Soil is the Key to Bountiful Gardens and Beautiful Landscapes

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Gardening Expert Melinda Myers Shares Strategies for Improving Soil This Season

Use a shovel or rototiller to blend organic matter into the soil.

Though not the most glamorous part of gardening, it is the first and most important step in creating a beautiful and productive garden. - Melinda Myers

Spring is here and the garden centers are filled with gorgeous plants. Many gardeners are making their way to one or more of their favorite garden shops. Leaving with a car full of beautiful flowers and healthy vegetables, gardeners have hopes of a bountiful harvest and beautified landscape.

“But before that first plant goes into the ground, it’s important to make sure the soil is properly prepared,” says horticulturist Melinda Myers. “Though not the most glamorous part of gardening, it is the first and most important step in creating a beautiful and productive garden.”

Start by adding some compost, aged manure or a garden soil labeled for flowers and vegetables to this year’s shopping list. “Gardeners will need about two 2-cubic-ft bags of soil additive to cover 25 square feet of garden two inches deep,” explained Myers. “Calculate the garden size by measuring the length times the width, so you are sure to purchase all you need.”

Once the car is unloaded, the fun begins. Work the soil when it is moist, but not wet. A simple test can help with this. Grab a handful of soil and gently squeeze. Then gently tap it. If it breaks into smaller pieces, it is ready to work. If it stays in a wet ball, wait for the soil to dry slightly before digging in. Otherwise gardeners will compact the soil, reduce drainage and create clods and crusty soil that they’ll be fighting all season long.

Start by digging several inches of compost, aged manure, or a product like Schultz garden soil for flowers and vegetables into the top 12 inches of soil. These materials improve drainage in heavy clay soils and increase water-holding ability in sandy soils.

Spread the organic matter over the soil surface of the garden bed. Use a shovel or rototiller to blend the organic matter into the soil. Rake the area smooth and level or make a slight crown in the middle of the bed. Crowning the bed slightly can increase the visual impact of flowers and help keep the soil in the bed and out of the surrounding lawn or mulch.

Don’t skip this step even if these materials were applied last year. Yearly applications of organic matter continue to build quality soil and improve gardening results.

Apply the type and amount of fertilizer recommended by soil test reports. If this information is not available, use about three pounds of a low-nitrogen slow-release fertilizer for every 100 square feet of garden. Check the back of the fertilizer bag for more details.

Once the soil is prepared, it is time to plant. Carefully slide transplants out of their container. Gently loosen any circling roots. Plant the flowers and vegetables in the prepared planting bed and water thoroughly.

Mulch the soil surface with a one to two inch layer of pine straw, evergreen needles, shredded leaves or other organic material. These help suppress weeds, conserve moisture and improve the soil as they decompose.

Seem like too much work? Investing time preparing the soil at the start of the growing season will save time, money and frustration throughout the season. Gardeners will spend less time watering, managing pests and replacing struggling or dead plants. Plus, it will give gardeners more time to harvest beautiful flowers for bouquets, vegetables for favorite recipes, or additional time to sit, relax and enjoy the enhanced landscape.

Make this the year to start building a strong foundation for a healthy and productive garden for years to come.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment segments. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ web site, http://www.melindamyers, offers gardening videos and tips.

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Diana Paul
Melinda Myers LLC
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