Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2006
Regional Report

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Raised beds enable %growing only% area for deep plant roots


Raised beds with lots of organic matter dug in provide "growing-only, no-walking" areas that encourage extensive healthy root growth and allow more thorough drainage. Here%s how to get some started.
After clipping and digging in green manure crops, wait about two weeks before transplanting vegetable and flower seeds or seedlings. This will allow the greenery to decay sufficiently to provide nutrients to the new plantings. The heat produced from the decomposing green manure will burn seeds trying to sprout or transplants trying to get settled in. grow.
To loosen clay soil and provide slowly-released nutrition, add up to 50% organic matter--leafy material, straw, grass clip%pings, and non- greasy kitchen vegetable scraps. Sand will not do the job--remember that contractors mix sand and clay and water to make cement. Continue applying organic matter as mulch throughout the year. Turn it all under in the fall for a rich and friable soil in the spring.
Teach your plants to grow deeply for moisture. In spring, for average soils, water deeply only every two to three weeks. By the time that summer's heat arrives, plant feeder roots will be growing deeply for moisture, and the plants won't need watering more frequent%ly than once a week during very hot spells.
One inch of irrigated water will soak down to different depths, depending on how heavy your soil is: 12 inches deep in sandy soil, nine inches deep in loamy soil, but only three inches deep in clay soil. Plant root zones generally reach from 2 to 12 inches down.
Clay soil, because it is so compact, can be watered a little each day for two or three days to allow absorption down that far, rather than a lot of runoff by watering once for a long time. Clay soil will retain this moisture for a much longer period than sandy soil, which is very porous. Soil with a lot of organic matter in it is the best--it holds lots of water but still allows air in for best plant root growth.
To easily determine the texture of your soil, fill a jar two-thirds full of water and the rest with soil, shake the jar well, and place it on a windowsill where you can observe the results without moving it. After a few days, the layers will be apparent, and you can make your "analy%sis." The heavy sand particles will settle first to the bottom of the jar, followed by the silt and then the clay. Organic matter will float. Good loam contains about 45% sand, 35% silt, and 20% clay.
If you've been improving your soil and want to see how far you've come, take another sample from some unimproved ground nearby, and test it the same way.

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