Solutions to Your Soil and Water Problems
Soil is the foundation of all horticulture and agriculture. You can either live with what you have or improve it by amending to make your soil a more desirable environment for your plants. You can enhance with nutrients, microbes and increase the ability of your soil to retain water. You can buy the greatest plants in the world, but without good soil, you have nothing. They could be dead within weeks. Our area has high-alkaline soils with a high pH and high-sodium content and little to no organic matter. The organic matter is the key because that generates the carbon that feeds the microbes and generates humates that help acidify your soil. Soil management is a science. At Gardener’s World I teach a free class on Soils 101 for the beginners as well as passionate gardeners. We have discussions on major, minor and micronutrient management, microbial enhancements and amending soil to save water. Here are a few tips:
Soil acidification: In all the years of experience I have had, I know that soil acidification is the most important thing you can do. I helped develop First Step Soil Acidifier also known as DisperSul. Soil acidifier is the most direct bang for the buck because you lower the pH, the ground takes water better and it releases nutrients that are ionically tied up in the soil. Also, it takes care of iron chlorosis that makes plants look yellow and aids in the breakdown of organic matter.
Fertilization: Next, use a balanced NPK fertilizer that is medium to slow release so you don’t cause a growth spurt in plants, causing more pruning than necessary. Vegetables need faster growth so an even feed fertilizer is good. Most gardens and landscapes are starving and struggling with pH and micronutrient balance. These two steps will do wonders.
Education: We recommend taking a class at your local nursery to learn more. One longtime resident of the Valley said, “I got a PhD (plant health doctor) in one class.”
Positive placement of water is the key. A drip system takes the water right to the plant and you control the depth and quantity of irrigation and leaching of soluble salts. By controlling this, you can deep water less frequently, which uses less water. The opposite is what most do, water daily or too often and kill many plants from over watering. The key is to use the right size emitter with the correct duration of watering and frequency of watering.
Lawns with a sprinkler system can be improved. It is quality distribution of water and quantity–meaning the duration of time you have the sprinklers running. The best method to gauge this is to place a tuna fish can under the sprinklers to measure the volume of water you put on the ground. Then observe the ability of your ground to take water. If pH is perfect then use the screwdriver test to measure the penetration and the deeper the screwdriver goes, the better root system you will have that means you can water less frequently. At this time of year, water lawns twice per week for 12 to 15 minutes and you should be able to push the screwdriver in six inches if the pattern and volume of water is correct. If you can’t push the screwdriver that far and you put that much water on, you need to acidify with soil acidifier. Water trees and shrubs two times per week for 1 hour 15 minutes. When the weather is hotter, three times per week is good; as it cools you can decrease the time it is on.
If you are still having yellow leaves on plants or water is not penetrating into the soil, it may be worth it to take a soil sample to your local nursery. It is usually money well spent. At Gardener’s World, we send the sample to a laboratory and get exact reading on what is needed, then give a prescription for the correct solution.
By Gary Petterson