Gardening can be rewarding and good exercise but at times it can be frustrating especially for beginners. Let's start with the basics: .................................... bed prep, bed prep, bed prep. Oh yea, more bed prep.
Our local soils are pretty much junk, and worse than junk in many areas with heavy clay being the dominant obstacle. The clay in our area soils offer no drainage, zero aeration and little if any nutrition for the plants to utilize. Getting the area to be planted ready for transplants can be the hardest part of getting started: but the rewards of taking the extra time and energy up front will pay off tenfold in the end. All plants need drainage to keep the roots from rotting, Air circulation in the soil for oxygen, and loose soil for the roots to be able to penetrate out and take up vital nutrients.
Along with the rest of mother nature there are no hard and fast RULES when it comes to getting an area ready for planting. Each location is different and at times can be a trial and error process until the best solution is found for a specific area. Following are some tips to get a bed of junk clay ready to produce more vigorous and healthy plants.
Add organic matter:
Incorporating amendments into the soil is the best way to increase drainage and add aeration at the same time. Landscape mix, compost, potting soil or any combination of the three make an ideal blend to begin a garden. To get started in an existing bed, remove all of the old plant material and turn the soil as best you can with a shovel or tiller. Add a few bags of amendment material to the top of the area and turn into the existing soil, blending the organic material into the existing clay will aide in breaking it up.
While adding extra material to a planting area, if it happens to raise the level above "grade" that is a good thing. Having a bed that sits higher than the surrounding ground level will aide in drainage and provide optimal growth for the plants. It may take several season to get the consistency and have the soil break down into the best possible soil to plant in. A "Perfect bed" is one that we can use our hands to dig into without any help of the shovel. This does not happen overnight, but in time with the addition of organic material and decomposition over time, it can and will.
We sell "Color Star" fertilizer, designed specifically for blooming annuals and flowers. Color star is a time released formula that releases food every time the plants are watered. Most commercial fertilizers on the market are good products as long as you use them. With Color star, we call it the lazy mans food, you apply it once and it last from one to three months depending on the time of year. During the summer months when we are watering on a daily basis, it will last about 1 month. During the cooler winter months it can last about 3 months. Once the beds are prepared, it is a good time to broadcast the fertilizer over the area to be planted. The food will be incorporated into the soil while digging holes and placing plants.
Once the beds are prepared fertilized and planted it is a good idea to add a top layer of mulch to cover the exposed soil around the new plants. Mulch is multipurpose and functional part of the garden. It holds in moisture allowing better conservation of water, it keeps weeds from germinating in the freshly tilled soil, it creates a finished look to the planting, and over time it decomposes and works back into the soil adding more organic matter into the bed. Add mulch to a depth of one to two inches deep, being careful not to pile it up to high around the base and trunk of existing plants. Hardwood Mulch; Shredded hardwood last a little longer than pine bark, and its shredded texture interlocks to keep it from floating as much. All mulch is wood and wood floats, but using a shredded mulch does help alleviate the floating to some degree. Since the hard wood lasts in the garden longer and does not offer as much nutritional value, we normally recommend using hardwood mulch around trees, shrubs and permanent installations, places where we are not getting into and replacing plants a couple of times a year.
Cedar Mulch; Cedar mulch is shredded like the hardwood, with many of the same characteristics and uses. Cedar mulch is lighter in color and not as dark as the Hard wood, so between the two it is more of a color choice.
Pecan Mulch; the discarded hulls of pecans can be a very clean well groomed look for top dressing. Beware when using in annual beds as the shards of pecan shells are very sharp and prickly when digging around each season when planting new crops. For this reason the best use for pecan mulch would be for permanent beds, like shrubs and trees or those where we do not have to continually get into.
Compost; We sell Living Earth Compost. Compost is organic plant material blended in with natural fertilizer (manure) and decomposed over time before being shipped to us for sale. This compost can be used for top dressing like a mulch or incorporation into the soil for organic material and breaking up our clay. It is probably one of the most versatile bagged materials that we sell. One thing to remember when using compost is that it already has a fertilizer base in it (manure) and adding additional fertilizer the first year is not needed as much. After the first season, the nutrient level has been pretty much been depleted and use of regular fertilizer program should be resumed.
Landscape Mix: Landscape mix is a blend of finely ground bark mulch, peat moss, and perlite. This blend offers a great material to incorporate into our dense clay soils to break it up and aide with drainage and aeration. Unlike compost, landscape mix does not contain a fertilizer allowing us to control what we apply. *one of our favorite secrets is using both the landscape mix and blending it with compost. These two materials added together creates a superb planting medium. Many times the compost can be heavy, and landscape mix can be too light and fluffy, but blending the two together we create the perfect consistency and quality.
Potting Soil; Berger potting soil is the same high grade potting soil we use to grow our plants in and we sell as a bagged product as well. Many potting soils on the market now are offered with fertilizer in them, ours does not contain the fertilizer charge. We like knowing what is added, when and how much. Having it already in the bag when purchased leaves too many unknowns.
An entire encyclopedia could be written regarding watering and bedding plants and still not cover every scenario and variable. There is NO way to say exactly how much water, how often, or when. Soil consistency, irrigation method, light levels, plants used, heat, wind, etc. etc. etc...No two beds are identical making an exact recipe of when and how much impossible.
To break it down as simplistic and general as possible here are a few guidelines.
Most newly planted bedding plants would like to be kept moderately moist and not dry out for the first two to three weeks after being planted. Many times the irrigation and sprinkle systems used are not sufficient for these first few weeks, add additional water using a hose or by hand. Once the plants have rooted into the surrounding bed we can reduce the frequency of irrigation and allow the plants to dry moderately before watering again. Getting air to the roots is essential and a bed that stands in water and never dries out, will not be able to allow air into the ground. The roots need this oxygen as much as it needs water and nutrients. As the Summer heats up, the frequency and amount of water should also increase. Setting your irrigation system once, and never touching it again does not work for our area. A good rule of thumb is to change the time and intervals as the seasons change. Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.
For shrubs and trees, additional irrigation will be required for a longer period. Count on supplanting the irrigation system with hand watering at least for the first 6 months up to one year depending on the size of plant. Our sprinkler system does not allow the water to go deep enough and penetrate the area where the root ball is on these larger items without running them for hours, wasting water, or over watering the rest of the landscape.
Whew- what a mouthful and information over load.
Be sure and ask one of us at The Flower Ranch and we will be glad to address your individual situation and site needs to answer any questions you may have.