All too often, I see customers load up with lots of plants and very few soil building products. Granted this is a dated analogy by today’s pricing, but the truth of the saying is still relevant: “Don’t plant a $5 tree in a $1 hole.” And whether it’s a tree, shrub, perennial or spring-flowering bulb, insuring a healthy soil in your new transplant’s root zone is key to long term success.
What is so often forgotten is that the soil is an underground ecosystem that supports the plants that grow in it. It is a symbiotic relationship between plant and soil that is as old as time. So we want to use soil building ingredients that feed all the microorganisms and earthworms that make the soil alive and healthy. I keep it simple because over-amending the soil can be just as detrimental to your plants as not doing anything at all.
The first and most important thing to do is forget about using peat moss. We’ve been taught from way back that a bale of peat moss is a gardener’s best friend. Wrong! Peat moss is an essential ingredient in soil-less potting mixes, but it has no value when it comes to nourishing the soil.
Instead I use a Yum Yum Mix soil food and a top quality compost as the foundation of my soil preparation.
- For xeric (waterwise) plants that prefer growing in a “lean” or infertile soil, I dig in a handful of Yum Yum Mix (or Yum Yum Mix Winterizer if it’s fall) into a nice wide planting hole. I will supplement that with a few tablespoons of Planters II trace mineral fertilizer. This provides an essential boast of trace minerals that many native plants crave and helps to activate the soil’s microorganisms.
- For plants with moderate water needs, I combine the Yum Yum Mix with compost (usually 1 part Yum Yum Mix to 3 parts compost) and work it into a nice wide planting hole. The Planters II should be included as well.
And I strongly recommend the use of a mycorrhizal root inoculant (Plant Success Mycorrhiza Root Inoculant) sprinkled into the hole at planting time or watered into the soil if the plants have been in the ground and you forgot to add it when they were planted.
The use of mycorrhizal root inoculants is especially important when planting into soils;
- Disturbed and compacted by construction
- Damaged by long term use of chemical fertilizers and chemicals (such as when planting into old lawn areas where weed-n-feed fertilizers, fungicides and insecticides have been used).
In both cases the soil’s microbial population has been killed off and the soil’s natural tilth that supports good water percolation and water holding capacity has been destroyed. The best way to restore soil health and its ability to grow healthy plants is to use a combination of natural and organic ingredients along with the root inoculants.
Text and photos by David Salman