Kerry Peetz
/ Categories: Opinion, Commentary


By Kerry Peetz

Finally on the gardener’s calendar comes March. New plants are breaking through the soil and days are warming up. After all, it is the season of resurrection! Christians around the world are celebrating Holy Week and are preparing for Easter. It is truly a blessed time of year. 

While we cannot, yet, put tomatoes in the ground or hang a beautiful basket of vining annuals on the porch there is one very important step to heed before “digging in.”

Every address in our diocese is lacking natural organic matter in our landscapes. Some have sandy soil others have clay. Yet others have loam which is a mineral mixture of clay, sand, and silt. None of these types of soil are healthy for plant roots.

Colorado State University states that “80 percent of all plant problems are related to soil conditions.” Eighty percent — that is astounding! If the soil isn’t healthy, the plants won’t be either. On the bright side, amending the soil correctly will help ensure plant survival.

Which amendment to use? A variety of products for soil amendments, bagged or bulk, are available. However, soil amendments are not regulated. Many are extremely high in salts. With Colorado’s large livestock industry, manure and manure-based compost are readily available. These are often high in salts, limiting application rates. Cattle manure should be aged at least one year before using as an amendment. Proceed with caution.

Plant-based composts are naturally low in salt. These may be applied in higher volumes, more effectively improving the soil. However, they do tend to be higher in cost.

To do its work, an amendment must be thoroughly mixed into the soil. If it is merely buried, its effectiveness is reduced, and it will interfere with water and air movement and root growth. Also, please note: amending soil is not the same as mulching. A mulch is left on the soil surface. Its purpose, among many, is to reduce evaporation, inhibit weed growth, and create an attractive appearance.

Choosing a soil amendment depends on your specific situation. If you don’t know what type of soil you have, the first place to start is to get a professional soil test. Find the forms, instructions and cost at Soil, Water, and Plant Testing Laboratory, 4780 National Western Dr., Denver, 80216, or email: soiltestinglab@mail.colostate.edu.

There are two broad categories of soil amendments: organic and inorganic. Organic amendments come from something that is or was alive. Inorganic amendments, are either mined or manufactured. Organic amendments include coconut coir, small wood chips, grass clippings, straw, compost, manure, and biosolids. Inorganic amendments include vermiculite, perlite, pea gravel, and sand.

Side note: never over-amend. This is a common problem. Some gardeners try to fix their soil by adding large quantities of an amendment in a single season. This can result in many problems, including high nitrogen, holding too much water, and high ammonia, which burns roots and leaves.

For one-time application to new landscapes prior to planting trees, shrubs, perennials, and lawns, if using a plant-based amendment, add 2-3 inches. If using manure, manure-based compost, biosolids, biosolid-based compost and other soil amendments that may be high in salts, add 1 inch. Cultivate the soil amendment into the top 6-8 inches of the soil. 

For vegetable gardens and annual flowerbeds, apply 2-3 inches per season of plant-based amendment for the first three years. If using a manure-based amendment, add 1 inch per season.

In the fourth year and beyond, add 1-2 inches per year of plant-based amendment and 1 inch per year of manure-based amendment. 

“AWAKE, thou wintry earth, Fling off thy sadness! Fair, vernal flowers, laugh forth Your ancient gladness! Christ is risen!” — “An Easter Hymn,” Thomas Blackburn.

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