People choose balcony, patio, and courtyard gardening for many different reasons. Some are moving from a large house to smaller accommodation, some donít want the hassle of a large property, and some chose to live in rental property to avoid the high-cost of owning a home. Whatever the reason, this doesn’t mean we can’t garden. No space is too small for a small space garden. One plant in a container is a garden. In fact, ever more gardening options are available in terms of pots, half-barrels, window boxes, troughs, cast-iron planters, recycled materials & the list is unending with possibilities.
As you may have observed from your gardening experiences plants can be fussy things. The right location, amount of sunlight and 101 other factors influence your plant’s growing ability. One factor which is very beneficial in understanding before putting that new plant into the earth is soil pH.
10 Beneficial Insects For Gardening
1. Aphid Midge: These insects look like a delicate, small wasp. The larvae eats more than sixty varieties of aphids from the garden. You can attract them by growing plants with a lot of pollen and nectar.
2. Big-Eyed Bug: This is a fast-moving bug with large eyes and very small black spots on itís head and thorax. They are usually found in field crops and orchards. The big-eyed bug eats leafhoppers, spider mites, plant bugs, aphids, and small caterpillars. This bug is a real asset to gardening.
3. Ladybug: The ladybug ranges in size from 1/16 to 3/8 inch and have round red, orange or yellow bodies with black markings. They prefer gardens that have a large amount of pollen and nectar-producing flowers. The ladybug is fond of aphids, mealybugs, small insects and scales. The Mexican bean beetle is related to the ladybug but is not beneficial.
Fruit trees bear at different times of the year. For example, there are apples for early season, mid-season, and late season (well into fall), so it is wise to select trees for the season you want. Just how long it will be before trees will bear is another consideration; apples and pears bear in 4 to 6 years; plums, cherries, and peaches bear in about 4 years.
Besides considering bearing season and length of bearing, you should also think of size. In addition to standard-sized fruit trees there are dwarf varieties that grow only a few feet. There are also different kinds of apples, peaches, or cherries; your local nursery will tell you about these. Your nursery also stocks the type of trees that do best in your area, so ask for advice. Your trees must be hardy enough to stand the coldest winter and the hottest summer in your vicinity.
Many varieties of fruit trees are self-sterile, which means that they will not set a crop unless other blossoming trees are nearby to furnish pollen. Some fruit trees are self-pollinating or fruiting and need no other tree. When you buy your fruit trees, ask about this. Fruit trees are beautiful just as decoration, but you also want fruits to eat.
Buy from local nurseries if possible, and look for 1- or 2-yearold trees. Stone fruits are usually 1 year old and apples and pears are generally about 2 years old at purchase time. Select stocky and branching trees rather than spindly and compact ones because espaliering requires a well-balanced tree.
Whether you buy from a local nursery or from a mail-order source (and this is fine too), try to get the trees into the ground as quickly as possible. Leaving a young fruit tree lying around in hot sun can kill it. If for some reason you must delay the planting time, heel in the tree. This is temporary planting: dig a shallow trench wide enough to receive the roots, set the plants on their sides, cover the roots with soil, and water them. Try to keep new trees out of blazing sun and high winds.
Prepare the ground for the fruit trees with great care. Do not just dig a hole and put the tree in. Fruit trees do require some extra attention to get them going. Work the soil a few weeks before planting. Turn it over and poke it. You want a friable workable soil with air in it, a porous soil. Dry sandy soil and hard clay soil simply will not do for fruit trees, so add organic matter to existing soil. This organic matter can be compost (bought in tidy sacks) or other humus.
Plant trees about 10 to 15 feet apart in fall or spring when the land is warm. Then hope for good spring showers and sun to get the plants going. Dig deep holes for new fruit trees, deep enough to let you set the plant in place as deep as it stood in the nursery. (Make sure you are planting trees in areas that get sun.) Make the diameter of the hole wide enough to hold the roots without crowding. When you dig the hole, put the surface soil to one side and the subsoil on the other so that the richer top soil can be put back directly on the roots when you fill in the hole. Pack the soil in place firmly but not tightly. Water plants thoroughly but do not feed. Instead, give the tree an application of vitamin B12 (available at nurseries) to help it recover from transplanting.
Place the trunk of the fruit tree about 12 to 18 inches from the base of the trellis; you need some soil space between the tree and the wood. Trellises may be against a fence or dividers or on a wall. Young trees need just a sparse pruning. Tie branches to the trellis with tie-ons or nylon string, not too tightly but firmly enough to keep the branch flat against the wood. As the tree grows, do more trimming and tying to establish the espalier pattern you want.
To attach the trellis to a wall use wire or some of the many gadgets available at nurseries specifically for this purpose. For a masonry wall, rawl plugs may be placed in the mortared joints, and screw eyes inserted. You will need a carbide drill to make holes in masonry.
Caring for fruit trees is not difficult. Like all plants, fruit trees need a good soil (already prepared), water, sun, and some protection against insects. When trees are actively growing, start feeding with fruit tree fertilizer (available at nurseries). Use a weak solution; it is always best to give too little rather than too much because excess fertilizer can harm trees.
Observe trees frequently when they are first in the ground because this is the time when trouble, if it starts, will start. If you see leaves that are yellow or wilted, something is awry. Yellow leaves indicate that the soil may not contain enough nutrients. The soil could lack iron, so add some iron chelate to it. Wilted leaves could mean that water is not reaching the roots or insects are at work.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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!