The secret to a healthy and vibrant garden lies underground, with long, deep roots seeking water and nutrients. By caring for the soil in our gardens seasonally, we can control weeds, conserve water and have optimal plant performance.
Once a year, in March or April, your plants will greatly appreciate a thick layer of mulch to break down throughout the year and to create airways in the soil for its roots to travel. If the roots of our plants have to battle their way through compacted soil to tap into water and nutrient sources, they might just give up! If you’ve ever pulled a dead plant out of the ground and found puny, shallow roots, this could be the reason. Gypsum soil conditioner is another powerful compaction combatant. If you dip a handful of clay soil into powdery gypsum, the clay will break apart in your hand!
Creating airways in the soil isn’t the only things mulch is good for. Mulch captures and absorbs water so that it doesn’t just run off into the gutter; instead percolating into your soil and conserving moisture. Water conservation is conscientious and cuts utility costs! Watering deeply and less frequently is much better than watering often. We want the roots of our plants to reach deeply into the ground to find water. Vigorous gardens have deep roots!
A weed infestation is usually a sign of a soil deficiency. Applying mulch annually and the appropriate fertilizer seasonally is the greatest defense against weed germination. The mulch snuffs out sunlight and the fertilizer helps correct the nutrient deficiencies that weeds thrive on. Be careful when choosing fertilizer; fast-release fertilizers are just a quick-fix solution that will give your plants instant nutritional gratification but then leave them suffering like drug addicts when the nutrients wear off! I like to use an organic, slow-release fertilizer which rations its nutrients slowly throughout the season.
Have patience in your garden. It takes time for new plants to acclimate to their new home in the ground, and for healthy garden practices such as soil amendment to activate. To learn more about caring for your soil, and other gardening related questions, just ask me, your Rose Park neighborhood gardener!
Susan’s pick for garden of the season
I really appreciate the garden in front of the apartment complex on the southwest intersection of 8th and Redondo. The plant placement is really smart and balanced, with tall plants covering unsightly views, shorter plants framing better views and trailing plants adding interest to an otherwise bare wall. The plants are placed with a fairly sufficient amount of space between them to sprawl out and achieve their potential girth, which can be a challenge as plants sometimes outgrow the space we set aside for them. Cheerful splashes of fuchsia and purple delight the calming color palette of soft greens and grays, and the architectural form of cordyline and bear’s breech juxtapose fluttery lavatera and silver sheen pittosporum. The elegance of this garden adds interest and beauty to the apartment building and to Redondo Avenue. It’s great example for other apartment buildings to follow!
When Susan’s not writing about gardens, she’s helping to create them at Dirty Roots Gardening. You can reach her by phone at (323) 422-0865 or by sending an e-mail to moc.gninedragstoorytrid@nasus.