Saturday, October 6, 2007

Getting to know your own garden

By putting plants in the right place, you will be gardening with nature rather than fighting against it. In the long run, this saves a lot of time because you will not need to replace unsuitable plants later. For instance, if conditions are too shady, some plants will grow tall, weak and leggy and may refuse to flower. Or, if they are in too much sun, their leaves will scorch and develop brown, translucent patches. To ensure that you choose the right plants for your garden, collect information about the soil and general local growing conditions. If you are new to your area, get further details, such as the annual rainfall and the frequency and severity of frosts. If there are no frosts, find out how cold it gets in winter and what you can expect in summer. Contact local gardeners to find out what grows well in your area.

Plants usually have labels indicating where they grow best. Reference books are also helpful. For example, a plant label may indicate that it needs soil that is 'moisture-retentive, but well-drained'. This means that it needs ground containing plenty of humus (decomposed organic matter) but which is never waterlogged. If your soil has little humus, you can dig in well-rotted organic matter, such as manure or compost. To make clay soil more free-draining, dig in well-rotted organic matter and grit.

To help you to decide what to plant where, draw up a rough plan of the garden and mark in the position of the house, any large trees and buildings, and which direction is north. Then mark which parts of the garden are in sun or shade, and are dry or damp.

Once you have drawn the plan, use the descriptions of acid and alkaline soils on the opposite page to identify the type of soil you have and choose plants suited to these conditions. Look around your area to see what is growing. If acid-loving plants, such as azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and pieris, are growing well, the soil is most likely acidic. But if the soil looks pale to white and some slants have yellowing leaves, your soil may be somewhat or quite alkaline. To be sure, use a soil-testing kit to do a pH test.

Acid soil - Woodland plants tend to like moist, humus-rich soil combined with light, dappled shade. Many, including camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas, require acid soil conditions (pH5-6). Slightly less acid conditions (pH5.5-6.5) are liked by some vegetables, including beans, broccoli, cabbages, potatoes, rhubarb and tomatoes, as well as some fruit, such as apples, blueberries and raspberries. The majority of garden plants thrive in neutral soil or in ground that is slightly acidic or slightly alkaline.

Alkaline soil - Usually based on chalk or limestone, alkaline soils are jften described as 'hungry' since microbes break down organic matter raster than under neutral or acid conditions. This means that you will need to add more organic matter to alkaline soils than other soil types :o improve their water-holding capacity and nutrient content. There :s no quick or cheap method to make alkaline soils more acidic.

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