The Q&A Archives: New garden----What soil mix?

Question: I have strawberries, grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries coming in a week. The existing soil is sand. What should I mix with it to get the proper growing medium? I have read about many different options, including compost, topsoil, perlite, vermiculite (which I heard due to carcinogens is illegal now), peat moss, and shredded leaves. I do have a vegetation recycling program here in my town,so I can get compost in very large quantities for free if needed. What do you recommend? Also, do you think I could plant all of them together in separate places to make one big fruit patch? I have 4 blueberry plants, 50 strawberry, 10 @ raspberries and blackberries, and 1 seedless concord grape. I was thinking an arbor for the grape would be an ideal door to the fruit patch.

Answer: With a sandy soil, the best amendment you can add is organic matter. You will need to add it in the initial soil preparation and then continue to add it on an ongoing basis. You can use any or all of the following: compost, old rotted leaves, well aged and composted stable manure/bedding,milled spagnum peat moss, or whatever material is locally available at a reasonable cost. If you use the municipal compost, check with the producer that it is safe to use on food crops. Since you have easy access to it in large quantities, this may be the best choice for you. And of course, save your autumn leaves. If possible use a layer six inches thick and work it into the top foot of soil.

Then use an organic mulch (this can be a combination of materials as well) year round to help feed the soil on a continuous basis as it breaks down. Also plan on topdressing with good quality compost every spring. These steps will help replace the organic matter that becomes depleted over time.

Topsoil is not a regulated material, so in my experience it is better to amend the existing soil in your garden. The perlite and vermiculite would not be helpful in this case as they would be roughly equivalent to adding even more sand.

Many gardeners will have a special area for their long lived fruit and vegetable plants such as asparagus, rhubarb, berries, and grapes since they are large plants and should last for years without being replaced. Strawberry plants require frequent renovation and intensive cultivation so are usually grown in their own area of the garden. These can be adjacent in one big fruit garden, certainly.

In most cases these gardens are fenced to keep out wildlife, so that may also be a consideration in deciding how to do your layout. Another consideration is how you plan to water it during the establishment phase and also during dry spells. If you will be using an irrigation system you need to space your plantings to accommodate that as easily and economically as possible.

Good luck with your fruit garden this summer!

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