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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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Black Bird-berry in flower!

Black Bird-berry in flower!

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman Jones Photographs: Margaret Richards In November last year I featured this decorative shrub – Psychotria capensis – which is so enjoyed by a variety of birds as well as being extremely attractive with its shiny, dark-green leaves, little golden yellow flowers and red berries ripening to black. It is also easy to grow in sun or shade and with a thick layer of mulch will grow in any soil and only requires watering in very dry conditions. In the wild it grows from Knysna through the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe in evergreen forests, forest margins, in shrub and dune bush and along rivers. Two years ago we managed to track down a good young specimen and planted it with much anticipation. The shrub settled in well and grew steadily — but with no sign of any flowers or berries. Just more and more lovely glossy dark-green leaves.  This year I was starting to feel really despondent given the long drought conditions accompanied by the blasting it received from the ferocious hot berg wind in June. However, early in September we were delighted to see tiny bunches of shiny bright lime green buds appearing, looking very like some sort of artificial fruit. All September we waited and waited for the flowers to open. Gradually the lime green buds starting getting a yellow glow, and finally in the middle of October two tiny flowers opened in the top bunch. Each day more golden yellow flowers opened, being encouraged by the October showers followed by days of sunshine. By mid-October the entire bush was a mass of tiny yellow flowers. Carpenter bees have been investigating the flowers in search of nectar, and no doubt other bees and insects will soon be joining them. The next stage of this rewarding shrub will only happen from late summer onwards when red berries start forming and gradually turn black as they ripen. It will be interesting to see which birds discover it first – no doubt our resident robin will claim priority and then allow the usual suspects – bulbuls, mousebirds and other fruit-eating birds to join in as the berries multiply during autumn. It is surprising that more Knysna gardeners haven’t planted this shrub as it would be an ideal addition to any garden, particularly for those of you who are busy re-establishing gardens.   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...

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Bug Hotels

Bug Hotels

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman Jones. What a radical concept these are for gardeners of the 21st century! For years we have been concerned with a fight against ‘pests’ that have munched all the new fresh green shoots on our plants, laid eggs on their leaves to ensure that hatching larvae would have a good meal, and burrowed into the earth chopping off each new seedling as it emerged. Then there were suggestions about which pesticide or herbicide or insecticide was suitable to combat these enemies – numerous poisons were developed to ensure that our plants survived and flourished in the 20th century. Gradually a suspicion developed that perhaps all these pesticides, herbicides and insecticides were having a detrimental effect on the wider ecology of our planet. Various alternative recipes were circulated to deter pests without harming the earth. Then – shock/horror – there was the suggestion that poisons were actually harming the ‘good’ insects i.e. the pollinators like bees, butterflies, flies, wasps etc. which the human race needs in order to survive, as they ensure that the plants we eat continue growing. Gardening books, websites and blogs suddenly became full of articles about how to attract ‘good’ insects to our gardens, while still suggesting ways of dealing with ‘bad’ insects. Now suddenly 21st century ecologists are telling us that there has been a significant decline in the number of flying insects over the last 20 years – declines of 76-82% in Europe – who knows what these percentages are in Africa? These insects are pollinators; or insects eaten by pollinators like birds; or insects eaten by other insects etc. All are vital in preserving the food chain. So now gardeners are being asked and pleaded with to build ‘bug hotels’ in their gardens to help insects survive. There are websites and numerous photos on the internet of designs for bug hotels; how to interest your children and grandchildren in making bug hotels; plans for trendy ‘designer’ bug hotels to enhance your garden. Please bugs, come back to our gardens – all is forgiven – you may eat some plants as long as you continue pollinating our plants so that the human race can survive. Why have insects declined? Some blame pesticides; some say monoculture; some say development of wilderness areas; some say sterile, bleak gardens with no place to hide. Clearly insects prefer untidy gardens, but if you prefer a neat, excessively tidy garden – please build a bug hotel. You will be contributing to the survival of the planet as well as to the lives of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.   Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click...

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