Is Your Soil Ready for Planting?
If it is sticky and doesn't break, you have claylike soil. If it runs through your fingers, your soil is sandy. If it maintains its shape until crumbled, it's called loam. Clay soil means that plants will have trouble digging deep with their roots. Sandy soil can mean water slips through the soil so easily that the roots can't soak up the vital nutrients.
Just like Goldilocks, the ideal soil is the third one—loam is just right for gardening. The soil will be thick enough to hold on to water and nutrients but thin enough to allow roots to take hold.
Hope for clay or sandy soil
What kinds of plants grow best in your area?
Promote the loamy quality of your garden by adding organic matter to the earth throughout the growing season and allowing it to decompose. This includes grass clippings (but only from grass that isn't chemically treated), plant cuttings, thinned seedlings, weeds that have not gone to seed and compost.
Measure your soil's fitness
Also essential to plant growth are three elements: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These three are commonly referred to by their atomic element symbols—N for nitrogen; P for phosphorus; K for potassium—which you will see written on bags of fertilizer.
10 tips for new gardeners
Nitrogen is the element that promotes growth in the green parts of plants—specifically leaves and stems. While that vibrant growth can look great, an overabundance of nitrogen comes with a downside. It can make plants grow too quickly, hurting root development and restricting fruit growth.
What nitrogen does for leaves and stems, phosphorus does for roots. Like nitrogen, there can also be too much. Excess phosphorus in the soil can get into the ground water and cause serious pollution problems.
Potassium is important for general health, especially for the oldest parts of the plant.
Promote better pH and element levels in your soil.
To find out your garden's soil makeup, buy a soil testing kit (make sure to get one that also measures nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) from a hardware or gardening store, and check in on it throughout the growing season. Another option is to get your soil professionally tested. This will cost a bit, but you'll get more accurate and detailed results.
What is your area's last date of frost?
What kind of gardner are you? Take this quiz!
Before putting anything in the ground, know how each plant deals with slightly cooler or warmer temperatures. If you sow too early, the cold ground and air will stunt growth. A late frost could even lead to a plant's death. If you sow too late, you'll miss out on some of those crucial and limited days for growth.
To best gage the ideal time for planting, learn the date of your area's last frost, which you can find in the Farmer's Almanac or by asking any experienced gardener in your area.
Find more gardening tips and ideas from The Gardening Club