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Rock Gardens

While “Rock Gardens” is the modern name, another term used in connection with natural rock gardening is “rockeries”. The biggest problem is to determine the plants that are likely to succeed under the conditions that can be provided. There are no plants that can be counted as rock plants in every part of the country; therefore, plants must be selected for the particular locality where they are to be grown. The background or setting for the rock garden varies greatly because of the topography and character of the country. In a rough, rocky country rock garden sites are sometimes found almost ready-made, but in other sections they must be created from materials collected for the purpose. In the latter case care is necessary in order to produce a result that does not look forced or out of place. When building a house on a rocky hillside it may often be possible to reserve an adjacent area that may be made into a most attractive garden with but little modification. Even old quarries can be and are converted into attractive gardens. Where, however, such features have to be built, it takes a good student of nature to reproduce naturalistic rock ledges and other stone outcroppings. Boulders (rounded, water worn stones) may be scattered over a gentle slope, whereas on a steeper slope the stones must be placed close together, at some points even resting on one another. Even rock walls may be part of a rock garden.

Rock Walls Quarried or angular field stones often may be appropriately used to hold artificial banks. Stones with weathered faces are usually more attractive than those with newly cut or broken faces. Where there is a gentle slope, a row of stones may be placed at the bottom, with spaces between them two or three times as wide as the stones; other stones may be placed behind these spaces with the bottom as high as the tops of the front stones and back far enough to hold the soil at the desired slope. Where the bank is steep the space between the stones, often only 2″ or 3″, may be filled with soil and the next stone laid over this opening, resting on both the lower stones and set as far back as the desired slope of the wall will permit. Stones should not be uniform in size, and those more irregular in outline than is desired for building purposes make a more attractive wall. If the stone has a relatively flat upper surface, the surface should be so placed that water falling on it will drain back into the wall and not off.

Soil Basics – Creating Fertile, Healthy Soil

Soil Basics - Creating Fertile, Healthy Soil
Soil Basics – Creating Fertile, Healthy Soil

Have you ever looked at the soil in your garden and considered it as anything more than soil? If not you should because there is a lot more there than meets the eye. It performs many functions that you may not be aware of and having good quality soil in your garden is essential for your plants. In this article we will look at the functions of soil, what different types there are and finally some ways to make it healthier.

Functions of Soil

The most immediately apparent function of soil is a medium to support plant life. It provides support both physically and biologically. Physical support is provided by allowing the plant to grow its roots through the soil to hold itself in place. Biological support is provided by its ability to hold nutrients and water that the plant needs. It also supports other types of life as well. Microorganisms and insects live in the soil and they in turn aid plant life by helping to decay organic material and adding structure to the soil. Soil allows the growth of food crops which are consumed by humans and also plants used in the creation of medicines. Microorganisms like fungi and bacteria that live in soil and are used to produce antibiotics. All life on earth is dependent on it either directly and indirectly. This includes the plant life in your garden.

What is Soil Made of?

The four major components of soil are mineral matter, organic matter (humus), water and air. Mineral matter refers to the inorganic elements in the soil e.g. stones, gravel and makes up to 40%-60% of its volume. This part of the soil usually originates from the bedrock that lies beneath the soil. Organic matter (humus) is the decayed remains and waste products of plants and animals and has a great effect on the chemical properties of the soil e.g. availability of nutrients. Almost 40%-60% of a soil’s volume can be space and this is occupied by water and air.

Different Types of Soil Texture

Soil texture is defined as the size distribution of different mineral particles. These mineral particles are at their most basic level the following: sand, silt and clay. Sand particles are 2 to 0.05 mm diameter, silt particles are 0.05 to 0.002 mm diameter and clay particles are less than 0.002 mm diameter. Combination of these particles exhibit different properties in soil and some combinations favor plant life better than others. The following are the most common classes of soil texture:

Clay soil
Contains a high percentage of clay particles and feels lumpy to the touch. The small size of the clay particles means that they clump together quite readily and there is less room for air spaces. Consequently clay soils have poor drainage and do not hold nutrients very well. This is a heavy soil and is sticky when wet making it hard to work with. As much as possible you should take steps to improve the drainage of this type of soil. You will learn how later on in this article.

Silty soil
Contains a high percentage of silt particles and feels smooth to the touch. This soil is a well drained soil due to the size of the particles allowing space for water to permeate. This soil holds nutrients more readily than clay soil due to the spaces. It is easy to cultivate but can be compacted quite easily.

Sandy soil
Contains a high percentage of sand particles and feels gritty to the touch, Allows for quite a lot of space in between particles and as a result is very free draining. This has its disadvantages however as it does not hold water and essential nutrients can get washed away.

Loamy soil
This is the best type of soil texture you can have in your garden. This is soil whose properties are controlled equally by the percentages of clay, silt and sand particles. It is well drained but does not loose water too easily as is the case with sandy and sometimes silty soils. The fact that it retains water means it also retains nutrients for your plants to use. It has a great structure and is easy to cultivate.

What Makes a Soil Healthy?
Healthy soil must be fertile and have a good structure.

For a soil to be fertile it must have nutrients readily available and a pH value at a recommended level for the plants that will reside in it. Nutrients that should be available are the essential nutrients nitrogen (leaf growth), phosphorous (root growth) and phosphorous (overall health). As well as the essential nutrients there should also be trace elements like calcium and magnesium. The pH level of the soil refers to its acidity or alkalinity and each plant has its own preferred value range. Plants placed into fertile soil will grow up to be very strong and healthy specimens (that is if other conditions like light levels and climate are favorable as well).

The other determiner of a healthy soil is its texture. We learned about different types of soil texture earlier in this article. Soil having a loamy texture is the healthiest and it should be strives for if at all possible. In general a soil that retain nutrients and allow water and air to permeate it will be beneficial for the life of your plants.

How to Create Healthy Soil
No matter what type of soil you have the addition of organic matter will work wonders for its health. Organic matter is plant and animal residues in varying forms of decomposition. It will replenish the nutrients in your soil and improve its texture. You may have heard countless times about adding your leftovers and glass clippings to a compost heap. This is a great idea as your compost is the best form of organic matter. Compost in an advanced stage of decomposition (dark and without smell) is magic for your soil. It encourages microorganism activity causing soil particles to clump together and form aggregates. The aggregates allows for spaces in the soil therefore increasing its drainage. This is especially beneficial for clay soils, which have poor drainage. Other forms of organic matter are animal manure and peat moss.

If your soil is lacking in nutrients and you don’t have access to a compost heap you have a choice of using inorganic or organic fertilizers. Inorganic fertilizers (inorganic salts, manufactured chemically) can be purchased at your local garden and are applied in a dry form that is raked lightly at the base of a plant or in a liquid form. While inorganic fertilizers will work fine they have a number of disadvantages: they release their nutrients too quickly and there is some evidence to show that plants develop a resistance to inorganic fertilizer methods over time, requiring more and more to achieve the same effect. Organic fertilizers are more in tune with nature because they are created from the remains or by-product of an organism. They act slower but they ‘amend’ the soil rather than the quick ‘feeding’ it like inorganic fertilizers.

The pH of your soil will also affect its fertility. Each plant has its own preferred pH value range. To learn more pH and how to change it read my Soil pH article here http://www.gardenstew.com/blog/e3-9-soil-ph-and-its-effect-on-your-garden.html

Conclusion
Soil like a lot of things in the garden requires maintenance. We have learned about the different types of soil texture, what constitutes a fertile, healthy soil and how to create it if it does not exist. The next step is to step out into your garden, take a look at your soil and help your plants out if your soil is of a poor quality. Your plants will thank you ten-fold believe me. Good luck!

Garden Soil Preparation for the Backyard Gardener

Garden Soil Preparation for the Backyard Gardener
Garden Soil Preparation for the Backyard Gardener

Planting a backyard garden can be a fun and rewarding experience if you approach the planning and preparations aspect of gardening in the right way  but a lack of planning and preparation can cause your hard work in the hot summer months to yield mediocre results (if any) at the end of the growing season.

Perhaps somewhere in the world, the key to successful gardening is simply dropping a handful of seeds into the ground and watching them spring up. But most garden soils require careful attention and preparation.

Choosing a Plot
A common mistake among beginning and experienced gardeners alike is to plant more than they can possibly care for. A successful vegetable garden plot does not need to be big. A small, well-tended garden will grow as much or more produce than a larger one that the owner cannot keep up with.

Backyard gardeners should choose a sunny spot where water is readily available. Most vegetables do best in full sun if possible, but at a minimum, your garden should get at least 6 hours of sun a day.

Try to select a spot with good, rich soil. Good garden soil is deep, loose, fertile, well drained, rich in organic material and has a neutral pH. The ideal garden soil composition is about 5% organic matter, 25% air, 25% water, and 45% mineral matter. If you are planting a garden in a desert area with naturally not fertile soil, plan on working to improve the soil that is there.

Prepare your soil
Although organic material is only 5% of the ìideal formulaî for good growing soil, applying the right organic matter to your soil can make worlds of difference.

Nearly all soils, whether clay, sandy or humus, benefit from the addition of organic matter. Spread a layer of organic matter two to three inches thick over the soil surface and incorporate it six to eight inches deep. Organic matter breaks up clay allowing for air and water circulation, and helps hold water in sandy soils. Good sources of organic matter include straw, twigs, leaves, peat moss, sawdust, grass clippings and well-rotted manure.

Organic matter will tie up nitrogen as it decays. Add nitrogen fertilizer to the organic matter to aid in the decomposition process. This addition of nitrogen is not intended to aid future plant growth, but to act as a facilitator to help in decomposition. More nitrogen fertilizer will be required when you begin planting. Youíll want to use one pound of ammonium sulfate, or 2/3 pound of ammonium nitrate, or Ω pound of urea for each inch of organic matter placed on one hundred square feet of soil. As a word of caution, if you are using well-rotted manure for organic matter, reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer you apply by one half.

Tilling
Finally, before you are ready to plant, the soil should be tilled thoroughly. Tilling breaks up hard soil and allows air to circulate around the roots of your plants. Us a tiller, shovel or fork to churn the soil at least eight inches deep. Do not try to till your soil too early in the spring before the soil has had a chance to dry out a bit. Tilling muddy soil only causes mud clods that choke tender roots of needed air and water.

Once your soil is ready, consult your local extension or the back of your seed packets for the proper time to plant your garden fruits and vegetables.

By following these simple preparatory steps before you plant, you will increase your chances of having a bountiful harvest at the end of the growing season. Good luck and happy gardening!

Tips For Spring Gardening

Tips For Spring Gardening
Tips For Spring Gardening

It happens every year. One day it’s blustery, bleak, and cold, and the next it’s warm and sunny. You want to begin spring gardening, but you didn’t prepare like you should have. What do you do? It’s easy.

Spring gardening can be a fun and relaxing activity, especially if it’s done correctly. By following these simple tips, you will make the most out of spring gardening.

The first step to spring gardening is sharpening your tools. Go early and have all your tools, such as shovels, hoes, and pruning shears sharpened to a fine edge.

You may even want to splurge on buying a second, well-sharpened blade for your lawnmower. That way you will have a spare if the one currently on your lawnmower needs to be taken to be sharpened. A sharp mower blade is very important is you want to have a beautiful lawn. Dull blades can injure your grass and allow disease to creep in, which can be costly in the long run to correct.

If you plan to put in a new lawn or plant bed, or if you had problems getting things to grow properly last year, you may want to call for soil testing. A soil test will tell you exactly what type of fertilizers and/or soil conditioners are needed to assure your yard looks the best it can.

A very helpful tip for spring gardening, especially if you need a little help getting your yard into shape, is contacting landscaping professionals early. The later in the season you call, the better your chances are of having to be put on a waiting list.

You may also want to make arrangements early to buy sod or for sod delivery if you plan to put in a new lawn. You should choose only moist rolls. Any that have dry roots or yellowed turf are no good.

Keeping a journal is a great way to keep track of plants during spring gardening. You can write down what was a success last year, what was a failure, and what plants should be moved with the change of seasons. It will not only prove useful this year, but also next year when you may not remember all of the small details.

A definite must is throwing away any outdated chemicals. Following the instructions are the label are easy. Also check to make sure those you are keeping are stored where children and pets cannot get to them.

Tilling the soil where you plan to begin your spring gardening is important. Your soil should contain no ice crystals. Handfuls of the soil should easily crumble.

When should you begin planting? This frequently asked question can easily be answered. Weather, soil conditions, and what you are going to plant are the answers.

Lastly, while engaging in spring gardening you have to remember to prune. Since, for some plants, the flowers that will come up next year have set within 10 days of the end of a bloom, timing is very important.

Now that you know what to do, your spring gardening won’t be so much of a chore, but more of a pleasure.

Getting Started in Container Gardening

Getting Started in Container Gardening
Getting Started in Container Gardening

Sometimes, the urge to garden might be stomped out by other circumstances, such as living arrangements or space constrictions. If you live in an apartment, you can’t really operate a full garden, just because you don’t really have a yard! I think that one of the best solutions for this problem is to grow plants in containers. You can hang these, or just
arrange them on your patio, window sill or balcony. Just a few baskets or pots, and your whole living area will look much classier and nicer.

A benefit of growing in small containers is the fact that you can move them around to suit your needs. If you rearrange your furniture and you think that it would look nicer if it was in the other area, it’s no trouble at all to scoot it over. As long as the lighting is about the same, your plant shouldn’t mind the transition at all. Another benefit of the containers versatility is the fact that you can adapt it to simulate any environment depending on the type of soil you fill it with and where you place it.

If you are trying to make an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of containers and plants, you can adjust the containers to be at different heights by hanging them from the ceiling or placing them on supports. Hanging them will allow you to make the most of the space you have. This is called vertical gardening. If you pull it off right, you can make a very pleasing arrangement of plants while conserving your valuable space. If you live in an apartment, you know how important it is to conserve space! One method of vertical gardening is the use of a wooden step ladder. If painted correctly, you can arrange all the plants on it in a beautiful, stylish cascade of color.

The maintenance of container plants takes slightly more time, since you have to water more often and go around to each individual container. However, the square footage for container plants is much less than that of an actual garden, so the time spent on maintenance and watering is more balanced. It is important that you don’t over-water your container plants, as this can be just as fatal to their health as under-watering.

When choosing containers for your plants, you’ll want to buy them all at once along with some extras in case they break or you add more plants later. You don’t want them to be all the same shape and size, but definitely the same style so that the compliment each other. Plastic containers are the best and require the least amount of watering, but if you want to stick with clay or earthen pots then you should line the inside with plastic. This helps it retain water more, as the clay will soak up water.

Another thing to remember when buying pots is the fact that the size of the pot will ultimately constrict the size of the plant. Make a careful choice of pots according to what you wish to grow in each one. If you search for the plant you chose on the internet, you should be able to find specifications as to how much root space it should be given. This can even be an advantage for you if you choose a plant that can grow very large. If you only have a limited amount of space for it, you can constrict it by choosing a pot that isn’t large enough to support huge amounts of growth.

If the benefits of container gardening sound appealing to you, then you should start planning out your container garden today. If you write a list of all the plants you desire to have, you can do the necessary research to find out what size and shape of pots you should get. After that, it’s just a matter of arranging them in a way that makes your home look the nicest

Container Gardening Tips For New Gardeners

Container Gardening Tips For New Gardeners
Container Gardening Tips For New Gardeners

Container gardening is a fun and rewarding hobby that is enjoyed by millions of people all over the world. Not only is it relaxing and enjoyable, but you get the satisfaction of knowing that you’re growing your own plants and you know where they came from! With more and more stories on the news about various outbreaks of food poisoning from things like lettuce and green onions, many people are finding it important to start growing as much of their own produce as possible.

Many people are afraid to deal with container gardening. They think it is too difficult or too expensive. On the contrary, it is actually very easy and can be quite inexpensive! Here we explore the ease of setting up your first container garden, as well as the expenses involved.

We’re going to walk you through the process of setting up your first container garden. In this example, we will be growing some basil.

Step One: Purchase your container gardening supplies. You will need the following items for this example. Three plastic pots with drainage holes in the bottom, preferably with trays underneath to catch soil and water drainage, about 5-6 inches in diameter, and 5-6 inches deep, one packet of basil seeds, one small bag of organic compost, one small bag of peat moss, one small garden trowel, one small watering can or clean spray bottle, and one very sunny windowsill (or a florescent or halogen grow light if no sunny window is available.) The total cost for these materials will be somewhere around $20 or less if you have a sunny windowsill. If you need a grow light, that will cost an additional $15-$20.

Step Two: Prepare the soil. Mix together 1 part peat moss with 5 parts compost. (For every one trowel full of peat moss, put in 5 trowels full of compost.) Fill the three pots up to about Ω inch from the top with this mixture.

Step Three: Plant the seeds. Simply make a hole about 1 inch deep in the center of each pot with your finger. Put about three seeds into each hole. Then cover the seeds with soil. Water lightly and place in the windowsill or under a grow light. Once the seeds sprout and reach about 2 inches in height, remove any extra sprouts so that you only have one plant in each pot.

Step Four: In order to care for your plants, all you need to do is water them regularly and keep them maintained. Check the soil daily for moisture. Whenever the soil feels dry, water lightly. To maintain the bushy growth, pinch off the tops of each stem every couple of weeks and remove any flower stalks as soon as you see them growing.

That’s it! It’s really that simple to start a container garden. In this example, we planted basil, but you can apply this method to practically any herb, small vegetable, or flower, with only minor modifications.