Dirt is dirt, right? Let’s face it, nothing is ever that easy. However, planting your flowers or vegetable plants in the “right dirt” will definitely make your life easier in the long run.
First thing’s first, get your garden soil tested. Go to the Extension Office (see address below) and purchase a soil test kit. For a few dollars, you will not only get the information back you need on what your soil is currently made up of (including the pH), but you will also get recommendations on what amendments to add for the plants/crops you wish to grow. You will be throwing your money away if you plant that expensive azalea in soil with a high pH. Likewise, a lilac, zinnias or hen and chicks (that “anyone can grow”) are not going to tolerate acidic soils very well.
What about all the clay in our Southwestern Pennsylvania soil? Some plants, like irises, hosta and black-eyed susans, actually thrive in clay soil. It holds water and nutrients better than sandy soil. However, it can also hold too much water, like during the record-breaking year we all just endured. Regardless of how much clay, silt or sand your soil contains, amending it with some quality compost will add valuable nutrients (reducing the need for additional fertilizer – and saving you money) and improve drainage by helping the plants absorb the water they need to flourish.
What if you want to grow your own tomatoes, peppers, etc., from seed? It’s best to start those seeds in a sterile “soil-less” mix. I know, all of this talk about soil and now I’m saying to use soil-less? Yes, that is exactly right. The best reason to use a soil-less mix is because it helps control insects, diseases, bacteria, weed seeds and other fun stuff typically found in garden soil. Also, garden soil doesn’t drain nearly as well as a soil-less mix. While moisture is needed for starting seeds, soggy soil can lead to fungus and mold issues for those tender roots and baby plants. By giving your seedlings a healthy start, you will grow stronger plants that will thrive in your nutrient-rich, pH-ready garden soil you have prepared for them.
Learn lots more about soil and starting seeds at the Penn State Extension Washington County Master Gardener Spring Gardening Seminar on March 2. Watch for registration information in your mailbox, on Facebook, or contact the Extension Office at 100 W. Beau St., #601, Washington. 724-228-6881.