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How to Plant Wildflowers
Step by step instructions on how to plant your wildflower seeds.
Find mixtures for your region, or for special uses such as dry areas, partial shade, attracting animals, low growing, and more.
Over 75 choices that will bloom in the second year and for years to come.
Over 110 choices for fast color, such as poppies, cosmos, sunflowers, zinnia, and many more.
Help the birds, bees, butterflies & hummingbirds by planting wildflowers.
Wildflower seeds native to your region. Support local wildlife with native wildflowers.
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Perennial Planting Guide
Step by step instructions on how to plant your bare root or potted perennials when they arrive.
Spring Flower Bulb Planting Guides
Step by step instructions on how to plant your spring-planted flower bulbs when they arrive.
Let's Do Lawns Differently
Less water, less mowing, and no pesticides
How to plant a cover crop
Learn about varieties which help to replenish nutrients to your soil.
Thrives in areas with cold freezing winters and hot summers.
Thrives in areas with hot temperatures.
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What makes soil different from dirt? In a word, Life. Soil may look inert, but it's teeming with activity, both visible and invisible. It contains a dynamic ecosystem that's constantly changing. One of the keys to growing healthy, thriving plants is to understand and nurture that ecosystem. Read on to learn more about how to understand healthy soil, how to understand what type of soil you have, and how to improve and maintain your garden soil.
A soil scientist would describe healthy soil as containing about 45% mineral particles (clay, sand, silt), 25% each of air and water, and about 5% organic matter. But that can be very difficult for a home gardener to measure! Let's take a practical look at what soil provides to plants:
Healthy soil provides all these things to the plants growing in it.
The size of the mineral particles in the soil determines its texture:
It's handy to know what type of soil you have in part because different plants prefer different soil types. But most importantly, you'll be able to maximize your soil's potential. To determine what type of soil you have, follow these simple steps:
Pick up a handful of moist soil. Try to roll it into a cylinder about an inch in diameter.
Rub a bit between your thumb and finger. If it's gritty, it contains sand.
Dark. Moist. Crumbly. Compare healthy soil to chocolate cake. It's moist and crumbly, with air pockets throughout. Unhealthy soil is like a cake mix — dry and packed down with no room for air. Or picture healthy soil as a wrung-out sponge — it's moist yet contains plenty of air, too.
Testing your soil is extremely important for two reasons. First, it will tell you if your soil is perfectly healthy, preventing you from unnecessary tampering. Second, it will also let you know, if needed, how to amend your soil to make sure you are providing the best growing conditions for your plants. A pH test will determine the acidity of your soil.
Soil pH is a measure of its acidity or alkalinity and is measured on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Most plants prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of around 6.8, but some, like blueberries, need a more acidic soil to thrive.
The single best thing you can do for your soil is to add organic matter, and the best organic matter is compost. Compost is simply once-living matter (leaves, kitchen vegetable scraps, garden trimmings) that has decomposed into a dark, crumbly substance. Whether you make your own compost or purchase it in bags or bulk, compost is often called "garden gold" for the miracles it can work in your soil.
Organic matter nurtures the life in the soil. Beneficial soil organisms, including microscopic bacteria and fungi, beetles, earthworms, and other insects consume the organic matter, further breaking it down the material in nutrients that plants can use. In the process, they aerate the soil so plant roots can get the oxygen they need, and they keep pest organisms in check.
Plus, organic matter helps sandy soil retain water better, and helps clay soils drain more easily. Organic matter also helps soil particles form small clumps called soil aggregates, which help prevent it from compacting. Organic matter contains some plant nutrients, too.
Soil improvement isn't a one-time proposition; it's an ongoing task. Soil organisms break down organic matter, so to maintain healthy soil for a thriving garden, be sure to regularly add compost and organic matter to feed the soil, and the soil will feed the plants.
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