SIDEBAR: Enabling Garden Soils
A hand holding a handful of soilless mix.
|A 3.8 cubic foot plastic bag of Sunshine brand soilless mix.|
|A 3.8 cubic foot compressed rectangular bale of Pro-Mix brand Soilless mix.|
For the largest containers and raised beds that require a greater volume of soil, one can make a less-expensive mix from equal parts by volume of peat moss or compost, good black field soil, and sharp sand - not rounded grains such as silica sand. This mix is much heavier than equal volumes of soil-less mix, so it is best used in containers and raised beds that will not be moved. These ingredients are available from a landscape material supplier, who should be able to mix the materials to order, deliver, and fill the containers. All these soil mixes tend to be lean on nutrients needed for plants. This, together with the frequent watering required by a container garden, tends to wash them from the soil anyway, which means that some form of regular fertilizing is critical to the success of the garden.
Photograph showing several brands of fertilizer.
There are several ways to feed a garden. Traditional granular fertilizers are incorporated into the soil at planting time with an additional lighter application halfway through the season. Easiest and most foolproof is to add a time-release fertilizer at planting that is designed to slowly and evenly release just the right amount of nutrients over the entire growing season. Two popular ones are Nutricote and Osmocote. They are available in formulations that release over 4 or 6 months and longer. (The only caveat to time-release fertilizers is that they will usually not release enough when the soil is cold in the early spring or late fall garden, making it necessary to use standard quick-release types like those that are water-soluble for good plant growth at the extremes of the season.)
Regular feeding with water-soluble fertilizers alone also works well, provided it is regularly and consistently applied in the recommended amounts throughout the growing season. Peter's and Miracle-Gro are popular brands that readily dissolve in water and are immediately available to plants when applied. There are many kinds of fertilizers from inorganic to organic as well as combinations of the two. If the gardener is fortunate to have an area to maintain a compost pile along with a reliable source of organic matter, finished compost is highly prized as 'gardener's gold.' The important thing is that proper types and amounts of needed nutrients are available to the plants.