GARDEN FOR FEBRUARY 17, 2007
Tips FROM MASTER
gardenerS PART I
BY GEORGE EDGAR
A garden writer for the Boston
Globe recently said that 80% of the people who garden are just starting
out or call themselves beginning level gardeners. Last year I asked the
Master Gardener Class to share with me what they would say if one of
these new or novice gardeners asked “How can I improve my
landscape?” Or “How can I make my flowers, shrubs, and trees grow
better?” The group broke into small groups and provided written tips
The #1 tip from
almost every group was improve your soil. When
starting a new garden or improving an existing garden, or prior to
planting a new lawn or shrub, add humus, such as compost, peat moss,
composted manure, leaves, grass clippings, or any organic matter to
improve your soil. DO NOT USE
CHEAP TOP SOIL that is sold by hardware stores, drug stores, box
stores and/or some garden centers. These cheap bags are usually not any
better than the soil you have now and some are not as good because they
have very little organic matter, which is what you need to improve your
bed. When I built my
house and started my vegetable garden, which is now a flower bed, I
double dug the new garden area even though it had very nice, black soil.
For over 40 years it has paid off and has been worth the initial effort.
Double digging means laying out your area and then digging down two
spadefuls deep for the width of the bed. I saved the dirt I took out and
used it at the end of the bed. In the bottom of this area I put leaves
and peat moss and then dug the next row and put the dirt over the leaves
and peat moss. I did this until I reached the end of the bed and then
put the saved soil over the humus in the last row. If you are starting a
new lawn you can add peat moss, compost, grass clippings, or composted
manure and then till this in. Anything to improve the organic matter in
the soil will be worth the extra time. After the grass comes up DO
NOT PICK UP GRASS CLIPPINGS as these clippings add humus to your
Every year in
my vegetable garden I dig in compost, and put a layer of compost over
the perennial flower beds. I also add a layer of compost to my
raspberries, rhubarb, asparagus, and peonies.
you start improving your soil, it is recommended that you get a soil
test so you know the pH level (how acid or alkaline the soil is). Most
good testing sites will also tell you, if requested, how much organic
matter is in the soil, and if you need to add any nutrients such as
nitrogen, phosphorous, potash, or micronutrients. Make sure you let
those who are testing your soil know what you are going to plant in that
area so they can give you a specific recommendation. This may mean a
separate test for your flower garden, your vegetable garden, your lawn,
and where you are going to plant a tree or shrub. To get your soil
tested, contact your County Extension Office for a packet of
instructions and a postpaid envelope to send to the University of
Nebraska Soil Lab. Some garden centers also have the packet.
The second tip
from the Master Gardeners is ASK
QUESTIONS and LEARN as much as you can about the plants you have or are planning
to buy. The following questions are important to ask before buying a
plant or planting one:
Does this plant like
sun, part shade, or full shade?
How tall and how wide
will this plant get? Is there room where you want to plant it? Do not
put a tree or shrub too close to the house or any out building. Give it
room to grow. Give vegetable plants room to grow. Especially vining
crops as some, such as pumpkins produce primarily at the end of the
vine. Lack of air circulation brings on disease problems for any
vegetable or flower plant.
How much fertilizer
does this plant need, if any, and how often?
How much water does
this plant need and how often? Will this plant tolerate wet feet? After
the first year or two will this plant tolerate a location that does not
get any water except the rain? Water is always needed the first year or
What kind of soil does
this plant prefer? That is, does it like sandy soil, well drained soil,
moist soil, and will it tolerate our hard clay soil? Also, what pH level
does this plant need? For example, Blueberries, Azalea, Rhododendron,
and some other plants prefer and need acidic soil (pH of 5 to 5.5) to
grow well. Our soil in Southeast and South Central Nebraska is neutral
with a pH of 6.8 to 7.2.
Will this plant reseed
itself or produce suckers or off shoots that get in the way? Will this
cause the plant to become invasive in the landscape?
Is this plant an annual
(grows one year and then dies), a biennial (grows one year, then in the
second year flowers and produces seeds, and then usually dies), or a
perennial (will live for a number of years in the right location with
the right care)? A catalog may list a plant as a perennial but does not
indicate in what zones. We are in USDA hardiness zone #5. Zone #6 starts
just south of the Nebraska border and what is a perennial there and in
Kansas City and especially in Wichita, may be an annual for us.
Find out what zone your plant will survive in.
Will this plant take
any special care during our hot, dry, summers or in our cold winters?
Every plant has special needs and/or preferences. Learn what those are
and you will be more successful.
If you want to have
a green thumb you need to ask questions and learn about your plants so
you can give them the care they need.
The last tip I
will share with you today from the Master Gardener Class is mulch,
mulch, mulch, mulch. Mulch will help control weeds, help
conserve valuable water during our hot summers, and moderate the
freezing and thawing cycles during the winter time.
2 to 3 inches is sufficient and more is not better. In fact, more
than 3 inches of mulch around your trees, roses, shrubs, and flowers
will make things worse. Gladys likes compost as mulch. I use wood chips
and compost. I use wood chips around my roses, trees and shrubs because
of the appearance.
I will share
more tips in another article but for now if you need more help contact
your County Extension Office, or ask a Horticulture professional, or
read about the plant in a good book or from a University based website.
If you learn about the plants existing in your yard, or plants you want
to add to your landscape, you will be surprised how green your thumb