July Gardening: Mid and Late Summer Garden Maintenance
By Farmer Craig Witt, Full Circle Owner, Soil Enthusiast
In this hot, high-desert summer, you need the coolest of the cool soil amendments to keep your garden healthy. Along with having a regulated watering schedule and proper soil amendments, using mulch – a protective layer that spreads over the topsoil – will encourage microbe growth and keep topsoil moist during more severe weather.
What is Mulch, Exactly?
Nature never leaves the ground uncovered, and mulch recreates that rule of (green) thumb in your garden. Mulch comes with all different ingredients and in many types, but your best bet will be COMPOSTED mulch. Whether you find mulch at home or use a dependable store-bought brand, it’s good to know how the mulch was made and what is in the mulch blend. Why is COMPOSTED mulch the best? Mother Nature drops “raw” organic materials on the ground. Over time, these materials are decomposed by soil critters and biology. As they are decomposed, they become soil food and become “processed” rather than just being “raw.” Composted mulches from large-scale composters have already been run through a thermophilic (hot) decomposition process. This means they can be more easily digested by your soil, have been hot processed to kill any pathogens or diseases (even weed seeds), while still acting as pretty mulches for aesthetic purposes. Composted mulches from your local composter are always the best way to go; however, there are some other mulches out there that you can use.
- Grass clippings are cheap and ready for use immediately after mowing. Clippings help to add nitrogen to your soil, but beware because they decay quickly and get slimy, which causes the clippings to give o a gross odor.
- Bark shreds or chips are the prettiest mulch around, and they help retain moisture and last quite a bit longer than other mulch materials. Bark is best to use near your trees and planters where you’re not likely to dig up often. If these wood chips are COMPOSTED, they will be even better for your soil!
- Pine needles are especially helpful for blueberries, garlic, potatoes and other acid loving plants. Again, if you can nd COMPOSTED pine needles they will be in a better “decomposed” format for your soil rather than being just raw needles.
- Leaves imitate a forest floor and are great for retaining moisture and smothering weeds.
A Garden With Mulch:
• 10 percent of water evaporates
• Keeps plant roots and soil cool
• Adds nutrition to the soil
A Garden Without Mulch:
• 80 percent of water evaporates
• Soil dries out
• More susceptible to weeds
Applying mulch is easy. Just weed, spread it on out at a 1-2 inch application depth and water. Just be sure to keep mulch about 1-3 inches away from the base of the plant or trees and about a foot away from buildings. This prevents mulch res, if you have a mulch prone to re, that is. COMPOSTED mulches, depending on how they are made, tend to be less combustible than raw mulches. This is because the decomposition process helps take out the combustibility of the organic materials. Think slow barbecue. Slowly sucking out the re but keeping in moisture! Full Circle’s PROTECT is an all- natural, locally produced proprietary blend made from humus-base compost and the woody biomass of Lake Tahoe. This mulch shields your soil from wind, helps suppress weeds, saves water and also prevents res. There is an official “Combustibility Of Landscape Mulches” test trial available online for review at: https://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/les/nr/2011/sp1104.pdf
There’s More To Maintenance Than Mulch
As we spoke about in previous articles for Healthy Beginnings Magazine, we gardeners tend to think tossing a bunch of the good stuff (bark, clippings, leaves and compost) on top of the soil will result in a bountiful garden. But the truth is, healthy gardening starts with healthy soil, and creating healthy soil doesn’t stop in April. Our high-desert soil here in Northern Nevada needs extra help before it can maintain a nourishing environment for our plants.
Growing a healthy garden includes sustainable soil food provided by quality compost, long-term nutrition through minerals, mulching, and regulated watering methods. As your plants reach their teenage stage, they will have eaten up a lot of their nutrients, if not all of them by midsummer. And they are not done. All this absorption calls for a replenishing of the soil, a Midsummer’s BOOST, if you will. A combination of compost, minerals and a natural probiotic will replenish your soil and keep those teenage plants full enough to keep growing some beautiful fruits.
Plant Probiotics – Just like we need certain microbes for survival and energy, without necessary microbes, plants can’t metabolize important nutrients. Plant probiotics act as an energy vehicle, unlocking bio-available nutrients and delivering them to our plants. Full Circle’s PUNCH acts as an “All-natural Worm Brew” that contains bunches of beneficial microorganisms for your plants to enjoy. Mixed into an H20 spray bottle, all you need to do is spritz your plants every 2 weeks on the soil and on the plant itself (roots will eat at their leisure and leaves will eat right then and there).
Cover Crops – In order to capture all the nitrogen in your garden and use it without breaking the bank on fertilizer, try planting cover crops in and around your garden like buckwheat, ryegrass and berseem clover. The nitrogen-gathering crops help to suppress weeds, reduce the surface crusting you usually see with Nevada soils, suppresses soil disease and intrusion from pests AND adds to the organic matter of the environment. In short, they’re awesome. For more information on mid-to-late summer cover crops, take a look at Cornell University’s report: http://covercrops.cals.cornell.edu/mid-summer.php.
Soil maintenance not only ensures a more bountiful garden, it makes the area a sustainable gardening ecosystem so you can grow those tomatoes year after year on the same plot.
In our previous article, we talked about the clay-dominant soil in Northern Nevada. As you will recall, clay soils retain water, causing the water to spread out horizontally. If watered too frequently, the moisture will deoxidize the soil, resulting in a weaker root system. To avoid this, plants in clay soils need to be watered less frequently than plants in sandy or loam soils. We suggest keeping your soil evenly moist with drip or irrigation systems. If you don’t have a drip system, make sure to water “deeply.” More water less often, and let it soak.
Don’t Forget to Weed!
Treat your garden to regular weeding. Cut back overgrown plants that may have dry or withering outer leaves or are too big to handle their own weight.
We’ve shared this information to help you create a more sustainable and nutritious garden this year for your family. Please reach out to us with any questions, tips or tricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.