your garden, here is a review of the three “S”s of seed starting.  Most seeds will require only one of the three techniques, and will depend on the type of seed.

Soaking

The purpose of soaking seeds before planting them is to soften the seed coat so that moisture can be absorbed by the embryo, and so that the root and growing tip of the plant can more easily break through the seed coat.  Soaking can also be useful in leaching out natural chemicals in the seed which can inhibit germination.

To soak seeds, place them in a shallow dish and cover them two to three times their depth with hot but not boiling water (190 degrees F).  For most seeds, 24 hours of soaking is enough.  However, if seed instructions specify a longer time, change the water daily.  Although some seeds require soaking to germinate properly (asparagus, mallow, lupines, morning glory, okra, parsley, parsnips, perennial pea, and sweet pea), you can also speed up many slow-to-germinate seeds like carrots by soaking them first.

Scarification

Many seeds have  hard or thick seed coats that prevent moisture from being absorbed.  This slows down the rate of germination.  The purpose of scarification is to help open the seed coat by scratching it with a blade or sandpaper.  An emery board or nail file is particularly handy for this purpose.  Simply nick each seed, making sure not to cut so deeply through the skin that you damage the seed embryo.  Sow seeds immediately, as usual.  Seeds that can benefit from scarification are false indigo, mallow, lupines, morning glory, sweet pea, and perennial pea.

Stratification

Some seeds, especially perennials, are dormant when they’re harvested.  The embryo of these seeds will not germinate until the seed is exposed to a period of cold and moisture.  This process is called stratification.  To stratify seeds, mix them with two to three times their volume of moistened seed starting mixture.  You can purchase a pre-mixed medium, or mix equal parts of peat or sphagnum moss and vermiculite or perlite.  Place the seed/meduim mixture in your freezer or refrigerator for 1-1/2 to 3 months.  (NOTE: Stratification will not work if you chill the seeds in their seed packets, or in water.)

You can also stratify seeds outdoors if your winter temperatures drop to at least 40 degrees F.  Simply plant the seeds in flats or in the ground on the north side of your house (this keeps wind and sun from drying out the seeds).  Bury the flats in the ground to their tops in the fall and the seeds will germinate in the spring.  Seeds to stratify include angelica, bleeding heart, christmas rose, columbine, day lily, lavender, pansy, phlox, primrose, and violets.

Good luck and happy seed starting!  We hope that warm spring days find their way to your part of the country soon!

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