Wendy's Wanderings

Wendy Wilber

April 7, 2016

Great Gardens Start with Great Soil

In my gardening classes I often ask, "Who has really good soil?" Most times the silence tells the truth about Florida's soils. Other times, one or two hands will go up and I can tell by their faces that these are gardeners that work on building their soil all year round.

When improving your garden soil, you can add up to one pound of organic matter per one square foot of soil, per season. So if you have a 10' x 10' garden space you can easily add 100 pounds of organic matter (like manure) each year.

Organic matter helps to increase the moisture-holding capacity of the soil, as well as the nutrient-hold ability of the soil. A great garden starts with great soil; that is truly where it all begins. I have heard people say that they "fertilize" with cow manure or another type of manure. The commercially available cow manure has a nutrient analysis of 0.5-0.5-0.5 which means in a 100-pound bag of manure, there is ½ pound of actual nitrogen. You would need a lot of manure to "fertilize" with cow manure.

Using your own compost is another way to add organic matter to your vegetable garden soil or landscape beds. Add up to one pound per one square foot of compost as well. Your compost should be finished before you put it in the garden. Finished compost is dark brown and crumbly, like a crushed Oreo cookie. You may need to sift the compost to get the right texture.

Another great source of organic matter for your landscape or perennial gardens is leaf mold, or partially decomposed, shredded leaves. This is made at home by shredding your own fallen leaves with a shredder or a mower and then raking them in a large pile, all the while turning and providing moisture. In about 8-12 months you have leaves that are nearly broken down and moist. Add this as a top dressing (3" thick) or work into the soil around your perennials in landscape beds. The first time I saw this being done was at the beautiful gardens at the Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina, and their gorgeous gardens made me a believer in leaf mold.

How ever you choose to amend your soil this season, it is a good idea to do a soil test so you know what your soil pH and nutrient status are. Have your soil tested or pick up a sample bag the next time you are at the Extension Office, because great gardens start with great soil.

-- Wendy Wilber

Return to the April 2016 Neighborhood Gardener