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Home grown:Mary Pellerito


Tender loving care for soil



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October 06, 2010 - If your spring and summer in the garden have been anything like mine, you are probably a little worn out by now.

This has been a great gardening season. The vegetable harvest has been phenomenal and the summer flowers are not quite faded. I have pulled my share of weeds and in the past few weeks I've been doing a lot of hand-watering.

There is one more garden chore that I want to complete before it gets too cold outside—giving my garden soil a little TLC.

Every fall, I add compost, and if available, well-aged horse or cow manure to my garden beds. Compost does not add a lot of nutrients to the soil, but it does a great job conditioning the soil. Mixing compost with sandy soils help to retain moisture levels. Adding compost to clay soils helps loosen the soil.

After the first frost and after I pull out the annuals, I dig compost into the perennial beds, shrub border, and vegetable garden. If I can get some horse manure from friends in the area, I'll mix the manure with the compost and add that to the gardens. In past years, I have ordered a truckload of organic compost from local landscape supply companies.

In addition to having well-conditioned, friable soil, plants need NPK. Nitrogen (N) maintains plants' green color and is responsible for good leaf and stem growth. Well-rotted manure is a great source of nitrogen. Phosphorus (P) is important for root development, blooming, and fruit production. Bone meal and rock phosphate are good sources of phosphorus for organic gardeners. Potassium (K) is essential for plant growth and aids in winter hardiness. Potassium can be found in the wood ashes from your fireplace and from greensand.

If you do not want to mix up your own NPK mixture, you can always go to your local garden supply store and look for commercial organic mixtures. The numbers on the bag refer to the amount N-P-K in the mixture.

Soil pH is another important component to your soil's ability to support healthy plants. Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of soil. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14. Pure water is perfectly neutral with a pH of 7. As the numbers decrease from 7, they indicate greater acidity; as the increase from 7, they indicate greater alkalinity. To raise the soil pH, add lime. To decrease soil pH, add sulphur.

The best way to find out what amendments your soil needs is to get a soil test done through Michigan State University. You can pick up a soil-test kit at the MSU Extension office.

Enjoy the last few months in your garden and with a little soil TLC this fall, your plants will reward you next spring and summer.

The MSU Extension Office is located at 1200 N. Telegraph Road, Building 26E, Pontiac, MI 48341.

Mary Pellerito is a garden writer living in Brandon Township. She is a Master Gardener and a member of Wild Ones. Contact Mary at mary.pellerito@gmail.com.

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