Thursday, February 28, 2008

Just a quick note.

The Landscape Design Site looks a bit odd as we're changing templates. We've also added a video section to the site at Landscaping Videos. Of course, the videos there are our own as well as landscaping lessons and ideas from some of the better producers.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Soil Ph, The Taste of Dirt, and Organic Gardening

My Grandfather was an old world dirt farmer who depended on his crops for his living. That old man knew more about soil and dirt than anyone I've ever known.

On his farm there was never a need for chemical fertilizers and insecticides as his crops were healthy and produced incredible yields. He was completely organic, returned everything to the soil, and rotated his crops. And in return, his soil had a perfect ph balance. Or at least that's what he said.

Back then, there were no soil test kits or probes so folks tasted the soil to test its ph. If it was sweet, it was acid. If it was sour, it was alkaline. And I guess bittersweet was a perfect 7. I don't know. To me, most dirt just tastes like...dirt.

Anyway, the importance of proper ph has been known for a long time. Nutrient uptake as well as many other factors are regulated by ph balance. And plants are always healthiest, produce more, are more nutritious, and have fewer pests and diseases when ph is perfect.

Anyway, the point of this blurb.....

I was reminded of my Grandfather the other day as I consulted with a client about his yellowing Hollies, Nandina, and other Evergreens. He had already been to the nursery where they had given him the cure to his problem in the form of a sack of iron supplement.

Since I live here and have dealt with this same problem many times, I knew the problem wasn't a lack of iron. There's plenty of iron in our soil. However, the plants can't pick it up. It's locked in the soil because of improper soil ph. We live on a huge limestone shelf and so the soil is extremely alkaline.

So rather than drown the soil in toxic levels of manufactured iron supplement, we began a slow systematic increase in soil acidity with simple garden sulfer. Within a few months the soil ph will become more acid, the iron will become available, the tree will get healthy and green, and I'll get paid.

So, while you won't have to eat dirt because there are modern test kits and probes, there's no excuse for not knowing the ph of your soil. And actually, at the first sign of plant problems, you should look for visible signs of insects or disease and check the ph of the soil.

Ultimately and the biggest lesson learned from my Grandfather is organics. Before the extensive use of chemicals, folks did just fine and even better with rich organic soil. And while organics may not be practical in some of our modern applications, using it when and where you can will produce growing benefits to your gardening experience. Naturally balanced soil ph being one of them.