Soil amendments can help you get the most from your garden this spring

Published on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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There’s no time like the spring to build the foundation of your garden – the soil. Wild plants will find a way to grow in all types of soil, but when it comes to growing more particular plants like flowers, fruits and vegetables, consideration of the dirt in which they grow is in order. Amendments in the form of fertilizer, compost or mulch can tailor the soil to the needs of the plants.

Before proceeding with soil amendments, conduct a soil test. Pacific Building Center in Blaine carries soil test kits for less 
than six dollars. These easy-to-use tests can determine what nutrients are present or lacking in your soil. Once you know what’s missing, you can add fertilizers and composts to build up your soil to establish balance in your garden.

Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest face unique challenges to maintaining healthy soil. “Around here, there’s an ever-present need for fertilizing because rain washes away nutrients all the time,” said Tavi Arlez, a Blaine resident who has been gardening in the northwest for more than 30 years.

Arlez recommends the use of kelp and other seaweed, which are broad-spectrum fertilizers, which can double as pest-deterring mulch. Apply a generous portion of kelp or other seaweed in two applications a week apart, then allow 4-6 weeks before the next application for best results. Be sure to pull the kelp away from plant stems – a good practice when applying any mulching material.

Mulches help aerate the soil as they break down which provides better drainage, and also act as weed and pest deterrents. While many people use bark and wood mulches, Arlez said he prefers straw.

“Mulch is pretty much a matter of personal preference,” he said. “Bark mulch works as well as straw, and the difference is mostly aesthetic.”

Lime is commonly added to soil. It releases calcium and/or magnesium which plants use as building blocks for growth. Depending on how finely ground the lime is, it releases nutrients at different rates. Lime takes time to react with the soil, so it’s a good idea to add it a couple of weeks before planting.

Compost and manure add the vital nutrients potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous. The level of these nutrients in compost depends on what went into it, so use a soil test on your compost as well.

Kenny’s Materials on Lincoln Road offers ready-made planting mixes that are optimized for soil nutrition. Their Planter’s Mix consists of one-third topsoil, one-third sawdust and one-third composted manure. Owner Ken Hull said customers have been buying the mix by the truckload this spring.

“That’s one of our customer favorites,” he said. “It’s a great all-around gardening material, perfect for raised beds, flower gardens, lawns or any gardening need.”

No matter what you’re trying to grow, the need for healthy soil is universal to gardening.

“It’s quite an experience and a marvel to get your hands into the soil and watch a living plant grow out of it,” Arlez said.