Home Gardeners told, ‘It’s not your fault,’ it’s the soil

Gardeners told, ‘It’s not your fault,’ it’s the soil

farm-droughtYear after year, some people have little success growing plants. Augusta County horticulturist Mark Viette believes many times it’s not their fault.

“When plants die in the garden, what do we do? We blame ourselves,” Viette said. “But I have to tell you, what I find is that many of us are dealing with imperfect soils, heavy wet soils, clay soils or soils that have been compacted by bulldozers and earthmovers to a density that’s thicker than concrete. And so our plants don’t thrive.”

Viette appears each month on Real Virginia, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s weekly television program. He can be seen on most public television stations in Virginia, many cable access channels, RFD-TV and the Farm Bureau website atVaFarmBureau.org/NewsVideo/VideoNewsFeatures/IntheGarden.aspx.

The solution to poor soil is simple but usually involves hard work, Viette said. Throughout his family’s own gardens, they have spent decades “double-digging” beds. The goal is to gradually build loose, crumbly soil that allows nutrients and water to reach plant roots easily.

“Have you ever heard the saying ‘a $10 hole for a $2 plant’?” Viette asked. “Well, there’s a reason for that saying. It’s really important that you prepare the soil even before you begin to think about what plant goes where.”

The most direct method of amending soil involves compost, organic fertilizer and possible mineral additives like green sand, he said. And the most important tools are a good garden fork and a strong back.

Spread a thin layer of compost, a handful of fertilizer and a handful of mineralizer for every couple of square feet, Viette said. Then start digging with your garden fork. Start shallow, a few inches deep, and turn the soil, breaking it up with the fork. Then dig deeper, using the fork to break up clods and incorporate the soil amendments.

“A plant fork will turn the old soil up as deep as 12 inches. That’s deeper than a rototiller will go,” Viette said. “You’ll get a workout, but your plants will love it.”

Once you’ve prepared garden beds, avoid walking on them or putting any weight on them.



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