The ideal garden soil is deep, loose, fertile, and well-drained (internally as well as on the surface), has plenty of organic matter, and is free of weeds and diseases. Such soils are difficult to find, but with proper preparation and management, less-than-ideal soils can be productive.
Water moves quickly through an internally well-drained soil and never completely shuts off air movement. Drainage is important because roots cannot develop, live, and function without a constant supply of oxygen.
Clay soils dry slowly after a rain because the spaces in them are small and water moves through them slowly. Sandy soils, on the other hand, have many spaces and dry out quickly. Clay and sandy soils can be partially changed to substitute for a rich loam by adding organic matter. Increasing the organic matter content of a clay soil improves the tilth, makes it easier to work, and improves the internal drainage. Adding organic matter to a sandy soil increases its water-holding capacity and improves its fertility.
The garden soil affects the way vegetable plants grow and look. When soils are cold, wet, crusty, or cloddy, seedlings are slow to emerge and some may not survive. Root rot diseases may take a heavy toll on seedlings, especially beans. Other soil-related plant symptoms are short plants, slow growth, poor color, and shallow and malformed roots. Soil symptoms of poor structure are crusts, hard soil layers below the surface, standing water, and erosion.
Increase the soil’s organic matter content by adding manure, composted leaves, sawdust, bark, or peatmoss; or by turning under plant residues like sweet corn stalks after harvest, and green manure crops (soybeans, rye, southern pea plants, and others). Plant residues should be free of diseases if they are to be added to the garden soil. Cover crops, such as clovers and vetch, planted in the fall prevent soil erosion and leaching of plant nutrients. They also provide organic matter and nitrogen when turned under in spring.
Manures vary in their content of fertilizing nutrients. The amount of straw, age, exposure to the elements, and degree of composting change their composition. Be careful not to over-fertilize when applying chicken litter to garden soil. Use no more than 200 pounds per 1,000 square feet of garden space. Animal manure is lower in nutrient content than poultry manure and can be applied at the rate of 250 to 300 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Overuse of manures can add so much salt to the soil that plant growth is harmed. Most organic materials release some nutrients quickly and the rest over a period of time. (See Organic Gardening, page 5.) Even though adding organic matter improves soil fertility, manures and plant residues are not balanced fertilizers, and soils require additional fertilizer. Test soil every third year to be sure.
The 2021 Fall Flower & Garden Fest will return to an in-person event but will be modified because of the persistently high number of COVID-19 cases. The fest will be held 9 a.m. to noon daily Oct. 4-8 at the Mississippi State University Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs.
With the fall season slowly creeping in, there are many things to look forward to, including the drop in temperature. I enjoy watching the leaves change color and drop, too. That also means now is a great time to pull out your rakes, garbage bags, and compost bins and prepare to remove the leaves in your yard! Here are a few other things for you to accomplish in your garden and landscape during the month of September.
When members of the Jackson chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority brainstormed ways to serve their community, they decided to start a gardening project. Their plan was twofold: grow fresh produce for members of the community who could not get to the grocery store on a regular basis; and get community members involved and teach them how to grow produce. But they soon discovered they were going to need some guidance.
After a relatively mild summer, heat and humidity have arrived in full force in Mississippi. Going outside during the afternoon is miserable these days! If you’re like me, I try to get all my outdoor activities wrapped up in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat. Be sure you can recognize the signs of heat-related illness, and remember to drink plenty of water anytime you’re outside! Hydration is important!
It’s been an overall mild and rainy summer so far. If you’re like me, there no complaints with the mild weather. Mississippi is notorious for hot, humid summers so I’ll take slightly cooler temps any day of the week! July is a busy month in your yard and garden. Here are a few things to accomplish this month: