Preparing your Soil for Planting

(originally appeared in the March 2012 newsletter)

Prepare your soil before planting

When I first started gardening here in Greensboro, I was immediately confronted with the challenges of the native soil. Being a Northerner, I learned the fundamentals of gardening with soils which were naturally rich, dark, and loamy. Not until I moved here did I realize how much I took the quality of the soils in Southeastern Pennsylvania for granted. I’ve dug in certain spots around the Triad (including my own yard!) where I could’ve literally made a homemade clay pot in my hands.

Because of the high clay content of the soils in the Piedmont, it makes for quality brick production, but not so much for happy ornamental plants. The lack of porosity makes roots literally starve- very little nutrient, water, and air movement can occur. Amending the ground prior to planting is the most critical step you can take to ensure a successful garden.

 Before our crews plant anything, the texture of the soil is the first thing they assess. If you can grab a handful of soil and it forms a soft clump which then falls apart easily when you open your hand, your soil isn’t that bad off- a lot of amending isn’t necessary. If you grab a handful that forms a sticky ball that keeps its shape once you open your hand, you’ve probably got pretty high clay content and more amending will be required.

 The standard materials we use most often are bagged composted cow manure and soil conditioner (finely ground pine bark). For an annual bed these are spread at a depth of about 1-2” and tilled into the planting space to a depth of 6-8”. The amount used is dependent on how much clay you have. In severe situations, we may also till in porous mineral products like Permatil or calcined clay, which creates more porosity in the soil and offers more air to the roots. For singularly planted trees or shrubs, digging the hole 2 times the width of the root ball and using a shovel to incorporate these materials is sufficient. A loose, fluffy soil not only makes planting easier but allows plant roots to grow at their full potential, thus creating a healthy plant.  Other materials that can be used to enrich the quality of the soil are composted cow manure, mushroom compost, and Lime (to raise the naturally low pH of clay soil). To find out the pH of your soil, send samples to our local extension service-you can pick up sample boxes & instructions at New Garden's retail locations. Find out more at the NCDA website here. They will offer suggestions of how much Lime you may need to add.

Adding a good organic fertilizer such as Plant-Tone or Bio-Tone will also enrich the soil and add in beneficial micronutrients, all of which will make your plants take off and establish a healthy root system. When plants establish good roots from the get-go, they are more resilient during times of stress, like drought, pest infestations, and disease. Our retail stores carry soil amendments, including composted cow manure, mushroom compost, Plant-Tone and soil conditioner.

Remember, a successful garden starts with the soil. If it’s not properly prepared, then no amount of fertilizer you dump on the top after planting will improve it. If the thought of spending your spring weekends toiling in the dirt to obtain that wonderful summer garden doesn't thrill you, please consider using the services we offer here at New Garden. We have a Garden Enhancement Team which specializes in garden installations, as well as pruning, mulching, and leaf removals. Interested? Tell us what we can do for you here.

-Merideth Story

Garden Enhancement Tean, New Garden Landscaping & Nursery