Soil preparation - Knowledgebase Question

Hollywood, Fl
Avatar for tracilynpt
Question by tracilynpt
June 30, 2010
I am a beginner and wanted to start with an herb garden. I have started composting and waiting for my first batch to finish. When getting ready to prepare the ground for the actual planting, what are your suggestions. I have read everything from putting using overlapping newspaper to prevent weeds to testing my soil to bordering each plant with concrete block to maintain moisture.

Answer from NGA
June 30, 2010
Congratulations on your new herb garden. Herbs are easy to grow, but they must have good drainage or their roots rot. Dig in and loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches. Most annual vegetable, flower, and herb roots grow about 12 inches deep, so loosening allows the roots to easily penetrate through the soil. Rake smooth. (If your soil is too hard or rocky to dig, raised beds are a good option. They work best if they are also at least 18 to 24 inches deep.)

Next, layer 4 to 6 inches of compost on top of the soil. Compost is often referred to as "gardener's gold" because of all the benefits it provides. In clay soil it improves drainage so roots don't rot. In sandy soil it improves water and nutrient retention so you don't have to water or fertilize as much. Regardless of soil type, compost improves fertility and attracts earthworms, which are great soil-builders. The next step is to add a balanced fertilizer. Here?s some basic info on fertilizer and nutrients that plants require. The 3 numbers on a fertilizer bag refer to the percentage of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus), and K (potassium) in the bag. There are different formulations for different purposes. In general terms, nitrogen produces lush green growth, phosphorus helps strengthen stems and produce flowers, and potassium keeps the root system healthy. If you're applying fertilizer to fruiting (e.g., tomatoes) or flowering plants, you're not as interested in the plant developing leaves as you are in it flowers and fruit, so you'd use a formulation lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus, such as Miracle-Gro's Plant Food at 15-30-15.

Organic sources of nutrients:

Nitrogen: alfalfa meal, blood meal, coffee grounds, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, seabird guano.
Phosphorus: bone meal, rock phosphate
Potassium: greensand, seaweed, kelp

(Herbs don't need alot of fertilizer and overfeeding with nitrogen will reduce their natural flavors.) Thoroughly incorporate compost and fertilizer and rake smooth. If gardening in a weedy area, this may disturb weed seeds, so water and let weeds sprout and pull them. Then you're ready to plant!

Also, here's a link that describes sheet composting, a method to build soil without digging. If your ground is difficult to work or physical labor is difficult, it's a good method for soil enrichment over time.

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