Published on August 24th, 2016 | by Perrin0
Soil Conditioning, what and why
We are usually still enjoying summer at least at the start of September but soon gardeners’ thoughts will turn to the autumn planting season. Once air temperatures drop and we have some steady rain (theoretically after a warm, dry summer!) there are a few weeks when conditions are ideal for splitting, moving and planting new perennials and shrubs. The soil is still warm and contains plenty of moisture but the lower air temperature means that plants are not putting on ‘top growth’ and all their energy goes into growing a strong root system.
Thinking about planting inevitably brings me back to the importance of understanding your soil and how to look after it. The geology of our corner of Kent & East Sussex and the ‘speed of change’ as you drive around makes a quick look at what lies under you garden a vital first step. I have written before about the influence on soil of the underlying rocks so this month the focus is on soil conditioning to improve the capacity of the soil to hold water and nutrients and make them available to plant roots.
Well-rotted organic matter is the basis of all soil conditioner whether you make your own garden compost and leaf mould, or buy it in as farmyard or stable manure, local authority composted green waste, spent mushroom compost or any other composted, sterilised and shredded ex-plant material. All these products have some nutrient content after all the original plants took up and stored nutrients and these are retained when they rot down. The difference between soil conditioner and multipurpose compost is that the latter has an added nutrient content, usually enough to support 6 weeks’ growth.
Why do we need to add organic matter to our soil regularly? Well in nature, leaves fall and plants die and all this material remains on the surface to decompose and be dragged down into the soil by worms. Thus the organic matter and nutrient content of the top soil is constantly refreshed. In our gardens we grow much more densely using up more nutrients and we remove weeds, spent annuals and the top growth of perennials to keep beds and borders neat. Add a balanced fertiliser to provide all the necessary nutrients, dig in organic matter when (re-)planting and top with a deep layer as mulch around existing plants. This way your plants will produce strong, healthy growth and plenty of flowers every year
Lawns in Autumn
Take a few steps to look after your lawn as summer ends:
Towards the end of September, grass growth slows down you can raise mower blades, needing to mow less often.
A summer of playing and entertaining can take its toll on the lawn especially by compacting the soil, causing loss of air pockets and waterlogging in winter. Use a garden fork to aerate small areas or hire a powered aerator that looks similar to a mower. Remove any build-up of dead cut grass with a spring tined rake or scarifier – sometimes available combined with an aerator.
Autumn lawn feed is high in potassium and low in nitrogen to encourage tougher leaves that will withstand winter. Do not be tempted to use any Spring lawn feed that you may be left with; the high nitrogen will promote soft, green growth that will suffer badly in winter.
Alison Marsden lives in Southborough and provides onsite & online advice to gardeners as well as teaching for Kent Adult Education Services and giving talks to groups and societies.
There is no long term commitment – just all the advice you need an hour at a time. Find out more at www.gardeningbydesign.co.uk or call 07803 045327