Reader Question: Warm Season Turf Maintenance

Today’s Reader Question comes from Bill in Williamsburg:

I have a lawn that used to be primarily fescue. Over the past few years, bermudagrass has taken over the lawn and now it’s more bermuda than fescue. Can you let me know if the maintenance schedule is the same as it is for fescue? If not, can you let me know what I should be doing regarding fertilizer?

warm season turf maintenance

That’s a great question Bill and it’s quite timely too. We are in the middle of the warm season turf maintenance schedule and it’s not too late to begin yours. In case you’re not aware, bermudagrass is considered a warm season grass: it thrives during the warm part of the year. Fescue is considered a cool season grass as it performs best in the cooler parts of the year. With that being said, let’s look at the proper steps that need to be performed for warm season turf:

  1. Aeration – use a core aerator to aerate your soil. This lessens the effects of soil compaction as well as opens up little pockets of loveliness for items like compost to fill in.
  2. Perform a soil test – do this before adding any amendments to your soil so that you get a true reading of your soil composition
  3. Add compost – many people skip this step but if you want your turf to thrive instead of just survive, adding compost is a necessity. You only need to add a light layer, no more than a 1/4″ deep. By adding compost, you are feeding the soil which will in turn feed the plants.
  4. JJA Fertilization – JJA stands for June, July and August. Fertilize based on your soil test results applying no more than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 ft2.
  5. Dethatching – in the first few years that your bermuda is establishing itself, dethatching won’t really be necessary. As the stolons on your bermuda continue to grow upon themselves each year, they pile up and have a hard time breaking down into organic matter for your soil. By dethatching, you are removing the stolons that aren’t breaking down. Your turf will look thin once you’ve completed the dethatching but it will fill in quickly.

 

warm season turf maintenanceI want to mention that as you add compost to your soil, you will be able to reduce your synthetic fertilizer inputs. As you transition over to a healthier, organic soil you should be able to completely eliminate traditional N-P-K. Here’s a link to an article describing the myth of synthetic fertilizers that you may find helpful. Also, I have to give credit where credit is due; I have gleaned virtually all of my turf knowledge from one of my co-workers, Brian Williams. He is a wonderful resource and without him, I wouldn’t have the “how-to” part of turf maintenance in my repertoire. Thanks Brian!

If other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have helpful hints or tips for warm season turf maintenance, leave me a comment below or shoot me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

Friday Free for All: Backyard Chickens

backyard chickensBefore we start discussing chickens, I want to let you know that I don’t have any chickens. I’ve never had any chickens, backyard or otherwise. My husband and I were determined to get a few girls last year but our resident raccoon population deterred us. That and the fact that our backyard is uneven…we couldn’t figure out how to keep the backyard chickens safe from predators. We didn’t want them in a coop…we wanted them on fresh green grass in a tractor.

A tractor? For those who aren’t familar with chicken tractors, they’re essentially a movable pen that has a run for them to access fresh ground each day and a coop where they can be safe at night. Here’s a visual for you:

backyard chickens
Photo courtesy of www.wikipedia.org

 

Chicken tractors can be simple or complex…cheaply made or extravagant. It’s up to you…the chickens won’t mind either way.

What are the benefits of backyard chickens?

  1. Backyard chickens are composting machines. Throw in your kitchen scraps and you get manure and eggs. Seems like a good trade off to me.
  2. They can help with insect control. We have all sorts of little creatures crawling around in our backyard. Chickens can help with ticks, beetles, spiders, caterpillars, grubs…you name the insect and they’ll pretty much eat it.
  3. They can improve your soil. As they’re busy ingesting all of the yummies that you give them and the goodies they find on their own, they’re producing manure for you. Chicken manure has to be composted before it can added to your garden but if you move them daily, the fertilizer they leave behind on your lawn will be just fine.
  4. Backyard chickens can clean up your garden for you. If your girls are in a tractor, move your tractor to your garden a few weeks before you’re ready to plant. They’ll go after any insects that are hanging out waiting for your veggies to be planted, they’ll weed the garden (to a point…they are chickens after all) and they’ll fertilize. When you’re finished with the garden in the fall, let them back into the garden to clean up insects that are left behind. They’ll scratch your weeds into the soil and fertilize again.
  5. Eggs! Unless you’re a vegan, eggs are enjoyed by most people in one form or another. You may not want scrambled eggs every morning (I do!) but chances are you bake a cake once in a while. Studies have shown that eggs from backyard chickens and those raised on pasture have the perfect ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Eggs that you purchase from the grocery store are more than likely from chickens raised in confinement housing and their fatty acid ratios are completely out of whack. Here’s a picture I took of eggs from my local producer, Cardinal Hill Farms, and those from the grocery store. The eggs from the grocer are touted as cage free, certified organic and vegetarian fed. Besides the fact that chickens are omnivores, let’s see what the picture reveals.

 

backyard chickens

The locally produced egg’s yolk is deep orange and sits up nice and proud whereas the cage free, “certified organic” egg’s yolk is pale yellow and flat. I’ll take my non-certified organic, locally produced egg any day.

The last thing I want to discuss regarding backyard chickens is meat. Also known as broilers, meat birds are raised for well, ummmm, meat. It may seem cruel to you to butcher your own birds but I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s not. I volunteered at Avery’s Branch Farm in Amelia, VA on Tuesday to help them process chickens. I don’t have any pictures to share but here is a video from Polyface Farms showing their operation. It’s worth watching!

I was hesistant about the whole process at first but I felt like it was important to know how chicken processing works on a family farm. It’s not nearly as horrible as people think it is. The chickens are put in killing cones where two cuts are made on each side of the neck. The chickens bleed out quickly, in usually less than a minute. They are then placed in scalding water to help loosen the feathers and then they are plucked in a plucker. The heads are removed, then the feet and the oil gland are removed and then they are eviscerated. I worked at the evisceration station for most of the process and it’s actually a pretty cool process. You learn the anatomy of the chicken and it truly makes you realize how impossible it is to pay 99 cents per pound for a chicken that is actually healthy for you to eat. We processed 300 chickens that day. Three hundred chickens that will be sold to support a family farm.

So, do you have backyard chickens? Are they in a coop or tractor or free range? Do you have layers or broilers? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

 

Friday Free For All: Using Water Wisely

Well, it’s happening already. The Mid-Atlantic gardening region is dry. Granted, we have 1″-2″ of rain expected this weekend but the rain has been pretty negligible in central Virginia since the middle of March. I hope that this isn’t a sign of things to come this summer. My mind has been churning about how much water we use. Not just my family or community but as a nation…as a world. Water is a renewable resource but that doesn’t mean that we can use it with reckless abandon. Let’s delve deeper to look at how we can use water more wisely in our gardens.

  1. Hugelkultur – if you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know that I am big fan of hugelkultur. It just makes sense…use wood that nature has provided for us to help plants through the dry spells. Check out the link for more information if you’re unfamiliar with the practice of hugelkultur.
  2. Reduce your plants dependence on irrigation – while it is vitally important to make sure that newly transplanted plants are watered until they can get their roots in the ground, it is generally not necessary to water them for the rest of their lives. We had an extreme drought in 2010 here in central Virginia and emergency water restrictions were put in place; those restrictions meant that you couldn’t water…at all. One of the reservoirs that feed our public water supply, Lake Chesdin, was all but reduced to a pond. It was truly an amazing sight to see. During that drought, guess how many times I watered, even before the emergency water restrictions were in place. Zero. Zip. Nada. I am of the mindset that my plants will either live or die trying. I don’t have the desire or time to water them regularly. So do you know what they do to compensate for my lack of interest? They send their roots further into the ground to search for their own water. For the record, I didn’t lose one plant during the drought either.

    using water wisely

    Lake Chesdin 2010 Photo courtesy of Richard MacDonald

  3. Water wisely – for those newly transplanted plants, get creative with your watering. For trees, water slowly and deeply to make sure that the rootball is being wet thoroughly. You can accomplish this in several ways. One way is by using a treegator. These are available in either donut shapes for multi-stemmed trees or upright bags that zip shut around the tree trunk. You fill them with water and the water drips out slowly and wets the rootball. If you want to make your own cheap tree gator, get a few 5-gallon buckets and drill tiny holes in the bottom. Set them around the base of the tree and fill them with water. The water will trickle out slowly and water the rootball. You can also just let the hose run at a trickle for a half hour or so at the base of the tree.using water wisely
  4. Mulch – mulching your garden will help to reduce evaporation and regulate soil temperature, both of which will reduce your plants need for water. Mulch should be applied 2″-4″ thick. If you apply it thicker, you will reduce the amount of oxygen that is penetrating into the soil and that will impair the plants’ root growth. For heaven’s sake, don’t end up with mulch volcanoes around your trees!
  5. Apply compost – this is such an important part of using water wisely. By adding compost, you are improving soil structure. By improving your soil structure, your sandy soil is able to hold more moisture and your clay soil begins to open up to allow water in. Adding compost is the magic ingredient that makes all of the other items we discussed today possible.

 

So what will you do in your garden to use water wisely this summer? There are many other ways to reduce your water usage and I’d love to hear what you are doing. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy Friday and happy gardening!

Friday Free For All: Veteran Compost Interview

 

veteran compostToday’s post is a first for Mid-Atlantic Gardening. Justen Garrity from Veteran Compost has agreed to be interviewed about his composting business. It is based in Maryland and provides a wonderful resource for veterans and gardeners alike. Veteran Compost’s tagline is “From Combat to Compost”…how awesome is that! Let’s learn more about Veteran Compost, shall we?

Q. What is the mission of your business?

A. Veteran Compost is a veteran-owned business focused on turning organic waste into high quality soil amendments, and hiring military veterans to staff our ranks.

Q. Who do you see as your ideal customer?

A. We work with two main groups of customers: commercial foodservice operations and compost users. All of our food waste comes from restaurants, schools, hospitals and hotels around the Baltimore Metro Area. We are always recruiting and adding new food waste customers. It’s amazing the amount of material that we collect, tons of food waste that would otherwise go to the landfill or incinerator. The other side of our business is compost sales. We produce compost, vermicompost, compost worms, and compost teabags. We sell directly to farmers, landscapers, and homeowners. Our products are available bagged or in bulk. Our customers tend to be people who understand the value of improving their soil and the benefits of compost.

Q. How does your compost differ from what’s available in big box stores?

A. Our compost is an all-natural, locally made product that is sourced from recycled material.  We also do not use any yard waste. This has become a big deal recently, since herbicides like Imprelis and Milestone (which are used on grass) can end up in yard waste compost facilities and contaminate the finished compost. We test all of our products in the greenhouse and in the laboratory. Quality is extremely important to us. You can see pictures of our process on our website and where our compost comes from. I don’t know that the big brands can claim that.

Q. How is your compost made?

A. Everyday we collect tons of food waste from local customers. That food waste is brought back to our farm in Aberdeen, MD and mixed with wood chips. It is placed in large piles that have perforated pipes underneath. Those pipes are tied into electric fans which are controlled by timers. By blowing air into the pile we are able to keep the material aerobic and compost it very rapidly. We constantly check the temperature and moisture levels within the piles, and adjust our airflow as needed. We compost our material at 140ºF initially in order to destroy any potential pathogens. After that, we work the material through several temperature ranges. At different temperatures, different microbes are active. So, by composting at different temperature ranges, we can coax out more microbes and create a better compost. We screen our compost to 3/8” or 1/2” and cure it before it is ready for sale. We go from raw material to finished compost in 90 days. This is without any odors or run-off and with minimal moving of the material so there is a lower carbon footprint.

Q. Describe your customers and the goods that they purchase. Do they pickup or do you deliver?

A. We offer pick-up on the farm of bagged or bulk compost and can also deliver material. While farmers and landscapers make up part of our customer base, our largest group is the homeowner or gardener. So, we are more than happy to arrange small orders and give soil and compost advice.  We also have several pick-up locations for bagged products, and thanks to the internet, we now ship compost worms and vermicompost throughout the United States. It is unbelievable the places that our worms have gone in the past two years.

Q. How can my readers become more involved with what you are doing?

A. Feel free to check out our website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.  We are always adding information on new food waste customers, farm happenings, and general soil and garden      information. Picking up at the farm is a great chance to look around and see what is going on. If you don’t live near Aberdeen, MD you can use our pickup locations in Media, PA; Columbia, MD; and Annapolis, MD or we can mail you compost worms, vermicompost, and compost tea bags.  Compost worms do surprisingly well being shipped via Priority Mail!

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your business?

veteran compostA. I guess I should explain a little bit about our worm compost operation. We gutted our horse barn a few years ago and filled it with long continuous flow worm bins. Periodically we feed our worms some of our finished compost.  Since compost worms tend to live near the surface, they move upwards to the new material. Meanwhile, we run a bar along the bottom of the bin, which drops finished vermicompost onto tarps. This vermicompost is screened to ¼” and is awesome for starting seeds, boosting houseplants, or making compost tea. The screening process also separates the compost worms out. Red Wigglers (compost worms) are great in a worm bin or a backyard compost pile.

Wow, what a great business model Justen is using for his business. He’s helping gardeners, commercial landscapers, farmers, foodservice companies, veterans and the environment. That’s a green business that is really making a difference. If you live in the Maryland area, stop by and see Justen and the folks at Veteran Compost. If you’re further away, consider ordering some of his vermicompost, compost worms or compost tea bags. Your plants will thank you for it! Let me know if you’ve used any of Veteran Compost’s products by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

February 17, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Reader Question: Compost for the Veggie Garden

 

Today’s reader question is from Veronica in Virginia Beach, Virginia:

I am working on planning my vegetable garden and I’ve been thinking about what kind of compost to add to the garden. I have a small compost pile that I’ve made from kitchen scraps but I’ll need more for the garden. I’ve used horse manure in the past but ended up with a garden full of weeds as a result. I’m also wondering if I need to add compost at all since I added it last spring. Thanks for any suggestions.

Well Veronica, let’s address the issue of whether you need to add compost…the answer is positively yes. With rare exception, you can never add enough especially in a veggie garden. The plants in the garden are sucking so many nutrients out of the soil that they have to be replenished, preferably through compost instead of synthetic fertilizers. Compost will undoubtedly improve the structure of your soil, which in turn will allow the soil microbes and earthworms to do their jobs better. It also makes it wickedly easy to plant when the time comes!

Compost for the veggie garden

Photo courtesy of Red Worm Composting

As for the type of compost to apply, it is really up to you and what is locally available. Perhaps you can add your kitchen scrap compost as a topdressing to the plants, depending on how much you have available. I recommend finding a good source of horse manure for large applications. It is vitally important that the manure be well aged otherwise you will end up with weeds as you did in the past and there is also a chance that the manure will be too “hot” and could burn your plants. Aged manure that is blended with sawdust or wood shavings is ideal as it contains a better ratio of carbon to nitrogen.

If you are lucky enough to have a rabbit or neighbors with a few bunnies, try to scrounge all of the poo you can get. Rabbit manure is the only animal manure that can go straight from the animal to the garden with no ill side effects. I like to use it as a topdressing for plants or to add to the planting hole.

Adding compost to the garden every chance you get is your best defense against pest problems too. Pests have an innate ability to tell which plants are stressed and they hone right in on the ones that are lacking water or nutrition. By living in Virginia Beach, I assume that you have very sandy soil and compost will do wonders to add to the water retention capabilities of your soil. If in doubt about any problems in the garden, add compost! Let me know what types of compost you regularly add to your garden by leaving a comment below or sending me an e-mail at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

Organic Gardening vs. Conventional Gardening

 

Sorry that I didn’t post yesterday…my son had a birthday party to go to and we didn’t make it home until late. I thought that I would make it up by posting today instead.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about organic gardening versus the conventional way of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. My personal philosophy revolves around working with the natural cycles that Ma Nature has laid down well before my existence on this planet. I am an environmentalist with a little e, not an Environmentalist with a big E. To me, the difference between the two is that the big E folks tend to treat the earth almost like a religion. I prefer to put my belief system in God and his Son Jesus Christ. If you’re thinking that perhaps I’ve gone off on a tangent, you’re right…the more you get to know me, the more you’ll understand that’s a tendency of mine. My environmental stance is that we should leave the world a better place than we found it for our children and grandchildren. That means that we shouldn’t carelessly apply fertilizers and chemicals without realizing their repercussions.

Many gardeners will apply nitrogen based fertilizer in the spring and then wonder why they have aphids literally sucking the life out of their plants. Or they’ll treat their plants with imidacloprid and then wonder why they have an explosion of spider mites. The answer to both of these problems is that there is an imbalance. In the fertilizer example, the plants are growing at such a fast rate that they invite aphids to take them over. Aphids love fresh new succulent growth and by applying high nitrogen fertilizer, you have pushed the plants past their normal level of growth which triggers the aphid infestation. With the imidacloprid, you have successfully killed off the insects (six legs) that were troublesome but you have opened Pandora’s box for spider mites (eight legs) because there are no longer any natural predators to keep the mite population in check.

What would have happened if you wouldn’t have put down any more nitrogen in the spring? Unless you have very poor soil, the plants would have flushed out from their winter dormancy and probably done very well. If there was a nutritional deficiency, there’s a magic soil amendment that would have taken care of it…COMPOST! If we as gardeners would focus more on feeding the soil instead of feeding the plants, our results would be amazing. But instead, we see that the plant looks a little yellow so we put down fertilizer on everything. Or worse, we fertilize every spring because that’s what we’ve always done. Another thing that we could do instead of fertilizing is take a soil sample and determine the pH of the soil. Many nutrients, including iron, are unavailable at certain pHs and that can make your plants look chlorotic.

What would have happened if you didn’t apply imidacloprid to your willow oaks to treat for scale? If you noticed the problem before the temperatures were above 80 degrees, you could have applied dormant horticultural oil which would have smothered the scale. One of the attractive features of imidacloprid is that it has residual activity since it is taken up by the tree into the phloem. If an insect feeds on it after the chemical has been applied, then the insect is also consuming the insecticide. But on the flip side of things, can you see the problem that this presents? All of the predatory insects are also killed and as a result, you have an explosion of spider mites that you now have to contend with.

Now I have to admit, I spray glyposhate based products such as RoundUp or RazorPro to deal with weeds and I’ll use MiracleGro on plants that are showing nitrogen deficiencies. But I only do these things after I have determined that the real problem isn’t something else that is manifesting itself as a deficiency. And I’ll add compost to the soil to try to fix the real problem…soil fertility. Again, it’s not a plant fertility problem, it’s a soil fertility problem.

I’ve been learning a lot about permaculture lately and Jack Spirko from The Survival Podcast has been my primary source of education. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a daily podcast that he produces on a wide array of topics from gardening to food storage to prepping. The founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison has described permaculture as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single project system”. I think that’s a pretty accurate description of how we should see any gardening that we do. Whether you enjoy vegetable gardening, woody plants, herbaceous perennials or annuals, we need to see the system as a whole, instead of just its parts. By doing this, we can ensure that our children and grandchildren are left with a planet that can sustain them and many generations to come.

I’d love to hear how you’ve incorporated organic gardening principles into your landscapes. Or perhaps you haven’t and can’t see a reason to start doing so…I love a good debate and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comment section below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

December 10, 2011Permalink 2 Comments

Gardening Calendar: December

 

So it’s finally December in the garden…the time of the year when you can reflect on what you really enjoyed about the garden this past year, look at what needs improving for the upcoming year and ponder any new gardening projects. But there are tasks that are perfect for accomplishing in December and that’s what we’ll look at today.

 

  • By now, most of your deciduous plants should have been taken down by the freezing temperatures. If your perennials have turned into brown clumps of mush, go ahead and remove the foliage and add it to your compost pile. If some of your deciduous perennials still have green leaves, it is best to leave them so that the plant can continue to photosynthesize and add to its stores for next year.
  • Depending on how meticulous you want your garden to be, you can remove any fallen leaves from the bases of shrubs to allow for good air circulation around the stems. If you have had fungal problems on your shrubs, it’s a pretty good bet that the spores are on the fallen leaves so removing them now can save you a ton of headaches in the spring. Unless your compost gets really hot, it’s wiser to bag the diseased leaves to avoid risking spreading the disease around.
  • If you’re like me, I tend to wait until the majority of the tree leaves have fallen before cleaning them up so now is the time to work on this project. I have woods behind me so I am able to blow them into the woods…it also serves as a sort of stockpile where I can go to obtain leaves when I need them for the compost pile or for mulching the veggie garden. If you have a bagging mower, chop them up and then use them as mulch…see my Healthy Soil article for more information.
  • The biggest chore for December is probably pruning. Now that the stems are bare, it is the perfect time to remove crossing branches on trees and shrubs. You can also remove wayward branches on evergreen shrubs such as hollies and osmanthus. If you are looking to shape your hedges, you’re best to wait until we get closer to spring. Severe pruning will often force new vegetative growth that is easily killed by freezes and late spring frosts.
  • The most exciting gardening chore for me in December is poring over seed catalogs that inundate my mailbox beginning in mid-November. My mind races as I read the descriptions of ‘Amish Paste’ tomatoes and ‘Mandurian Round’ cucumbers. While the sheer number of cultivars are overwhelming, I still make list after list of those I’d like to try. I try to pare it down to a reasonable number, but I am usually met with failure…last year I grew 13 different types of tomatoes.

 

The gardening calendar for December is relatively short but this is just the beginning of an ever-growing list of garden chores that need to be accomplished. By no means is it exhaustive…I’d love to hear what your plans are for your garden in December. Please share them in the comments section so that other gardeners can benefit. If you have any thoughts or concerns, please e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

Healthy Soil

 

When you hear the word soil, you may be thinking of the red clay in your backyard or perhaps your sandy soil that drains water as quickly as you apply it. While both of these describe soil by its very definition, healthy soil is a vibrant dance of microorganisms, organic matter, small bits of rocky material and sheer beauty.

Healthy soil is soil where plants flourish, earthworms eat and poop with reckless abandon and water and air are in almost perfect balance. This may be a far cry from where your soil is now but there is one magic bullet that can fix almost any soil…compost. Most gardeners are well aware of the benefits of compost; that it adds aeration to clay soils and helps bind sand particles together. But many people aren’t aware that even a small amount of compost, when measured by total soil volume, can yield huge results in soil quality.

Consider this for a moment: it is fairly common for disturbed soils (that includes the great majority of soils in subdivisions) to be comprised of only 1.5% to 2% organic matter. The other 98% to 98.5% is made up of soil particles like clay, silt and sand. If you increase the organic matter only a small percentage, the clay particles start to break apart to allow water to pass through and the sand particles start to stick together to keep water from moving so fast through the soil. The great Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia has increased his percentage of organic matter from 1.5% to 8% over the past 50 years by allowing the carbon cycle to occur without negative interference.

Let’s look at how nature does this without any assistance from us. In a deciduous forest, like the great majority of those on the East Coast, the trees produce an absolutely astounding amount of leaves each spring and summer. The leaves assimilate and process sunlight and at the end of the season, the trees drop all of these leaves around their feet. The leaves contain some of the nutrients that the far reaching root systems have mined throughout the year and now they are being placed exactly where they are needed…at the trees’ roots. These leaves are compressed by rain, snow and animals big and small who walk on and through the leaves, thereby speeding their decomposition. Each year these leaves are on the sliding scale of breaking down from oak leaves larger than your hand to pieces that are hardly even recognizable. All of this is adding organic matter, or nature’s compost, to the soil. The result is healthy soil that is loose and friable.

Contrast that to the typical neighborhood yard with a couple of trees. The leaves are collected in the fall and removed from the area completely, sometimes even bagged to be taken to the landfill. Then we apply mulch around the trees and wonder why our soil becomes poorer and poorer with each passing year. What we have essentially done is removed all of nature’s fertilizer and compost.

The first step to improving your soil is to begin adding that compost back to the soil. Start a simple compost pile in your backyard and/or shred the leaves and then apply them in a layer under the mulch you usually use…just be sure to keep the total depth of mulch in the 2″ to 3″ range. In the case of mulch, more is not better. See my mulch volcano article for more info on that. If you’d like to improve the appearance of your lawn, when you aerate in the fall, apply a 1/4″ to 1/2″ layer of compost and then overseed. If you keep this process going, you should be able to eliminate or drastically reduce the amount of synthetic fertilizer that you have to apply to cool-season turf in the fall.

If your tomatoes seemed stunted this year, add compost. If you are planting a new Camellia this fall, add compost. If your Astilbes seem a bit chlorotic, add compost. You get the point…compost is king. Without it, all you end up with is DIRT. And dirt won’t give you the results that you are capable of producing!

I’d love to hear your stories of growing great soil and the results of your hard work. E-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com or add it to the comment section below.

November 16, 2011Permalink Leave a comment