Soil, planting and irrigationon February 18, 2014 @ 8:49 am (Updated: 9:33 am - 3/3/14 )
SPONSORED - If you'd like to start a basic garden but don't know how, Pete says you're not alone. He and Stephanie Ripple from The Espoma Company offer some basic gardening tips to get your green thumb going.
First, Pete says, you should look at your soil. There are different soil types in the Pacific Northwest, and not all are conducive to home gardening. "The key to good plant health starts with the soil," adds Stephanie. "You need good, healthy soil. And the way to do that, if you're preparing for spring, is to condition it every year."
The best way to condition your soil, she says, is by adding compost. "The organic matter breaks down for the beneficial microbes in the soil to consume," she says. You can make your own compost at home with kitchen scraps or grass clippings, provided your grass doesn't have herbicides or pesticides.
To make sure your composted soil is going to be fully benefiting your plants, Stephanie says you should check the pH of your soil; you can get a soil test from your local garden store, and depending on the results, you can adjust how you fertilize your plants.
When watering your plants, you have two primary choices: manual watering with a watering can or irrigation. Stephanie recommends using a drip irrigation system to avoid over- or under-watering. Local gardening stores carry starter kits that Stephanie says are easy to install.
"You're able to give each individual plant the exact amount of water that you might need," she says. "You can regulate by plant within the same drip system."
When feeding and fertilizing plants, Stephanie recommends purchasing a plant food that contains a blend of a variety of different components like calcium and magnesium and sulfur.
You should also look for a plant food with a balance of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, abbreviated as NPK.
Stephanie recommends remembering NPK as "up, down, and all-around." Nitrogen helps nourish the things you see above the soil, like leaves or fruit. Phosphorous helps roots grow healthy and strong, and the higher "P" number means the more concentration the food will have on the roots of the plant. Potassium helps the overall health of the plant.
Stephanie also suggests mulching your garden. "I can't say enough good things about mulching," she says. "What mulching does is, once you've got the plants in the ground and you've fed them, and you've done the drip irrigation, put a layer of 1-2 inches of mulch around the plants. This will help keep weeds from growing, it will help retain moisture in your soil, and it will help with soil compaction."
Mulch materials can include straw, pine needles, or, particularly in the Pacific northwest, Douglas fir bark.
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