Gardening Articles

Soils Manures And Fertilizers

The soil must furnish the whole foundation of plant life. For centuries those who have grown things have realized the vital importance of having the soil rich or well supplied with plant food; and if this is important in growing plants in the

field or flower garden, where each vegetable or flower has from one to several cubic feet of earth in which to grow, how imperative it is to have rich soil in a pot or plant box where each plant may have but a few cubic inches! But the trouble is not so much in knowing that plants should be given rich soil, as to know how to furnish it. I well remember my first attempt at making soil rich and thinking how I would surprise my grandmother, who worked about her plants in pots every day of her life, and still did not have them as big as they grew in the flower garden. I had seen the hired man put fertilizer on the garden. That was the secret! So I got a wooden box about two-thirds full of mellow garden earth, and filled most of the remaining space with fertilizer, well mixed into the soil, as I had seen him fix it. I remember that my anxiety was not that I get too much fertilizer in the soil, but that I would take so much out of the bag that it would be missed. Great indeed was my chagrin and disappointment, twelve hours after carefully setting out and watering my would-be prize plants, to notice that they had perceptibly turned yellow and wilted. And I certainly had made the soil rich. So the problem is by no means as simple as might at first be supposed. Not only must sufficient plant food be added to the soil but it must be in certain forms, and neither too much nor too little may be given if the best results are to be attained. Now it is a fact established beyond all dispute that not only food, but air and water, as well, must be supplied to the roots of growing plants; and this being the case, the mechanical condition of the soil in which the plant is to grow has a great deal to do with its success or failure. It must be what is termed a porous and friable soil--that is, one so light and open that water will drain through it without making it a compact, muddy mass. One of the things I noticed about my special fertilizer soil, mentioned above, was that it settled, after being watered, into a solid mass from which water would not drain and into which air could not penetrate. It is next to impossible to find a soil just right for house plants, so, as a general thing the only way to get a good soil is to mix it yourself. For this purpose several ingredients are used. If you live in a village or suburb, where the following may be procured, your problem is not a difficult one. Take about equal parts of rotted sod, rotted horse manure and leaf-mould from the woods and mix thoroughly and together, adding from one-sixth to one-third, in bulk, of coarse sand. If a considerable quantity of soil will be required during the year, it will be well to have some place, such as a bin or large barrel, in which to keep a supply of each ingredient. The sod should be cut three or four inches thick, and stacked in layers with the grassy sides together, giving an occasional soaking, if the weather is dry, to hasten rotting. The manure should be decomposed under cover, and turned frequently at first to prevent burning out; or sod and manure can be rotted together, stacking them in alternate layers and forking over two or three times after rotting has begun. The manure furnishes plant food to the compost, the rotted sod "body," the leaf-mould water-absorbing qualities, and the sand, drainage qualities. If the soil is wanted at once, and no rotted sod is to be had, use good garden loam, preferably from some spot which was under clover-sod the year before. If it is difficult to obtain well-rotted manure, street sweepings may be used as a substitute, and old chip-dirt from under the wood pile, or the bottom of the woodshed if it has a dirt floor, will do in place of leaf-mould. Peat, or thoroughly dried and sweetened muck are also good substitutes for leaf-mould. Finely screened coal ashes may take the place of sand. If you live in the city, where it is difficult to obtain and to handle the several materials mentioned, the best way is to get your soil ready mixed at the florists, as a bushel will fill numerous pots. If you prefer to mix it yourself, or to add any of the ingredients to the soil you may have, most florists can supply you with light soil, sand, peat or leaf-mould and rotted manure; and sphagnum moss, pots, saucers and other things required for your outfit. If a large supply is wanted, it would probably be cheaper to go to some establishment on the outskirts of the city where things are actually grown, than to depend upon the retail florist nearer at hand. Potting soil when ready to use should be moist enough to be pressed into a ball by the hand, but never so moist as not to crumble to pieces again readily beneath the finger.

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