Gardening 101 – For Beginners

Why are soils important? Soils are the foundation of our growing cycle. The soil provides the basic nutrients and water source for plants. The type of soil and its quality will determine what type of plants can be grown as well as how well the plants will do. Soil type will also determine how well it holds the moisture, and the oxygen level within the soil. Both of which heavily impact the health of plants.

What are soils comprised of? Soil texture is comprised of three components. They are sand, silt, and clay. Depending on what is being grown, different soil compositions will be more desirable than others. Loam is comprised of 40% silt, 40% sand, and 20% clay. In addition to these three components, there will also be organic matter that is present in the soil as well. Most topsoils have around 5% organic matter, and black earth and organic soils have around 25% organic matter. Aquatic soil is comprised of almost 90% organic matter.

How do I tell what type of soil I have? Texture by feel tests would be as follows.

Clay test. Try and squeeze soil into a thin ribbon between thumb and forefinger. A clay soil readily forms a long, durable ribbon. A clay loam soil will form a ribbon but not a durable one of any appreciable length. A loam or sandy loam soil will not ribbon at all.

Sand and silt test. Sand feels gritty while silt feels smooth and floury. A moderately good ribbon with a smooth feel would be a silty clay loam, a sandy clay loam if it has a gritty feel. A clay loam would be if the smooth and gritty materials feel equal.

What are the differences in nutrients and micronutrients? The nutrients that are found in soil and that all plants need are broken up into three different groups. The first group is the primary nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These are the three numbers that are represented whenever you look at fertilizer bags. The easy way to remember what they are good for is the rhyme, “up-down-all around”. Nitrogen is important for green growth such as leaves, grass, etc., Phosphorus is important in the development of roots, fruits, and flowers. Potassium (or potash) is an overall feeder that helps the overall growth of the plant and aids in maintaining a strong, healthy, disease resistant plant. The second group of nutrients is secondary nutrients, Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulphur. These three nutrients are in lesser concentration than the primary nutrients, but are still important in the development of the plants. The third group of nutrients is called micronutrients and include Iron, Molybdenum, Copper, Boron, Zinc, Chlorine, Cobalt, Vanadium, and Manganese. While the primary nutrients are predominately found in fertilizers, the secondary and micronutrients are found in abundance in organic matter, such as composts and manures.

What are soil amendments? A soil amendment would be some compound that you add to the soil to change its composition. These would include peat moss, composts, sand, lime, sulphur, gypsum, and manures. Peat moss is usually added to sandy soils to help in the retaining of moisture, and can be used to help give substance to high porosity soils as well. Manures and composts are added to sandy soils, or poor quality soils that are nutrient diminished so as to bring up the level of secondary and micronutrients. Sand is used in heavy soils to add porosity and improve drainage. Gypsum is mostly used to break down clay soil and create a more porous soil type. Sulphur and lime are both ph modifiers and are used to either lower the ph (sulphur) or to raise the ph (lime). An ideal ph for most common plants is around 6.5, but can vary quite a bit depending on what the garden contains.

Why should I mulch? Mulching garden beds is a very useful way of maintaining a garden. By adding mulch to the top of a garden it is possible to maintain a higher level of moisture during the hot season, lessen the amount of weeds that are present, thus diminishing the nutrient loss to competing plants, as well as making the area cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing.

What type of mulch should I use? There are many types of mulch available including cedar mulches of many colours, pine bark nuggets, composted pine mulch, coco mulch, river rocks, and marble chips to name just a few. The most common mulch sold at Ritchie’s is cedar mulch. It is very popular because of its wide variety of colours, and that it helps greatly in moisture retention and weed control. While the other mulches have their benefits as well, it really depends on what the mulch is meant to do. If you want something of a certain colour, or look, then that takes precedence, whereas if you are looking for something that is best at holding the moisture in the soil, or minimizing weeds, then cedar mulch would work best. Cedar Pine Nuggets Coco Mulch Various rocks Moisture retention high medium high low Weed Control high medium medium low Cleanliness medium high medium high Ease of use high high low high

Why are plants sold in different formats? Plants can be bought in many different ways. Plants available in the bare root format would include many types of perennials, fruit vines, cedars and other hedging materials. These plants are usually the most common plants that are available, or are very quick to propagate. Since they are sold in bare root format they are less costly, however they are also more difficult to grow and have a higher mortality rate. They also have to be planted very quickly from when they are made available as the roots start to dry out if they are left in the open too long. Most plants are usually available in pots. This format gives the plant the best survivability rate because the plants are in a container that helps to keep the roots moist and protected. The plants can live for a long time period and as such, even if they have been in the garden center for a long period of time, they are still viable and have a high rate of survivability. Larger plants may be available in pots, or in ball and burlap, which means they have been dug out of the field, and put into a metal cage, or a burlap sac, and then tied in a ball. This format allows for larger plants to be transported and transplanted with good success rates. The plants may take longer to recover from being dug up, but can be obtained at larger sizes than can be found in pots.