Are you a home gardener looking for ways to make your garden flourish and produce healthier, more vibrant plants? Do you want to learn some of the tips that experienced gardeners use to look like a pro? This guide was designed for you. From preparing your soil to choosing the right equipment and more, you will learn the ins and outs of gardening and see what it takes to create a beautiful, lush garden that you can be proud of. Keep reading this guide that the team at Sloane and Sons Garden Benches have put together to earn your green thumb now!
The most important part of any garden is the soil. Without healthy, sustainable soil, no amount of work will make your garden grow. If you want a healthy garden, start with healthy soil. Here’s how:
Test The Quality Of Your Soil:
Testing the quality of your soil is a basic step towards growing a beautiful garden and it can take some time to do it properly. There are many soil pH tests available which enable you to test the pH of your soil, but for pro gardeners, that isn’t enough. There are many other aspects of healthy soil you should consider:
To check for healthy root development, gently dig around a weed or other plant that you won’t miss. Once you reach the root depth, pull the plant out of the ground and check for root development. You should see fine strands with a white healthy appearance. If the roots are brown or mushy, you could have drainage issues and if the roots look stunted, you may have root-gnawing pests that could be problems later on.
One of the best indicators of soil quality is a plant’s root system. If the roots are healthy and strong, you should have good air, water and biological activity present in your soil.
By comparing the plants that are currently growing in your garden with the healthy plant colour for your region, you can get a good indication of the overall health of the soil.
The workability of your soil is important in allowing water to reach the roots of your plants. When tilling your garden, if you see cloddy clumps, the workability is quite low. If it is difficult to till the soil, you will receive disappointing results from your garden come harvest time.
Soil Structure and Tilth
Ideally, your soil should be made up a “crumbs” that hold their shape under light pressure. If your soil breaks apart easily when slightly damp, it could be too hard.
You can measure the organisms in your soil by digging down about 15 cm and monitor the hole for around 5 minutes. You should see a wide range of insects and other life. Look for 10 organisms for the best results as this will help break down plant residue and provide more nutrients for your garden.
Taking a wire garden flag, plunge it into your soil at various locations and mark the depth at which the flag bends. You should have 30 cm or more of penetrable soil before the wire bends as this will enable better root growth, water availability and it will allow earthworms and other soil fauna to circulate more freely.
If you are growing your garden over a previous crop, dig down into the soil and look for any evidence of the previous plant matter which you should have tilled into the soil. If after a month you see some easily recognisable plant parts and darkly coloured humus, you have a good rate of decomposition and the soil should be healthy enough to sustain your new garden.
Another important factor when checking the quality of your soil is water availability. After a good rain, record how long your garden’s plants take to begin showing signs of thirst. This will be different depending on the region you live in, but you shouldn’t see these signs too early as this will indicate low quality soil that isn’t holding the water long enough.
Using an open ended tube or piece of PVC pipe, push it around 15 cm into the soil leaving just 5-7 cm above the ground. Fill this with water and note how long it takes the water to be absorbed into the soil. Do this in several areas around your garden, noting the water infiltration time for each test. You should see results measuring 2 cm per hour. Anything slower than that could mean that you have compacted soil. You want good water infiltration to ensure your plants’ root systems get the water they need with risk of erosion or runoff.
Improve The Quality Of Your Soil:
There are many things that you can do to improve the quality of soil in your garden. Here are some of the ways gardeners use to get the best results from their gardens:
Avoid Tilling the Soil
What? Don’t till the soil in my garden? If you have a large garden area, tilling the soil can be beneficial. But if your garden is small, tilling the soil can actually have detrimental effects that could result in a less successful garden in the long run. Tilling can cause the soil to blow away in the wind or wash away in the rain and this can leave you adding more topsoil every season which can become costly and time consuming. Tilling your soil will also destroy the beneficial soil organisms that are needed for a healthy garden. If you feel that you must till, try aerating instead as this will gently turn the soil and will not harm the beneficial soil organisms or disrupt soil fertility. You could also use sheet mulch in place of tilling.
Add Organic Matter
When we sow our crops, we remove much of the soil’s nutrients. We replace these by adding organic matter every growing season. Organic matter not only improves the structure of the soil and attracts soil organisms, but it can also make it easier for plants to absorb nutrients from the soil to grow healthy and strong. Organic matter that the pros use includes:
- livestock manure
- worm compost
- dried and powdered egg shells
- homemade compost
- leaf mold
- grass clippings
To protect the soil tilth and retain as much moisture and nutrients as possible, professional gardeners add mulch. This can also be a time saving factor as mulching will reduce the amount of weeding, watering and fertilising you need to do.
If you have a healthy garden, applying mulch in the off season will help to keep it that way. It will also protect against soil erosion and help protect the important soil organisms.
When starting a new garden or overhauling your current one, sheet mulching in place of tilling will not only get rid of weeds and other unwanted plants, but it will attract earthworms and other soil organisms to the area. Using special sheet mulch material or simple cardboard is an effective way of creating healthy, sustainable soil for your garden.
Sheet mulching is simple to do. First, cut back any vegetation in the garden area and begin to aerate the soil looking for any woody plants, vines or seed heads that should be removed. Next, lay down your cardboard or sheet mulch material, overlapping the ends and place organic matter on top. Finally, add compost soil and let sit for two weeks or longer. You will see the contents above the sheet mulch shrink in size as it decomposes and becomes healthy, nutrient rich soil.
Planting cover crops such as alfalfa, sweet peas or turnips can provide a good source of organic matter and nutrients while helping to improve drainage and aeration in larger garden areas. These crops are good choices for a no-till garden area as they are generally easy to kill off without resorting to tilling over them. Not only do cover crops provide nourishment for your garden over the winter months, it can also attract soil organisms that will encourage growth during the spring growing season as well. Most cover crops should be “winter killed”, but if they aren’t, a good aerating a few weeks before spring planting will do so.
What Are The Different Types Of Soil?
Typically, there are 5 different types of soil that most home gardeners encounter, sandy, silty, clay, peat, saline and loam. These 5 types of soil are all made up of the same ingredients, sand, silt, and clay. However, these ingredient change to create the different types of soils we find in our gardens. Let’s take a look at the 5 types of garden soil and how to identify them.
Sandy soil is dry and gritty and it doesn’t hold water very well. This type of soil makes getting nutrients to your plants difficult as the water drains rapidly through it. Sandy soil is easier to work with and it does warm up faster in the spring. To see if you have sandy soil, moisten the soil and try rolling it into a ball in your hand. Sandy soil should not form and just run through your fingers.
Silty soil has a much silkier, smoother feel than sandy soil and it can feel slick when moistened in your hand. If you roll it between your fingers, it will leave dirt on your hand but will not roll into a ball. This type of soil retains water longer, but it has a difficult time retaining nutrients. If you have silty soil, be careful not to compact it too much and monitor the aeration of your soil.
Clay offers good water storage capabilities and can feel sticky when wet and smooth when dry. Clay soil allows very little air to pass through it and is slower to drain making it a good choice for plants who need more nourishment than others. Clay soil can be slow to warm up in the spring and it is very heavy to work with making it difficult to turn and compact in the summer months. When moistened and rolled in your hand, clay soil will easily form into a ball.
Peat soil is a very good growing medium that offers a high water content and is also high in organic matter. Be careful to not let peat soil get too dry in the summer months as it is prone to catching fire. This is usually not an issue as peat soil can hold water for many months at a time, protecting the roots of your plants. When rolled in your hand, peat feels spongy and will not typically roll into a ball.
You will find saline soil in extremely dry areas and it is generally not recommended for gardening. Saline soil can damage your plants, stall their growth, impede germination and make irrigation almost impossible. To know if you have saline soil, check for a white layer at the surface of the soil or check your plants for leaf tip burn.
Loam is the best type of soil for gardening as it contains the perfect balance of ingredients including humus and it generally has higher pH and calcium levels. Loam is dark in colour and soft and crumbly to the touch. It holds water and plant food very well and offers excellent drainage.
How Do You Get The Soil Prepared For Planting?
Preparing your soil for planting can be as easy, or as difficult, as you have the time and patience for. You could till the soil, being careful to avoid over-tilling which could cause much of the soil to blow away, or you could simply aerate the soil by hand before adding your mulch layers. Both ways are accepted, but tilling is much faster and can have your garden ready to plant sooner. When aerating the soil and adding your mulch layers, you will need to wait for the mulch to decompose which could take several weeks.
Plan Your Garden
Before preparing the soil or buying any plants, you want to plan out how you want your garden to look. This is a very important, and often overlooked, step that many pro gardeners will always suggest. Ask yourself why you are planting your garden and what you expect from it. Are you planting vegetables for dinner or canning, or are you planting to add beauty to your garden area? You could even combine the two, making a truly exceptional garden area that can provide a relaxing hobby. Whichever you choose, be sure to plan your garden according to your needs and your abilities. Many new gardeners will plant large gardens with difficult to grow plants that become time consuming and will turn them off from gardening very quickly.
Tricks For Shopping For Plants to Plant
When shopping for plants to plant in your garden, be sure to look for healthy ones that have been professionally started and hardened. Some greenhouses sell plants that look perfect and grow very well inside the greenhouse, but that have not been hardened for frost and will not grow very well in your garden outside.
Here are some helpful tips for choosing the best plants for your garden:
Read the labels- read the plant’s label and look for exposure, hardiness zone, mature height and width as these will all indicate whether the plant is right for your region.
Look for leaves, not flowers- while you might be tempted to look for flowering plants as these are closer to being fully mature, you want to avoid the plants that are already flowering and choose those that have healthy leaves instead. This will ensure a healthier plant that will acclimate to your soil better.
Check the health of the plant- always look for key health indicators of every plant you buy. It might take more time at the nursery, but it will save you time and effort when the plant is in your garden.
Only buy plants that will grow in your area and your type of soil- buying plants that don’t grow well in your area could be a waste of time and important soil nutrients that could be useful to your other plants. If a plant requires a specific type of soil and your garden is just the opposite, avoid that plant and buy those that are right for your type of soil.
What Plants Should You Go For?
Knowing what plants to buy for which season is important and it can also be based on your region. Always check to make sure a plant is right for your area and your type of soil before planting it in your garden. Let’s take a look at some of the best plants to plant by season:
- Black-Eyed Susans
- Onions and Shallots
- Spring Onions
- Perpetual Spinach
- Broad Beans
- Winter Salads
- Lily of the Valley
- Blue Spruce
- Wintergreen Boxwood
- Coral Bells
- Stella D'Oro Daylily
- Knockout Rose
- Gingko Craig Hosta
- New Guinea Impatients
- Thundercloud Plum
- Blue Sage
- Onions and Shallots
- Perpetual Spinach
- Winter Salads
- Cyclamen hederifolium
- Gladiolus murielae
Two of the best ways to water your garden are the soaker hose method and the drip irrigation method. While many new gardeners will water manually or use a sprinkler on a timer, these methods don’t provide enough water for most plants. Investing in a soaker hose and routing it through your garden or installing a drip irrigation system will ensure a healthier garden with much bigger plants, vegetables and flowers. Soaker Hoses and Drip Irrigation Systems
The soaker hose method weeps water slowly into your garden, giving it a constant supply. This is perfect for closely spaced crops or overly full planted beds.
The drip irrigation method drips water throughout your garden at regular intervals using hoses with slits or drippers. This is a good watering strategy for rows of vegetables and should be placed close to ground level.
While you could spend a small fortune on gardening tools and equipment, you might not need all of them. There are some basic essentials that every home gardener should have. Let’s take a look at them here:
Wheelbarrow- a good quality wheelbarrow is a must for any gardener as it can transport everything from soil and plants, to rocks, water and supplies easily throughout your garden area.
Dibber- a dibber makes planting holes for seeds and will save you a lot of time and effort when planting your first garden of the season.
Digging Spade- one of the most important garden tools you can own is a digging spade. It is perfect for everything from testing the soil, to planting and everything else in between.
Garden Trowel- garden trowels make digging smaller holes easier and can help you gently dig up a plant to check the root system or to move it to another location in your garden.
Garden Knife- useful for cutting sticks, flowers, string and more, a garden knife is an essential that no gardener should be without.
Heavy Duty Hoe - a good, heavy duty hoe can make easy work of hand tilling a small area in your garden or when digging up root vegetables such as turnips, potatoes and carrots.
How To Make Your Own - Buying commercially produced compost for your garden can be expensive and you don’t really know what the compost is made of. You can make your own compost easily and save money while providing the important nutrients your garden needs to grow healthy and strong. Here’s how:
To make a good compost mix for your garden, you need 3 essential ingredients:
- Green Material
- Brown Material
- Sufficient Moisture
Your green material is high in nitrogen and contains kitchen scraps including coffee grounds, fruit cores, and eggshells. Garden waste can also be used including grass clippings, leaves, and weeds.
Your brown material is high in carbon and includes ingredients like paper, sawdust, small branches, and twigs.
Your compost’s moisture component is water. When added to your compost pile, water will help make decomposition happen faster.
When creating a compost pile, be sure to choose a location well way from your house and any children’s play areas. Composting stinks and it is very slimy. If it is close to any open windows, you will smell it.
Keep adding ingredients to your compost pile, watering it if it begins to look dry. The wetter you keep it, the sooner you will have nutrient rich compost. Look for heat buildup in your compost pile as this is an indicator that decomposition is happening.
Once a week, turn your compost pile using a heavy duty garden hoe or shovel. This will help move fresh compost from the bottom of the pile to the top so the new ingredients can be placed below it.
Go Plant Your Garden!
Now that you are armed with the knowledge and some exclusive pro gardening tips, it’s time to get out there and get your hands dirty. Take what you have learned, check your soil, plan your garden and start planting. Soon, you will have a beautiful, healthy garden that you can be proud of.