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Archive date:  April 26, 2001

Proper Soil Preparation

Healthy Soil Makes for Healthy Plants

Before you begin spring planting make sure your bedding soil is at its best. A healthy soil, high in organic matter, will ensure the health of the plants you install.
The use of organic soil amendments will improve the texture, drainage, and nutrient availability in the soil. There are many types of soil amendments available. When selecting an amendment consider the plants you will be installing and their requirements as well as the current condition of your soil.
Most plants prefer a moist, well-drained, loamy soil high in organic matter. However, some plants, such as portulaca and purslane, prefer a dry, well-drained, sandy soil with very little organic matter. When planning a bed, select plants with similar soil, light, and water requirements.
To test the drainage of you soil dig a hole 1'x1'x1' and fill it with water. If it drains quickly the soil is sandy and will tend to be dry, if it drains in about an hour the soil is well drained, if the water holds for several hours the soil is poorly drained.
When adding soil amendments till in the amendments to at least an 18-24" depth.

Soil amendments and their uses:

Composted Manure is an excellent amendment, it improves soil structure, aeration, soil moisture-holding capacity, and water infiltration. Plus it acts as a fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients.

Organic Humus is the end product of decomposition of plants and animals, and the dead cells of soil bacteria and fungi. Humus improves the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of the soil. This means that Humus can hold onto nutrients in the soil and then release them later as the components in the soil water solution change.

Peat Humus can consist of hypnum moss, reed sedge peat, or woody peat. It has a low moisture-holding capacity, contains a small amount of nitrogen, and usually has an acidic pH.

Peat Moss consists of visible fibers of sphagnum, hypnum, and other mosses. It is lightweight, acidic (pH 3 to 7) and has a high moisture-holding capacity. Therefore, it makes a good soil amendment, or component of potting soil. The low pH of sphagnum peats (from 3 to 4.5) makes them better suited for use with acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas and blueberries.

Pine Fines Soil Conditioner may be used as a soil amendment or as a mulch. Pine fines are the very small pieces of pine bark that are removed during the screening process of aged pine bark nuggets, also used as a mulch. Because pine fines have such a fine texture they make excellent mulch for flowerbeds. As a soil amendment pine fines mprove drainage, add organic matter, and help to maintain an acidic soil as they have a low pH, great for acid-loving plants.

Earth Mix Topsoil Blend is a true topsoil blend mixed at Bates Nursery. It contains river bottom topsoil, ground and sifted to a consistent fine texture. The pure topsoil is then mixed with pine fines soil conditioner, mushroom compost, and other organic amendments. EarthMix may be used for filling imperfect grades, planter boxes, and outdoor container gardening. It is also great for topdressing as well as replacing and/or improving less than perfect soils.

Mushroom Compost components vary from company to company. The blend can include composted wheat or rye straw, peat moss, chicken manure, potash, gypsum, urea, ammonium nitrate,lime, and many other organic materials. Mushroom compost has a very high supply of nutrients and increases the water-holding capacity of the soil. However, it can be detrimental to seeds, seedlings and young plants when used fresh and undiluted. The soluble salts and other nutrients in fresh, undiluted mushroom compost, are too concentrated for germinating seeds. Salt-sensitive plants such as rhododendrons, blueberries and azaleas can be harmed as well. To reduce the concentration mix mushroom compost with another soil amendment such as pine fines.