Looking back over 25 plus years of down-in-the-dirt gardening, there are a number of important lessons that have etched a place in my mind. I hope you will find them worth sharing.
I learned that I could do everything right to introduce a plant into my garden but, if I failed to provide the proper soil, it struggled. Over the years I believe I have read thousands of plant descriptions in magazines, catalogs, and labels. I don’t have hard statistical data, but I am sure that well over 80 percent called for “moist, well-drained soil.” I have never had “moist, well- drained soil.” I don’t know anybody in my part of the world who does.
It took me awhile to realize soil’s importance to plant growth and somewhat longer to put in place a strategy to do it right. I took a course on garden design from Suzanne Edney, a marvelous designer and now good friend, from Apex, NC. During the course we visited various gardens in the NC triangle area, many of which had been developed by area plant professionals. I recognized that most of them were using raised beds heavily infused with soil conditioner. “Soil conditioner” in our area is another name for fine pine bark.
So I decided if I were going to have “moist, well-drained soil,” I would have to make it myself. Consequently, I made maximum use of raised beds and developed the following basic soil recipe (it also serves as my potting mix).
In a wheelbarrow mix well (I used a four-tined cultivator):
- 1 (40 lb) bag of commercial top soil (or equivalent bulk top soil)
- 1/3 (40lb) bag of cow manure/compost
- cover with 2″ pine bark soil conditioner
- 3 shovel-fulls of course builder’s sand
- 3-4 cups Greensand
- 2 (2lb) coffee cans of PermaTill® (or sharp gravel) (if you have voles)
Greensand is a slow-release, natural iron potassium silicate soil conditioner that contains a host of micronutrients. Sand and PermaTill®/sharp gravel increase aeration and drainage. I never used a micorrrhizal fungi inoculant, but I now read extensive and consistent recommendations to do so.
How I wish I had known about turning dirt into soil when I began to garden seriously.