A GROWING CONCERN: From great soil comes great plants

AS YOU SIT reading this, I am dumping mulch and bark from out of my work pants pockets.

Mulching is an annual ritual, performed every year for any client for whom I service flowering ornamental beds.

This chore includes the necessity of enriching the soil and improving the display of the flower bed.

In a couple more weeks the soil will dry out and I’ll be ankle deep in peat moss, rototilling away.

In short, these are jobs that ought to be done, and jobs that need to be done.

Bed preparation is more than simply putting on a little fertilizer and scratching the surface.

It is more complicated than making the area look neat and fluffed.

Bed preparation is a combination of improving soil, controlling weeds, manipulating focal view, adding a balanced nutrient program and crafting the area into a harmonized look.

Because it is still a little early for the likes of zinnias, marigolds, geraniums and a whole host of other sensitive annuals, it is a great time to prep those flower beds, window boxes, garden plots or change out the soil in your large containers — adding the old blend into your flower beds.

Just look for slugs hiding slug eggs, and take a trowel to smash the buggers so they don’t keep turning your primroses into holy plants.

I’ve talked before about the incredible advantage of organics in the soil, especially with our overabundance of rocky, sandy soils.

Peat moss is one of the miracle drugs of gardening, along with leaf mold and the compost pile soil. So to begin, add at least one inch of peat to all of your annual bed areas (did you use the brown 25-percent off ‘paper sack’ to buy your peat moss this year?).

Less than an inch of peat is a waste of time and money. From 2 to 3 inches is wonderful, especially in heavy clay soils.

But peat and other additives aren’t enough.

Excellent soil is comprised of numerous particle sizes. These various particle sizes prevent the soil from compacting.

They also allow for air gaps, water retention, water flow through the soil, and ease of root production.

Every year I lay down peat moss and add either coarse sand, mushroom mulch or aged manure. I use perlite and vermiculite, too.

These components are rotated each year so that every few years each bed will get peat and sand, peat and perlite, peat and mushroom mulch and so on.

You must remember that your plants are constantly eroding the organic material from your soil. With the help of worms and organisms dragging material into the lower levels, and with decomposing from water and sunshine, the useful layering of food results in beautiful plants and bushes.

Dig deeply around the edge of the flower bed or container, throw this soil to the middle and rake level.

This sharp edge allows the mulch and manures to stay in the bed, and allows a clean edge for mowing, keeping the grasses from spreading into the flower border too.

Lay down a well-blended mix of fertilizer containing both macro and micro-nutrients over the entire area.

On top of this, add your 1 to 3 inches of peat moss and then toss the bonus additive to this year’s cycle.

Shape the beds to some sort of tilted, crafted mount. A level bed substantially decreases the view of the area, so keep things “hilly,” making slow-moving, eye-catching waves in your soil (think movie theater seats where everyone gets a view because of the floor’s gradual slope).

If I have a straight bed along the house, then I want the front of the bed level with the grass, but the middle of the bed has an elevation upward a good 10 to 14 inches or more.

If it is a circular bed, the middle should be 12 to 24 inches higher than the surrounding edges.

In large pots, the soil should look like a little volcano, peaking directly in the middle of the container.

This slope idea really catches the viewer’s eye, making for a professional look.

The “secret” is to figure out from where the beds will be viewed — driving in the driveway at car seat height, or looking out from where you stand, washing the kitchen’s dishes.

So join me out there, putting in the necessary time tilling, composting, and crafting of those flower beds. This job pays back tenfold in looks and results, and you’ll get tons of compliments from your friends and neighbors along the way.

And when you add a germination inhibitor over these newly tilled and shaped beds (another big secret to my plant wizard status), then the lack of weeds for months to come will increase the look tenfold again.

Double bonus round

You’ll be wanting to keep that clothes washer in good working condition, because this can be a dirty job and you’ll be needing those work clothes cleaned and washed and ready for your next outdoor job. Take a hint from my sweetie pie, by emptying your pockets outside before heading into the laundry room, where yet another chore awaits.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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