The Garden Patch: Asking and answering

052514-garden-excericiseThinking caps anyone? Here are some Q and A’s from the Master Gardner training program – see how many you can get correct – here goes!

Somebody told me that I should have my garden plowed in the fall, rather than waiting until spring – is that right? Personally, I prefer fall, but either is OK. By turning the soil in the fall you can take advantage of the freeze/thaw cycle that winter provides and that leaves the soil with a finer texture and faster drying time in the spring planting season.

We just finished building our new house and will soon be sodding our lawn. The contractor has recommended applying a layer of topsoil over the existing grade to create a better root zone for the grass. Is that a good idea? That’s better than a good idea, it’s a great idea!

My yard seems to be hard and compacted – what can i put on to improve the soil? Aereate – add and work in compost – and add humus.

What is the difference between soil and dirt? You grow plants in soil – dirt is what you track into the house when you’re finished. Seriously – soil is the remains of plants and animals and has the necessary qualities to support plant life.

My neighbor just had his pond cleaned out and has offered me the soil that came out of the bottom – which I intend to use for a raised bed garden. Would this be a good idea? No, no and no. That soil is too compacted and sterile. It could be used but would require an extremely high use of fibrous materials and require some time.

I’ve been told that I should use a high phosphorus fertilizer on my flower bed – is that correct? You also need the other ingredients in fertilizer used for root and fruit production. Read the label!

I would like to dispose of my wood ashes from the fireplace by putting them on my garden – is that okay? Some – VERY FEW – are OK. They are used to raise the soil ph.

Would adding sand to my garden improve the soil? Only if you add enough. Not good in small quantities.

Somebody told me to add gypsum to my garden to improve the soil – would that help? It reduces acidity – have a soil test done first!

Would it help to mix shredded wood chips into the soil of my garden? NO – decomposition would lower levels of nitrogen – but – eventually this condition would reverse – it would take a while!

How much gravel should i put in the bottom of my flower pots before i fill them with potting soil? None.

I heard a gardening expert recommend the use of epsom salts around roses and tomatoes – is this a good idea? This product is high in salt – have a soil test done first.

Can I get my soil tested to see if there is a contaminant present that would interfere with plant growth? Yes – through a private lab – and it would be costly. K-State does not provide this service.

Is it okay to use animal manure in my vegetable garden? What about sewerage sludge? Manure is a complete fertilizer but low in the amount of nutrients, but is still the better soil amendment. Sludge is okay as a amendment but not so much as a fertilizer.

Is it okay to use dirt from my vegetable garden for my house plants? You risk bringing undesirable elements into the house – and probably improper nutrients.

Planting instructions often emphasize well-drained soil – how can I determine if mine is well-drained? By digging a hole and seeing if (when filled with water) the water drains in 18 to 24 hours. Also note soil color – color should be clear and bright.

What should I avoid putting in my compost pile? Meat, fat, bones, dairy products. Also I wouldn’t use plant refuse with a heavy chemical content (Round-Up, Weed-B-Gone, etc.)

Are there reliable soil testing kits available for home gardeners to do their own analysis? Not really.

I accidently put on twice as much (2x) fertilizer on my lawn than I should have – what should i do? Water heavily. Very heavily!

Pop quiz

Do you know the answer to this question? The two colors of light needed by plants from the spectrum are _____ and ______. (Answer: blue and red).

How about … The two functions of roots are ______ and ______. (Water and food).

What plant has male and female parts on the same plant? Why, it’s your summertime favorite – corn!

Okay – that’s enough education for this week! Hope you’ve had a great one and that a better one is coming up next week! And remember, Benjamin Franklin is the one that said “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” Does that mean save the water for the garden? Oh, yes – old Ben must have known Robin Williams because he said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s party!’”


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.


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