By Lucy Harrell

To start a new bed, remove grass and weeds from the bed area. If you are raising the bed levels- add enriched topsoil. In beds where the soil is just being amended- add 3‖- 4‖ of any organic compost mixed with 10% lava sand and till the mixture evenly down to 8‖ deep. ( if using expanded shale you won’t need the lava sand in the mix-see next paragraph ) – This would suppose that there was at least 3 feet of soil that already existed in that area- not just a few inches –and then rock.

A yard of soil covers 324 square feet 1‖ deep-so figure accordingly In this picture the bed was surrounded by low walls to provide better drainage on a level plane to prevent soils from washing over the sidewalks—it took 4 yards of enriched topsoil to raise the bed level approximately 4‖ in this 324 square foot bed—and 3‖ of mulch was added to that ( always allow for mulch when planning) Expanded shale can be added to handle both poor drainage and also to hold and release water in an area where the soil dries out. It’s optional but always a good idea. This is a great amendment that never goes away or stops working. It does add an extra expense, but it gives you ―your money’s worth‖ and makes plants more successful if problems do occur.

I only add expanded shale to new beds. If you choose to add Expanded Shale to a new bed– you will need to lay it 3‖ thick on the top of the prepared bed and till it in evenly (top-bottom) down to 8‖. If you are only adding new plants to an existing bed, you can just add lava sand at the rate of 20-30 lbs per 1000 square feet on top of the bed about twice a year to help with moisture retention.

Amendments When Planting Most Perennials and Blooming Shrubs
For most perennials and blooming shrubs, prepare a 50/50 mixture of worm castings (Rabbit Hill Farm, Natures Guide, Lady Bug- Pachamama, Wiggle Worm, or Soil Mender) and powdered rock phosphate — (Tennessee Brown by Soil Mender -15 lb or Carl Pool -8lb –and Gardenville in large 50 lb bags) and use this mix as a hole amendment. This 50/50 mixture gives most plants everything they need without attracting mammals to dig them up. ( Be careful not to get anything with a lot of blood meal in it –it’s organic and plants love it but –so do squirrels)– see planting process below for amounts per hole.

****Note—roses, hydrangeas, camellias, azaleas, gardenias, Japanese maples, other acid loving plants & cool season annual color need some other amendments for the best start–see specific lists below the planting process section in this article.
Use Maxicrop Sea Weed as root stimulator every time you plant anything. This seaweed works best to retard top growth (at first) which encourages the root to grow more –which will later support the new top growth. This is very important in our “extreme heat” weather conditions. (Always shake any liquid product very well before mixing.)
A good start makes for a beautiful garden even in stressful weather—take time to plant correctly.

Planting Process
When you plant, you need to have well-watered plants and moist soil where you are planting. This is called the ―wet-to-wet‖ planting method and helps to eliminate plant shock. Remove the plants from their pots and loosen the roots by combing them down to keep them from being planted with their roots going around. Sometimes plants are so root bound that you will need to ―score‖ the root area by cutting into it with a knife or a sharp trowel. There are a few plants that will need a little extra care with this step. Their roots are slightly different; they grow from a fleshy tap root instead of a root ball. This tap root can be easily broken if handled too roughly– so loosen them– but lightly. These plants are: Camellias, Hydrangeas, Texas Sage, Nandinas and Roses.

Dig your hole and add the worm castings/rock phosphate mixture (approximately one handful to a 4‖ hole; two handfuls to a 1 gallon hole and one cup to a 5 gallon hole). Add the amendment and then add a little moisture over the dry amendment and work it lightly around in the hole. Place the loosened plant in the hole and be sure not to plant any plant too deep; always plant at soil level or above.

Fill the hole with the seaweed mixture to be sure to get the roots of the plant completely soaked ( mixture is 2 tablespoons to a gallon of water) and push soil into the hole. Press the area firmly around the plant to make it stable. Wet again with the seaweed mixture. Remember; be careful not to plant it too deep.

Amendments for Cool Season Color and bloomers—Plants that bloom in the cool season ( Fall- Winter) –especially annuals–need to be planted with equal parts of worm castings , rock phosphate and also alfalfa meal. Same amount of this mixture per hole as above. If you do this one time—you will understand how important it is to add the extra nitrogen product ( alfalfa meal) to your cool season annual color.. it will take the meal about 2.5 months to break down—sending a great infusion of nitrogen to those tired pansies-etc in late January- Early March and they will perk right up and be pretty until June.

Roses and Hydrangeas
Loosen their roots lightly. They are traditionally high feeders (but not too picky) and need Natures Guide Rose planting mix or Maestro Glo Rose Glo or Lady Bug Rose Magic ( follow directions on whichever product you buy) and also the 50/50 mix worm castings and rock phosphate (or if you are lucky enough to find it – you could use the Rabbit Hill Farm Something Special which is a pre-mixed product of all of the above with rabbit manure in it ). After a year-once the plant is established,- top dress it with either Humalfa (purple bag) , Rose Glo , RHF Bunny Trails or your own dried rabbit manure about 3 times a year in addition to the program. Roses love organic gardens.
Azaleas, Japanese Maples, Camellias and Gardenias (and other picky plants that we traditionally think of as preferring more acid loving soils that need very good drainage and extra feeding throughout the year in addition to the program). This mixture replaces the traditional peat moss addition to the soil –which you should never add here –Add a 50/50 mixture of compost and hardwood mulch to the bed and till it into the soil to make it better drained. After doing the above–dig a hole. Amend the soil (that you dug out of the hole ) with the 50/50 mixture of worm castings and rock phosphate mix and also add Dr. Iron (follow the directions on the Dr. Iron container). Add some of the soil to the hole and place the plant in the hole. Water it in with Maxicrop seaweed–Fill in around the plant with the rest of the amended soil. Be sure that the plant is not too low in the soil.
After a year-(once an acid loving plant is established), feed the drip line 3 times a year with a top dressing of Rabbit Manure, Lady Bug Garden Pep, or Humalfa (purple bag) . If the plants in this group ever have leaves that turn light green with dark green veins –dig in the Dr. iron as it directs you on the label- and correct your drainage problems-or water less often.
extra feeding helps acid plants shine in our alkaline soils—they love pine straw mulch too ( for this reason)

Adding Mulch
After beds are planted, add mulch 3‖ deep where possible. Be sure not to cover the base of the plant or get any stems covered by the mulch–as this could rot them out. After applying the mulch, wet it lightly and pack it down to set it in. My two favorite mulches are pine straw & hardwood–Make sure your choice of mulch will not wash away. See the article on pine straw mulch included in this newsletter—to learn about all of the benefits of using it. Hardwood is still a good choice too if you prefer it.

Additional Mulching Tips

If you will add a light layer of DE (garden product, not the pool product) to the soil before you mulch, you will not get fire ants in that area as long as the mulch lasts. If you have an existing fire ant mound, you must treat it with the Nature’s Guide Fire Ant Killer product first, using the ―drench‖ method; do not disturb the mound first. Sprinkle powered corn gluten meal over hardwood mulch and water it lightly to bond it to the mulch. This will prevent broadleaf weeds, including birdseed sprouts, from being a problem for up to 6 months.

If you want perennials to reseed, do not use the corn gluten meal because it is non- specific and will stop them from reseeding also. Use an old sifter to scoop and shake when applying a fine powder like the DE or Corn Gluten Meal; makes this job easier. FYI—If you are using pine straw as mulch you do not need to apply corn gluten meal –broad leaf weeds will not germinate in the pine straw. ( perennials will not reseed either –so keep that in mind) If you use 1‖ of mulch, it will be gone in 3 months. If you use 2‖ of mulch, it usually will not last a full year. It’s best to use at least 3‖ of mulch and it will last all year. Be sure to ―set‖ your mulch by wetting it lightly and packing it down by just walking on it. To get started right with mulch –let me help you figure how much mulch you will need to buy to cover an area deeply enough in your garden.
If you are using hardwood or another mulch like it-you will need one 2 cubic foot bag for every 8 square feet to cover the area 3‖ deep
with mulch. If you are using pine straw mulch- you will need a bale ( like the ones that are sold here at Marshall Grain & Stegall’s for every 24 square feet. Be sure not to get mulch up on the trunk of your plant- and that none of the limbs of the plant are trapped under the mulch. This can be checked by running your hand around the bottom of each plant, a process called ―pony-tailing.

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