If you're new to gardening or a seasoned veteran, the soil surrounding the roots of any plant is probably the most important factor involved in having awesome plants or vegetables and huge flowers.
You can dig a hole, plop your plant in it and call it done. You may get lucky and plants will take hold and eventually they will grow. If I were a betting man, I would say your odds are stacked against you though.
Here are my secrets to awesome success in planting your precious plants and ensuring good health is achieved by all.
Let's talk about bushes, trees and evergreens first. It has been our mantra forever to recommend soil conditioner, (aged pine bark fines) to plant with any type of hardy plant in the landscape. The plants you choose must be able to grow in our typically hard pan clay soil. My recommendation is to dig the hole twice the width of any pot or root ball first. Throw that soil to the side, add to that soil some soil conditioner and some aged compost so there is approximately 1/3 each of native soil, aged compost and soil conditioner. This magical blend when used to plant in and around root balls yields outstanding results. You MUST use native soil in the mix and as a precautionary measurement, plant things a couple inches higher than surrounding soils.
I think we all have a tendency to over excavate when digging a hole. You can fill back in with soil if it's too deep to raise plants up but ultimately you will get some settling. This couple inch buffer gives much needed drainage to your newly installed plant as well as gives some leeway to allow for settling. Mounding up plants or planting in a raised bed will ensure your plants do well.
Some of my competitors recommend, you remove all the clay soil and bring in fresh screened topsoil to plant in. This is the WORST thing you can do! By doing this, you have just created a clay pool or bathtub. What will happen when you water is the water will not percolate through the hard pan clay and you've literally just created a bog.
Wet roots equals rotting roots and rotting roots equals death to new plants.
For an instructional video of how to plant! Click here!
Now onto the garden. Some of the advantages of growing a garden are producing healthy, full of vitamins and minerals vegetables and fruits. No salmonella, listeria or E coli scares occur when growing your own produce. You know what you put into your plants, and you cannot get any fresher product than picking it off the plant when you need it.
I remember when my dad took me out to Oregon for the first time several decades ago. This land was amazing and plants grew everywhere. It just seemed everything was bigger than in Ohio. Straw bales were SO BIG only 2 bales could be put on a 48' long flatbed truck. The cabbages were the size of beach balls! Nursery stock were planted at everyone's homes and just as green as could be. Maples trees could grow to 12/15' tall in 3-4 years where it would take twice as long to grow the same size tree here In Ohio.
The combination of great soil, adequate moisture and a little magic makes it happen, one of the growers told me. The scary thing is, he said New Zealand is where plants really grow quickly. I can NOT even imagine how quickly things grow in that country being amazed the difference between Ohio and Oregon and many people telling me the same sentiment.
So here is what I learned, the cabbage were huge because they kept giving these plants liquid anhydrous ammonia. Nitrogen which causes plants to explode and grow enormously huge. It's truly amazing to see acres of cabbage the size of beach balls. The bad thing though, is all the minerals had been depleted from the soil. The microbial activity was gone. The soil was essentially dead. So even though the cabbage were big and looked good, they really did not offer much nutritional value and most of the minerals had been depleted.
It's my opinion, commercial farming, unless organically done, will yield the same result. We think we are being smart and eating more vegetables to become healthy when not much nutritional value exists. Again, I have no hard facts to substantiate this, this is just my observation.
So why am I telling you this? To simplify the difference between organics and chemical usage of fertilizers, chemicals are all about pushing power to the plant and making it produce while organics are all about making better soil which in turn will produce better plants...
There is a BIG difference between these two and the main difference is time. As Americans I think we all want to put a product on today and see results tomorrow. Organic growing is more about working with nature and giving it time to work. Organic products seem more expensive initially at the beginning, but in the long run, you will use less and less products as the soil builds and achieve better results ultimately costing you less. You will also produce healthier plants especially if they are the ones you eat.
So how do we make better soils? Clean your garden out as plants slowly stop producing vegetables. Start to add compost to your gardens this fall. If you do not have a compost bin that you make your own, bagged or bulk composts are typically readily available.
I am very excited for new products I found at some trade shows we attended in mid- September. "Microbes" was the buzzword. Different strains of microorganisms boost yields by increasing the availability of plant nutrients in the soil. I remember decades ago, we adjusted the pH of our water by injecting phosphoric acid into our water and leaves grew almost double the size as plants could utilize more nutrients in the soil that were previously locked up. These new organic blends of microorganisms will just need to be blended like lemonade in water and poured on the soil. Spring-time is the best time to apply these items and I intend to do a more in-depth article on what and how to use these natural products.