One of the most important items for a successful garden or landscaping project is the soil that is used for planting. When you visit your local nursery, you will have a multitude of choices and varieties of soils from which to choose. You will find potting blends, top soil, soil with cow manure and soil with fertilizer already added, just to name a few. Where you plan on planting your plants will have a lot to do with which choice will be best you your needs.
If you plan on doing primarily container gardening, you will want to use a good quality potting mix. There are several brands on the market in a variety of price ranges but personally; I have had the best results with Miracle Gro potting mix. The product is a blend of soil and moisture-retaining amenities to make for an excellent product. There are, of course, other options such as Hyponex, Jiffy etc. All these companies make great products and often it is just a personal choice of what brand works best for you.
At the very least, look for a soil blend that is light in consistency and is not sopping wet in the bag. Using an inferior potting soil can cause that "dried, caked-up look" after the soil begins to dry out between watering cycles.
Unlike food products, soil manufacturers do not have to list their ingredients on the bag. If a particular bargain brand of soil does not mention what is in the bag, it is often wise to steer clear of that option.
Many people like to make their own blend of potting mixes by stirring together different flavors of soil. For example, I like to mix Miracle Gro potting mix with another soil that contains cow manure. Simply use about a 3 to 1 ratio. Use 3 parts of the Miracle Gro to 1 part of the soil with cow manure. This creates an excellent mix for getting your new plants a good start when you plant them. With all the concerns of water shortages and restrictions on watering, you can also add a couple scoops of plain old-fashioned peat moss. The peat will help the soil retain the moisture much longer thus reducing your watering requirements. I can still remember in the old days receiving a truckload of the pure Canadian peat shipped direct with the ice and snow still on the truck! Although harder to find than it used to be, some nurseries should still have it available.
Adding these extra ingredients can make your soil drain better, keep it from caking and also allow more nutrients to reach the roots of your plants.
If you are planting in containers, you can add some extra ingredients to the recipe. Perlite is a good choice of additives if you want your soil to "breathe." This volcanic substance (which is actually glass) will help create air pockets in the soil to make it lighter and less likely to cake up. The substance also has good water water-retention properties. Perlite also has many other uses in our daily lives including being an ingredient in plasters, mortar and insulation.
Depending on what type of plants you plan on using in your garden, the Ph of your soil can be an important factor.
For example, if you are planting Ixoria or gardenia, you want your soil to be on the acidic side. You can add aluminum sulphate to the soil to increase the Ph. If you are planting a vegetable garden, you want a lower Ph and adding some lime will help to sweeten the soil and give you great tasting vegetables.
Joe Zelenak has more than 30 years experience in gardening and landscape. Send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website hometowngarden.com.