Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Let's talk dirty. It's all in the soil.

"Let's talk dirty, it's ALL in the soil."  I was on a job today that reminded me of how I used to say that in a jokingly, suggestive sort of way.  As any serious gardener knows, it's true.  When you skimp on soil, your plants pay the price.  Roots waste energy fighting their way through heavy soil and clay.  Except for extremely hardy plants, most will gradually (or not so gradually) die away. Soil rich in organic matter not only holds much needed moisture, but provides nutrients on which plants thrive.  You cannot have a Victory Gardens garden without the Victory Garden's soil.

Beautiful mushroom compost from a local nursery.
It is only dirt when you track it in the house.

Just because you buy soil does not mean it is good for your plants.  If it feels heavy or like a brick in the bag or heap, it will work about as well as growing plants in a brick.  If you do not have a compost pile, it is worth the extra money to buy a high quality compost (professional potting mix in a pinch), not just for planting in, but replenishing and mulching existing gardens.  Your plants will repay you in full.

Also see Why Organic Garden?


  1. Well, I went through your Obsessed Gardener website and now I'm gonna try and get through the Garden Rambles blog! :)

    So I have a question for you, I do have compost that I've mixed in a lot of my garden areas, but I started a new garden in my front lawn between two large maple trees. My hubby roto tilled the area really well, but I did not mix in the compost in this garden. It was late at night when we finished and were to tired. The next day I started planting things. Now I'm concerned about how my plants will do in this area. I read on another blog, http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2012/11/panic-time/, that just adding shredded leaves into the garden will help the soil. Am I sol? I planted tons of things, hydrangeas, perennial plants, bulbs, etc.

    Margaret @ Live Like No One Else

  2. Shredded leaves are great, but you have to add a lot. I'm not big on tilling. It mixes oxygen into the soil which causes organic matter to break down faster and the soil to revert to what you started with. It's not necessarily a bad idea to amend and till the soil before starting, though if I have enough good soil and compost to plant in, I don't like mixing clay into it with a tiller. That's one advantage of raised beds. I prefer to add a lot of compost to generous size planting holes and as a thick topping to the garden and let the worms mix it in. What scared me more about your question is the part about two large maple trees. Some maples are worse than others, but generally speaking, they have very greedy roots that make gardening difficult. Watch the Hydrangeas in particular, as they love organic matter and moisture. They, as well as some of the perennials, may need to be moved no matter what you do with the soil.

  3. Wow, you are very knowledgeable. I did read that you med your fiance working at a garden? Is that what you do full time? Thank you for your feedback. I have daylilies and black eyed susans that grow around the maples and do just fine. Never any problems. But now I'm a little worried. I guess I will see how things go. I will do as you suggested and bring in compost on top of the garden around the plants. Thank you so much! :)

    Margaret @ Live Like No One Else

  4. Yes, I met Jim at a botanical garden we both volunteered at. I was later hired and worked part time there until a few years ago when I quit because I was needed at home more. I still do gardening work, mostly for people who are no longer able to maintain their own gardens.

  5. Awesome. I would love to volunteer at our Chicago Botanical garden, but with 3 younger kids and a business, I feel guilty about the all the time I spend in my garden.

    Curious if working in other people's gardens is as enjoyable as working in your own?

  6. I started volunteering with my son when he was seven and he continued some even after I was hired. He really enjoyed it and was especially proud of getting the Gold Level President's Volunteer Service Award http://www.presidentialserviceawards.gov/ and other awards from the park district.

    Generally speaking I do enjoy working in others' gardens. Most of the ladies I work for are serious lifelong gardeners who frequently work with me to some extent in the garden. Not only do they share their knowledge, they share starts of awesome plants. This year I have not done much work though. For the first five months of 2013 I took care of my Grandma 24/7 while she was on hospice care. It took a toll on me and I am still trying to recoup and get into the swing of things.

  7. That's awesome about your son. I have to say that my kids do enjoy it a bit. My youngest who is 8 now is always bringing home seeds from neighbors, etc. And they are pretty knowledge with plant names now too! :)

    So sorry to hear about your grandma. :(

    I somewhat familiar with your situation. About 13 years ago, my FIL fell down the stairs and messed up his brain. We didn't think he would make it through (the drs. gave him little chance). Well he did make it through, but also needed 24/7 care and my hubby took off several months of work to help him and then I had my 2nd son and quit to be home with him and care for my FIL as well.

    Hope you quickly recoup!