7 Pro Tips for Fall Soil Preparation You Should Know About

Fall Soil Preparation
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7 Pro Tips for Fall Soil Preparation You Should Know About

Start Preparing Your Soil for Fall

The advent of autumn marks the end of the growing season in most places. But even as the leaves begin to turn and snaps of cold come on the breeze, a gardener’s work is far from finished.

Now is the time not only to close out the prior growing season but to prepare for the next one. And soil preparation is a major consideration.

Think of all the work that awaits you come next spring. Lawn chores, weed clearing, and bare-root planting would be enough work on their own. But with the soil still cold and compacted, it can turn into a real mess.

Preparing your soil for fall can not only reduce the amount of work waiting for you but help ensure your planting success next year.

To get started, here are five key tips for fall soil preparation.

1. Clear Out the Remnants of Your Summer Garden

First things first, we’re going to want to wind down our summer gardening activities. If we leave old plant debris to sit, it gives pests and diseases a place to ride out the winter. Cleaning up is essential.

Depending on the health of the old plants, you can toss them on the compost pile to get that started (more on composting later). But if you suspect that they might already be affected by diseases, it’s better not to chance it and instead have them removed from your property altogether.

2. Plant Your Fall Crops

Just because the winter months will be here before we know it doesn’t mean we can’t grow a few basic veggies in the meantime. A lot of cool-season crops like broccoli, spinach, and lettuce can handle colder temperatures than you might realize. In fact, depending on who you ask, some may even taste better after a light frost or two.

The ideal time to plant these crops varies by region, be sure to refer to your plant hardiness zone before committing to planting. But generally, the tail-end of summer to early fall is a good time for these cold-weather crops. Once cold weather sets in, floating row covers can provide those young seedlings with a few degrees of extra warmth and frost protection.

3. Start Building Next Year’s Soil

Okay, with our summer leftovers cleared out and our autumn planting done, we can focus on building our soil for the next season.

A good first step is figuring out what type of soil you’re working with. Not all soil is created equal, and your needs may vary depending on what your gardening goals are. And if the soil you have to work with isn’t quite to your needs, you may have to make additional amendments to it.

For general purpose gardening, loamy soil is often the best choice. Made from a roughly equal mix of sand, silt, and clay, it feels finely textured and a little damp to the touch and should crumble in your hand.

It’s often ideal because it both drains well and retains moisture, so you rarely have to worry about it drying out in the sun or turning into muck with heavy rains.

If this isn’t the type of soil on your property, there are amendments that you can get to help strike that golden mean.

Fall Soil Preparation4. Plan For What You’ll Plant Next Year

To a great extent, the kind of soil that you build will depend on what your planting plans for the following season are. Not only can different plants favor different soil types, but many are sensitive to different pH levels or need certain nutrients in the soil.

A pH level of 6.0 to 7.0 is ideal for most garden vegetables, though you’ll want to double-check as some plants will thrive in more acidic or alkaline environments. Tomatoes are a good example, preferring slightly acidic soil.

There are a few ways to influence the pH level of your soil. The simplest is to add amendments to either raise or lower the pH as needed. Raising the pH, or making it more alkaline, usually involves adding commercially prepared limestone products. Lowering the pH and making it more acidic usually involves adding aluminum sulfate or sulfur, both of which can be found at most garden centers.

Alternatively, certain elements added to your compost can affect the pH, as we’ll see in the next section.

5. Start the Next Season’s Compost

Composting is a great activity to not only reduce household waste but give a boon to your garden as well. Plants of all kinds need organic matter in their soil to thrive. And starting a compost heap in the fall will give it plenty of time to break down for the fall.

The leftover plant material from your summer garden is a great starting point, as are fall leaves, straw, and grass clippings. Green kitchen scraps can be added to the compost throughout the fall and winter to add extra nutrients.

And depending on what you add, you can help push the pH of your compost in one direction or another. Adding acidic elements like coffee grounds will have the expected effect, lowering the pH and making it more suitable for acid-loving plants. On the other end, wood ash is one of the best elements you can add to raise the pH if that’s what’s needed.

6. Add Compost

McCarty Mulch & Stone Inc. produces a beautiful dark brown compost product for your garden beds, or add your own from the backyard compost pile. You can also visit your local livestock producer, where they sometimes have piles of hay and animal bedding sitting in piles around the farm. Compost adds nutrients to your garden and is high in organic matter helping to provide substance and texture to your soil. Applying a layer of compost to your garden and letting it blanket the soil over winter makes a great insulating blanket for your garden during the colder months. Make sure that whether spring or fall, that the compost is tilled into the soil before spring planting.

7. Till the Earth

Tilling your fall soil is key to preventing the soil from compacting, ensuring enough drainage, and allowing oxygen and your soil amendments down into the soil.

For the best results, spread your amendments over the soil before tilling to really work them into the earth. And if your climate allows, planting a cover crop like rye, barley, or clover in the fall is a great idea. It will help prevent weeds from taking root, and come spring it can be mowed and tilled into the soil as a ready supply of fresh organic material.

Soil Preparation for a Fruitful Planting Season

Working the soil in fall weather may not seem productive on its face. Particularly not if you live in a region prone to harsh freezes.

But soil preparation is a year-round task. An ounce of work now makes for a pound of progress come the next season, no matter what time of year it is.

To ensure that you’re always making the most out of each stretch of the calendar, you should familiarize yourself with the basics of building soil. For the basic techniques that will serve you well year-round, check out our soil preparation guide.

Handful of arable soil in hands of responsible farmer
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The Ultimate Soil Guide: How to Find the Best Type of Soil for Your Garden and Landscape

More and more Americans are creating luscious landscapes and gardens to benefit pollinators. Even if that isn’t your goal, having beautiful growth in your yard (or in your home) can be a great way to liven up a home. 

Choosing to garden and create a landscape around your home is the first step. After that, you have many other factors to consider, like which plants you want, the type of soil you need, and lighting requirements.

Are you interested in upgrading your soil to a type that matches your plants better? Are you a new gardener and want to be sure that your seedlings thrive?

Learn more about garden and landscaping soil types and how to find the right one for your garden by reading below.

Different Types of Garden and Landscaping Soil

Before we dive into finding the right type of soil for your plants, we need to first discuss the available types of soil. You should also know that different soils can be combined to create your own soil.

There are probably more varieties than you know about. Determining the options will help you understand why certain plants desire certain types of soil over others.

Sand, clay, and silt all come from rock that has been broken down over a long period of time. The different amounts of these mineral particles in any soil will impact its texture and fertility. It also impacts how much water and air the soil can hold.

Because of these major differences across all soil types, some plants prefer soils with different concentrations of these mineral particles for optimal growth and health. Here are the soil products that we stock:

Blended Topsoil 

Great for establishing new flower beds and general gardening! A fertile soil amendment containing a blend of pulverized topsoil and our quality garden compost. We can also mix to your specific specifications.  

 

Compost

Soil Amendment! Horse and cow manure mixed with straw and sawdust and aged over 18 months, turned and screened to produce a fine black texture. Adds organic matter to the most clay-packed soils or enhances the growth of delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers. Tendency to be higher in pH, not recommended to plant directly into this product. Works best when tilled with the existing soil. 

 

Pulverized Topsoil

Our topsoil is sourced directly from the farm fields close to the White River here in central Indiana. This material is screened and pulverized into an easy working soil, free of large clods and debris. This light brown-colored soil is great for creating a place to plant the landscape you have always dreamed of. Great for establishing landscape and grass. Always dry and under the roof at McCarty Mulch. 

 

Ultra Soil

Rich in nutrients, high in organic matter content with a neutral pH. McCarty’s black potting soil is reed sedge-based peat topsoil composed of sphagnum peat moss and rich, black Northern Indiana topsoil. Rich in humus and has a high degree of water and nutrient retention capabilities, this black topsoil offers the absolute highest quality, black, rich product soil available. Can be used for new and established lawns, flower and vegetable gardens, planters and window boxes, roses, shrubs, trees, evergreens, etc. 

 

Enhancing Your Soil: What Else Do You Need?

You can add things to your soil to make it match the plants’ needs more closely. Some of these additions might help with nutrition, moisture levels, or pH balances. Others may help with compaction, aerating the soil, or feeding levels.

Common things you can add to the soil to enhance it include:

  • Sphagnum moss
  • Gypsum
  • Manure (composted or dehydrated)
  • Sulfur
  • Topsoil
  • Garden soil
  • Lime
  • Vermiculite 

All of these things will have different effects on the soil. As a result, you should research how anything you add to your current soil will impact its efficacy and ability to provide nutrition to your plants. 

Finding Your Soil Type

Do you already have some plants? If so, it’s a good idea to determine what type of soil you are already using before you switch it up.

Most plants are going to grow best in soil that has a pH level of 6 or 7. With that being said, soil pH (acidity) can be anywhere from 0 to 14, and some plants will prefer numbers closer to either end of that spectrum. 

You can measure the pH of your soil with a simple kit found online so that you can match your plant’s needs. If it’s too acidic or too alkaline, you can use some of the amendments mentioned above to try and correct it.

Because soils are a combination of clay, silt, and sand, there are some simple tests you can do to see which of these particles are most prominent in your soil.

One of them is called the ball test. Take a tablespoon of the soil and wet it. Roll this into a ball form.

If it packs together easily and can mold it, the soil has many clay particles.

Does it fall apart instead of staying in its shape? It’s likely a mix of clay and sand. 

Soil is very gritty and doesn’t hold; no matter what you do has a higher sand content. 

Silt soil has many small particles in it. If you make the ball and it holds together but doesn’t feel gritty to the touch (like it would with a lot of sand or clay in it), it’s likely more of a silt soil. 

Choosing Healthy Soil for Your Local Nursery

The best way to find the right garden and landscaping soil is to do research. There is information out there that will help you pick out the right type of soil for your climate, plant type, and more.

If you’re planning to put your plants in a raised bed or want to have potted plants, the type of soil you choose should be based on that decision as well.

You can always make changes to it with additions and amendments! 

Are you looking for some great products to help make your garden your own? If so, be sure to check out our products today.

 

Landscaping with flowers, tools and soil
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Soil, Landscaping’s Dirty Secret

Why is soil type so important?          
Soil is a mixture of rocks, minerals, and organic material. The type of soil used in landscaping affects the types of plants and trees that can grow and thrive, but you likely knew that already. What you may not know is it also affects drainage, irrigation, and erosion as well. For example, have you ever witnessed a yard that floods and becomes a small pond during heavy rains? The reason could very well be that the yard is mostly clay and could benefit from a higher sand or silt content with some organic matter added, all of which would increase its ability to drain.
Once you’ve determined the soil types you need for your landscaping, you can easily find local suppliers for bulk soils. If you haven’t made that determination yet, they could likely help with that as well.

What are the types?
Soil is made from particles and is classified by the size of those particles. The three most basic types are clay, silt, and sand. Sand is made up of the largest particles and has the poorest water retention making it the best for drainage. Clay is the opposite of having very small, fine particles that hold water very well and doesn’t drain easily at all. Silt tends to be in the middle and is usually abundant in the nutrients and minerals that plants love.

Some of the less basic types include:

Loam:

Loam is composed of all three basic soil types and is ideal for most plants. The proportions are roughly 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay. Due to being less dense than clay it provides better drainage and air circulation around the plant’s root systems. On the other side, it is heavier and holds water better than sand and has better cohesion, so it is less likely to be eroded by the wind and rain.

Topsoil:  

Topsoil is produced commercially and typically contains added nutrients. It’s terrific for starting seeds or growing plants that don’t yet have strong roots such as cuttings and small transplants. If you use topsoil in your landscaping, it is best to mix it with your existing soil by tilling it with the top two or three inches. Just laying the topsoil on your existing soil can create a water barrier where the two different soil types meet which could cause drainage issues.

 

 

Compost:

Compost is made up of decomposing or fully decomposed organic materials which makes it nutrient rich. While not technically a soil because it cannot support plants on its own, it is a soil amendment and can be added to clay, silt, or sand to create loam. In landscaping, compost is best when it is tilled into your existing soil. Doing so will enhance your existing soil’s nutrients and reduce soil compaction which aids in drainage and air circulation.

Mulch and Gravel:

Also, not a soil types per se, mulch and gravel can be added to soil to change its composition, or on top of the soil in a garden to encourage plant growth. Both mulch and gravel can protect soil from erosion and keep the soil cooler preventing water loss from evaporation. As mulch decomposes, it also benefits the soil by adding nutrients and gravel absorbs heat during the day then releases it at night, which can protect plants from frost damage.

So what type do I need?
That’s a big question which largely depends on what plants you intend to grow, and what is your current drainage and irrigation situation. As we’ve mentioned previously that loam and topsoil are the most common choices and typically the soils that plant love most. This isn’t always the case, however, as some plants do better in sandier soils, while others prefer the solid foundation that clay provides.

Evergreens, Sumac, Trumpet vine, Virginia Creeper, Grevilleas, and Daisies all do well in sandy soils though you may want to mix in compost and cover with mulch to help retain moisture.
Clay compacts tightly making it hard for some plants to develop an expansive root system, but this can form an excellent foundation for Elm, Maple, Cypress, Birch, and Oak. By adding some compost to lessen the compaction and you have great soil for hardy perennials like Daylily, Aster, and Black-eyed Susan.
Anything else to consider?

Soil is literally the foundation for your gardening and landscaping. Without the proper foundation, it can fall apart. Once you’ve assessed your current landscaping situation and have determined your ideal landscape, you can begin to develop a plan to get there, and you’ll almost always start with the soil.
You can determine the soil type you currently have using the jar test mentioned in another post we’ve written about making the best gardening soil, and with that knowledge, proceed to build your ideal soil. Alternatively, you can purchase soil in bulk from a local supplier.

Once you have the soil type you need, you’ll want to understand what your plants need from the soil. Adding fertilizer to the soil is the easiest way to be sure your plants are getting the minerals and nutrients they need. The three most common nutrients that plants use are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Nitrogen is used to grow sturdy stems and healthy leaves. Phosphorus is vital for flowers and fruits. Potassium is essential for healthy root systems. Fertilizers are available in organic and inorganic forms, but most contain the above three nutrients. Inorganic fertilizers work more quickly then organic but if misused can kill your plants, and they are not always healthy for the beneficial microorganisms, insects, and worms in your soil. Organic fertilizers are much slower, but safer and better for your soil’s ecosystem. The downside is you cannot balance the nutrients as well and the inorganic.

Finally, you’ll want to buy a pH test kit from your local gardening store. Test your soil to determine its acidity. Ideally, you’ll want a range between 6.5 and 6.8. You can find instructions on how to alter your soil’s pH in the post we mentioned above about making the best soil.

planting in mulch
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Natural Remedies for Fungal Diseases Your Plants can’t Fight Alone

Most public places offer free hand sanitizer so germs don’t spread. Plants don’t have that luxury. Your plants share lawn beds with other living organisms and without proper care, contamination can occur. Lawn sanitation and treatments, however, preserve your garden’s health. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s making your plants sick?

Microorganisms living in the soil or atop plant leaves are hard to see. How do you know what to look for?  White powdery substances, tiny holes and even brown spots in your lawn are signs your plant needs sanitation. Here’s a list of organisms that make your plants sick:

  1. Aphids: are too small for the human eye to see. Look for yellow leaves or black stems and feel for a sticky substance on leaves and stems, which is a liquid left behind by the insects.
  2. Powdery mildew: is a white fungal residue that looks like baking soda on plant leaves. Mildew damage can dry out leaves and turn them yellow. Hot, humid climates support fungus growth.
  3. Grubs (worms): live under the soil. These little critters chow on grass roots and plants causing sections of your lawn to die.
  4. Mosquitoes: feed on organic debris, decaying leaves, and microorganisms. If plants are sick, mosquitoes appear to clear the waste, however, they carry various diseases.

Plant fungal vaccines

You can purchase pesticides at your local garden retailer, but if you’re not in favor of using chemical-based solutions, try these home remedies for plant recovery. It’s possible that you already have products in your home that naturally prevent fungus from growing. Here are a few home remedies to try:  

  • Dissolve aphids by spraying plants with dish soap and water, which causes the aphid membrane to decay.
  • Remove powdery mildew by mixing milk or baking soda with water and spraying plants to dissolve the powder.
  • June is grub season; liquid Nematodes mixed with water sprayed in grub area is one of many natural solutions that infect and kill grubs.
  • Avoid swarms of mosquitoes by eliminating standing water or purchase a bird a feeder, as some local birds eat up to 200 mosquitoes a day.

Because plant disease is contagious, checking plant health before purchase is important. If you don’t, a sick plant can infect your soil and spread fungal diseases throughout your lawn.

Keeping plants healthy means you have to sanitize their living space. Trimming, pruning and regularly cleaning debris will make plants less vulnerable to fungal diseases. Using healthy topsoil as a life source for your plants or mulch to stop soil erosion improves the quality of your plants. At McCarty Mulch and Stone, we understand that your plant’s quality of life is important to you. Call us today for landscape advice.