Healthy Soil and How to Make It

Healthy Soil and How to Make It

A Crash Course in Soil Maintenance BY COLLEEN VANDERLINDEN Southern Stock/Stockbyte/Getty Images Whether you are growing flowers, herbs, vegetables, a lawn, or a shrub border, healthy soil is an absolute must. Your plants will be less prone to pest and disease issues, they’ll grow better, and they’ll look better. With a bit of know-how, some work, and some patience, you can have healthy soil, no matter what kind of soil you are starting with. Characteristics of Healthy Garden Soil If good soil could be achieved merely by buying a bag of fertilizer from the garden center, most Americans would be boasting perfect soil. While fertility is obviously an aspect of good garden soil, there is so much more involved. Good soil has: Good TextureYou often hear gardeners talk about their soil’s “crumb.” This refers to the texture of the soil. Good soil is crumbly, like cookie crumbs scattered over the top of an ice cream sundae. That crumbly texture takes work, and we’ll talk more about that in a minute. Plenty of Organic MatterOrganic matter is just dead plant and animal tissue, which decomposes and enriches your soil as humus. Humus is wonderful because it helps improve your soil’s texture by binding some of the smaller particles together, which increases your soil’s aeration. It also improves your soil’s ability to both absorb and drain moisture. Finally, organic matter helps provide nutrients to your plants. Microorganisms help break down the organic matter into its basic elements, which enables plants to absorb it and use it.  Healthy PH Soil pH is the measurement of the acidity of your soil. This affects the minerals contained in garden soil and their availability to your plants. In general, the closer to neutral your soil is, the better your plants will be able to take up these minerals. Of course, some plants prefer a more acidic soil, but for most flowers, herbs, and vegetables, a more neutral pH is optimal. Three Main Types of Soil The next thing to consider is the structure of the soil. There are three main types of soil: Clay soil: Clay has tiny particles that stick together, forming large clumps. While clay soil tends to be of higher fertility than other soil types, it is not optimal to garden in because its texture makes it very difficult for plant roots to work their way into it. Improving clay soil takes some work, but it will make life much easier for your plants. Sandy soil: Sandy soil is definitely easier to work than clay soil — but it has the opposite problems: it often drains too quickly and is less able to retain nutrients. Loam: This is ideal garden soil. Crumbly, full of organic matter, retains moisture yet still drains...

Read More

Understanding and Improving Clay Soil

Understanding and Improving Clay Soil

Knysna is reknown for its poor soil, it is either heavy clay or sandy soil which is a huge challenge for gardeners.  This article was published on an American site, the information provided can be very useful for local conditions. A Gardener’s Guide BY COLLEEN VANDERLINDEN Ezra Bailey / Getty Images Clay soil is prevalent many parts of the United States, and it can be a real pain if you happen to decide that you want to plant a flower or vegetable garden. While many trees and shrubs grow well in clay, the roots of the majority of annuals, perennials, and vegetables just aren’t strong enough to make their way through. And if spring flower bulbs are your dream, forget it. Bulbs tend to rot over the winter in clay soils. With a bit of background about clay and a strategy for improving your soil structure, you’ll be able to grow flowers and vegetables to your heart’s content. What is Clay Soil? Clay soil is defined as soil that is composed of mostly clay particles. Soil that consists of over 50% clay particles is referred to as “heavy clay.” To determine whether you have clay soil or not, you can do a simple soil test. Most likely, you probably already know if you have clay soil. If your soil sticks to shoes and garden tools like glue, forms big clods that aren’t easy to separate, and crusts over and cracks in dry weather, you have clay. Positives of Clay Soil Even clay soil has some good qualities. Clay, because of its density, retains moisture well. It also tends to be more nutrient-rich than other soil types. The reason for this is that the particles that make up clay soil are negatively charged. They attract and pick up positively charged particles, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Negatives of Clay Soil In addition to the drawbacks mentioned above, clay also has the following negative qualities: Slow draining Slow to warm in the spring Compacts easily, making it difficult for plant roots to grow Tendency to heave in winter Tendency to be alkaline Improving Clay Soil Improving your clay soil will take a bit of work, but the good news is that the work you do will instantly improve the structure of your soil and make it easier to work with. Most of the work is done up front, with some annual chores to continue improving your soil. It is best to improve an entire planting area all at once. I often see advice about just improving individual planting holes as you go along, but I don’t recommend this practice. When you dig a planting hole in clay soil, then plop in a plant and nicely...

Read More

SCIENTISTS DISCOVER OPTICAL ILLUSION SOME FLOWERS USE TO ATTRACT BEES

SCIENTISTS DISCOVER OPTICAL ILLUSION SOME FLOWERS  USE TO ATTRACT BEES

  by LORENZO TANOS New research suggests that there are certain flowers that attract bees with a rather unusual optical illusion that’s visible to the insects, but not to human observers in most cases. Typically, gardeners attract bumblebees by planting blue flowers such as hydrangeas and delphiniums, as noted on a report from the Daily Mail. These flowers are high in nectar and are easily capable of attracting bees on their own. But the new discovery points to something different altogether — flowers luring the insects with microscopic ridges found on their petals. These ridges spread out a “blue halo” of light, creating an “aura” that could also be used as a bee signal. “The exciting thing is that it is a new optical trick – we didn’t know that flowers could use disorder to generate a specific color, and that is quite clever,” said study co-author Beverley Glover, from the University of Cambridge in England. The Guardian wrote that the discovery of how flowers attract bees via optical effects builds on previous research from Glover and her colleagues, who had found that the small ridges on the petals of select flowers are capable of bending light — a phenomenon known as diffracting. Having discovered some plants that could diffract, the researchers examined the petals of 12 different flower species to see if the phenomenon also occurred in them. Using artificial flowers with and without blue halos and testing them on bees, the researchers later found that the bees tended to go to the flowers with halos, while also using the blue hue to inform them which of the artificial flowers came with a sugar solution reward. Based on their findings, Glover’s team found that each of the flowers’ ridges had their own unique architecture, with the heights and spacings of the ridges tending to vary in particular. And while it was found that all 12 flowers only gave off a weak sheen, the researchers discovered that the ridges were also capable of dispersing blue and ultraviolet light. With that established, the flowers were revealed to have a “blue halo” effect, one that can only be seen by people in darkly-pigmented flowers, and one that differed based on the ridges’ degree of variation in height or spacing. Humans can’t see the blue hue emitted by the evening primrose’s petal ridges, but bees can. [Image by High Mountain/Shutterstock] The Daily Mail further noted that flowers that attract bees with the blue halo have been around for millions of years. Fossils of flowering plants, or angiosperms, from over 200 million years ago did not yield any proof of petal ridges capable of such optical illusions. But there were “several” examples of blue halo-generating ridges found in examples from two...

Read More

Control Ants in the Flower Garden

Control Ants in the Flower Garden

Kill or Repel these Pests Without Chemicals or Pesticides BY JAMIE MCINTOSH   bob van den berg photography/Moment Open/Getty Images Although horticulturalists don’t categorize ants as a garden pest, most people consider the ant an unwelcome tenant in the flower garden. Ants are aggressive, especially the notorious fire ant of the South, which seems to expand its territory northward year by year. Some ants maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with aphids. Ants can also ruin an otherwise perfect spring bouquet of peonies. It’s unreasonable to try to exterminate ants completely in a flower garden, but you can control them without resorting to harmful chemicals. Create Homemade Ant Repellent Ants are very sensitive to odors, as any picnicker can tell you. Just as they are attracted to sweets, certain smells repel them. Experiment with cotton balls soaked in ant-repelling essential oils. Ants detest mint, camphor, tansy, and clove oil. You can also grow your own ant repellent in the vegetable garden. Place hot peppers in a blender with a bit of water to create a dense mash, which you can spread in problem areas. An Easy Way to Kill Ant Colonies The same pesticides that kill ants are also toxic to many insects that gardeners want around the flowerbed, like Monarch butterfly caterpillars and ladybugs. However, baits laden with insecticide are more likely to target just the ants. You can mix a cup of borax with a cup of honey or jelly and place it near an area of ant activity. Ants will feed and carry this toxic mixture back to their queen, which will result in the death of the colony. You must be patient to see the results of this method, for the borax is a slow-acting poison, which gives the ants time to distribute the toxin to others. If this homemade solution is too messy, you can purchase ready-made boric acid ant bait. Keep Ants off Flowers Ants are attracted to sweet foods, and this includes many fruits and some nectar-rich flowers. Peonies, in particular, seem to attract ants just as buds turn to blossoms. Although ants rarely inflict damage to flowers or fruits, no gardener wants to mar the joy of harvest with a handful of swarming ants. You can use sticky traps to prevent ants from ascending the plant of concern. Buy a commercial sticky product, such as Tanglefoot, or make your own sticky traps from adhesive paper strips wrapped around the base of the plants. There are two ways to deal with ants on peonies. Cut the flowers when they have fully opened, as ants are attracted to the sucrose that collects on buds. If you cut the flowers in bud, refrigerate them immediately. Within 24 hours, the ants will become very sluggish, making it easy to...

Read More

New Plant’s Plants of the Week.

New Plant’s Plants of the Week.

This week we thought we would show case two varieties of plants. Euryops virgineus or honey Euryops, is a evergreen shrub about 1.5m, small leafed with mass of bright yellow flowers. It flowers from July to December. The nice part is it is endemic to southern Africa and does well along the coast. Grows in full sun and when established is wind and drought resistant, which is a bonus.Next is the Gazania gazoo mix, compact groundcover with stunning big bright flowers, colours ranging from orange, red, yellow and cream. Flowering all year round, giving plenty of warmth to the garden. Plant in full sun. May you have a super week! Kind regards, The New Plant Team Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new...

Read More