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Soil: Soil is the most important ingredient to success with growing plants. Poor soil will lead to failure and disappointment. The problem is that many gardners do not take the time to understand their garden soil completely. Providing your soil with fertilizer is not enough and could in some instances be counter productive. Remember, the most important ingredient to your success is soil that has good soil structure.
Soil with good structure allows for water to drain and holds nutrients essential to plant growth. This may differ with different plant species so understanding your plants needs will determine if your soil needs to be amended. Do not assume that adding organic matter is a cure all. While many plants benefit from a rich organic soil, some do not. To learn more about soil read, The Role of Soil.
Soils needs Fertility Maintenance: Soil is a combination of finely divided rocks, minerals and organic matter. Sand, silt, clay and organic matter help provide tilth, necessary aeration and favorable water intake rates, but will leach nutrients and to maintain healthy plant growth a fertilizer will be needed. Poor fertilization practices can lead to problems with nitrates finding their way into surface water... streams, lakes, rivers... and into ground water. It's important to apply fertilizers correctly to both provide needed nutrients to plants and to prevent runoff and leaching. Trees, shrubs, and perennials plants utilize stored nutrient reserves during the first flush of spring growth. Fertilizer is applied to replace nutrients needed by plants and keep the plants healthy. Keep in mind that fertilizer is not plant "food." Fertilizer simply provides the nutrients that a plant needs so that it can make its own food using energy from the sun by the process of photosynthesis.
Fertilization times causes us a dilemma. Should we fertilize the lawn at the right time or fertilize our trees and shrubs at the right time? Fall fertilization can lead to problems especially when tender plants are fertilized late in the season. Fall is the best time to fertilize our lawns to keep them healthy and thick enough to keep weeds out. What should we do? There may be no good solution. However, try to avoid applying fall lawn fertilizers to areas above tender trees and shrub roots. Slow-release fertilizers would help avoid a late flush of growth on woody plants that might be stimulated with a quick-release type of fertilizer. How much fertilizer should be applied to individual trees and shrubs? That's one of those questions that's hard to answer directly. The amount of fertilizer needed depends on the size of the plant and the type of fertilizer applied. To help you determine the amount of fertilizer you should apply to trees and shrubs, contact your local Cooperative Extension for assistance.
How can you tell if your plants need fertilizer? Look for plants that aren't putting on good growth, where leaves are undersized and chlorotic or yellow. Here again we have another dilemma, because these are also symptoms of other plant problems. In many cases the symptoms of poor growth and yellow leaves turn out to be a root or soil moisture problem. If the tree or shrub has trunk injury, root damage, girdling roots, root rot or excessive soil moisture or drought, the symptoms will be pretty much the same. Fertilizer will not help these plants or solve the problem of poor growth.
Sunlight: Light is needed for plants to grow but the degree of light required by a plant can differ. Some plants require bright full sun, while other need to be in a shady location. The decision to place plants in a specific lighting is determined by it's growth habits. For example: a daylily grown in full sun will produce many blooms but the same daylily planted in partial shade will grow but will have much fewer blooms. The decision of where to plant is both knowing the plant's characteristics and what you design goal is.
The degrees of light are: Full Sun, Light Shade/Partial Sun, Bright Shade and Deep Shade. To more fully understand light, read Plants and Light.
Climate: Not all plants will thrive within their zone rating due to micro-climates. A plant maybe rated zone 5 hardy but does not survive the winter in your zone 5 location. Why is this? Other factors are at play here. A plant rated zone 5 may not be able to tolerate windy dry conditions in the winter but if planted in a sheltered location will thrive. A plant that has good snow cover in zone 4 does well, yet the same plant in zone 5b with less snow cover dies over the winter. There are many factors that contribute to climate effecting plants. If you see the plant growing in your neighborhood, it would be a logical decision that it will grow for you. For more on Climate and Zones read Climate and Planting Zones.
Watering: All the processes that occur within a plant require water. Nutrients would not move through the soil and be available to the plants without water. Water also provides density and strength to the plant structure. Without water, plants sag and leaves wither. Too much water can have dramatic effects on plants also. When soil is robbed of oxygen because of too much water, roots cannot perform properly and begin to rot. This of course effects the entire plant above ground. Waterlogged soil also has a tendency to more easily spread diseases.
Striking the correct balance is essential. Understanding the needs of individual species is also critical. Some plants require wet soils, while other need little water. Plants that grow in bogs have roots that can acquire nutrients from the water. These same characteristics are not true of plants that do not grow in water. They will quickly starve and die.
Another important issue to understand is the soil a plant is growing in. Sandy soil quickly drains while a clay soil can become hard and water will just run off. Adding compost and organic matter aides with developing a well aerated soil that allows for proper drainage.
Achieving the correct balance and correcting any problems is the road to a green thumb along with reading Watering Plants Properly.
Planting: Plants can be started from seed, divisions of existing plants or purchased from a nursery. In all cases plants need a good start. If a plant is not given a good start, it will only disappoint. Providing a large enough growing space with good soil, proper watering and fertilizer is a must. Learn how to properly plant and provide a healthy start to plants read, Providing a Healthy Start.
Controlling Weeds: What is a weed? It is a plant that is not desired in the location it is growing. One person's choice garden plant is another person's weed! There are two main types of weed, they are either annual or perennial. Both can be a big problem. Annual weeds can be reduced by not letting existing plants to seed. This will reduce next year's crop. Perennials need a two step approach. As with annuals, do not let them go to seed. In addition, they must be removed by the roots to eliminate the plant from returning the next year. To learn more about controlling weeds, read Controlling Weeds
Mulching: Mulch is a covering over the soil. This occurs naturally in nature with leaves and decaying matter. The benefits of mulch are adding nutrients to the soil, improving drainage, winter and summer insulation, holds water, attracts earthworms, prevents erosion, weed control and is attractive. Mulch, however, has it's drawbacks if applied incorrectly. Learn about mulch, read All About Mulching
Common Garden Pests:
Common Garden Friends:
Common Plant Diseases: Disease fungi take their energy from the plants on which they live. They are responsible for a great deal of damage and are characterized by wilting, scabs, moldy coatings, rusts, blotches and rotted tissue. When a plant is attacked by one of these microorganisms the damage caused provides an opportunity for the others to get in and it is the combined onslaught which deals the final blow. Also if it is under stress, such as through drought or poor nutrition it is more susceptible. Read more, Plant Diseases.
To learn more about gardening terms, read Common Garden Terms: