Getting soil ready for Fall

Brad9213(8, Waco, TX)February 14, 2014

Hello,

I recently decided to undertake the task of creating a beautiful garden with all of my fiance's favorite flowers, but as the planting time is not until Fall for most of these(Peonies, Orchids, Lilys, Hydrangeas), I was advised to start working up my soil, and planting some basic annuals, such as Cosmos, marigolds, dahlias, etc.

My question is, where do I begin with my soil? What equipment would I need to test it, what type of compost or fertilizer will I need to get it ready for the fall, etc.

I am completely new to this, and am going to be diving in pretty heavily, so I could definitely use some starting advice to point me in the right direction.

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

The United States is a big place with many soil types and climates as is Zone 8. The only thing that zone tells anyone is which plants will survive a normal winter where you are which is why it is called the Plant Hardiness Zone.
So where in the United States are you?
You should have a good reliable soil test for soil pH and levels of major nutrients done, do not rely on a home test kit.
You may also want to use these simple soil tests,
) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drainsâ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

to learn more about the soil that is there and what it may need.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 7:10AM
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toxcrusadr

Good advice there from kimmsr. Also:

Start a compost pile now - even in winter, you have kitchen scraps. Read up on how to compost properly. It's easy once you learn a few tips.

Most states with significant agriculture have Ag Extension services, you may have one in your county. They can test your soil for a reasonable price. This will tell you major nutrients (NPK), micronutrients (iron, magnesium, etc.), pH and organic matter content. Lab analysis is way better than home soil test kits - don't waste your money.

Finally, talk to neighbors and/or local gardening club, Master Gardeners group, etc. about conditions in your area and how to get the most out of your garden.

We can advise on some of your other questions like compost and fertilizer once you get some test results.

Good luck and keep us posted.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 11:33AM
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Brad9213(8, Waco, TX)

I apologize, I was making these posts at almost one in the morning lol. I live in central texas, and I will get started on that sample today.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 11:54AM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

You could actually plant the items you name at any time if they are pot grown and you are prepared to water. So if you have the ground ready you could start much sooner than next Autumn. However, unless you are talking about hardy terrestrial species, you won't be able to grow orchids outdoors. As well as getting the soil ready, you would do well to research each of the plants you have in mind so as to avoid disappointment trying to grow things in the wrong conditions.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 2:21PM
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Brad9213(8, Waco, TX)

Well, I got the 1'x1' hole dug, and am about to start the drainage test, but the thing that worries me is that it was stated I should find around 5 or so worms per shovel full. I haven't sifted through my soil yet, but during digging I only found 1 worm.

Does this simply mean that I will essentially have to completely build up the soil?

Our neighbor happens to have a vegetable garden, so I will likely talk to them as soon as I can about what they've had to do.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 2:39PM
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Brad9213(8, Waco, TX)

Also, after moving over another couple feet and starting another small hole, I found what seemed to be some kind of white powdery/moldy substance an inch or two under the surface, and extends around half a foot down.

From what I have found, it may be an indication that the soil is breaking down wood chips..which I found quite a bit of reddish woodchips in the soil..and that it is normal, but I thought I might see what you all thought about it.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 4:25PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Earthworms feed on organic matter in the soil so finding one indicates that soil there lacks organic matter, or enough to support a good population of them. The presence of earthworms is an indication of other types of the Soil Food Web being there so that one earthworm indicates a lack of other members of the SFW. All members of that Soil Food Web feed on soil organic matter and convert the nutrients in that organic matter into something the plants growing in that soil can use to grow.
That white stuff looks to me like a fungus that is working on digesting that wood chip. It is not a problem and should be there.
The link to a Soil Biology Primer may be something of interest for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Soil Biology Primer

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 6:30AM
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toxcrusadr

If you live in a fairly arid climate down there, you might not have a lot of worms and that might be a normal thing. But it's one more indication that the soil probably needs work. It looks clayey and low in organic matter, so compost is the ticket.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 2:20PM
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socalgal_gw Zone USDA 10b Sunset 24

Is your soil where you dug the hole pretty dry? Earthworms need some moisture.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 9:41PM
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lazy_gardens

the thing that worries me is that it was stated I should find around 5 or so worms per shovel full. I haven't sifted through my soil yet, but during digging I only found 1 worm.

Maybe they heard you coming! Don't worry about it.

Does this simply mean that I will essentially have to completely build up the soil? No. It means that spot, right now, doesn't have very many worms.

If you have organic material and moisture, they will come.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 11:39AM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

The 'rule' that you must have x earthworms per volume y of soil always worries me. I see very few worms when I dig my allotment. In the 20 plus years I've been cultivating it I have never seen 5 per spadeful. It doesn't bother me because I know that that is normal for where I garden. We don't know where you are or what your native soil is like. It may be fine already and just need a dose of compost every so often. It would be a good idea to dig a patch over, remove weeds and see how a few basic things do in the soil as is, just to get an idea of how much work it might need.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 11:56AM
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darth_weeder(z7 NY)

I have found the presence of earthworms to be indicative of healthy soil but on the other hand lack of said worms does not necessarily mean the soil is unhealthy because I have dug up my garden and have had dozen(s) of worms in one hole and maybe five feet away 1 or 2.
YMMV

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 7:46PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

I have never worked a soil that had adequate levels of organic matter, sandy, clay or loam, that did not have 5 or more earthworms per shovel full of soil. I have worked soils that lacked adequate levels that did not have those numbers of worms, and the people that worked those soils and thought they had adequate levels of OM were surprised when a soil test said they did not.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 6:53AM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

kimmsr - all I know is that in my soil there are few earthworms visible when digging. The ground is mulched with compost throughout the year and receives a thick layer of manure at least every other year. I don't believe it is lacking in organic matter. I have just dug three rows to one spade's depth and did not see any earth worms. When my brief digging stint was interrupted by rain I filled two bags of winter greens (kale, purple sprouting and parsley) which are growing alongside where I was digging. So what is an 'adequate' level of OM? Surely, if the ground is producing as much as I need, the OM is by definition 'adequate'. I garden to get things to eat, not to fulfil an arbitrary worm quota. Here is some inadequate rhubarb grown on my OM and worm-starved soil.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 10:41AM
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darth_weeder(z7 NY)

floral , sorry to hear about your unhealthy soil.
Maybe your worms were on holiday.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 1:15PM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

Maybe ... or possibly emigrated to MI?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 1:30PM
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darth_weeder(z7 NY)

by way of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 2:04PM
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darth_weeder(z7 NY)

by the way floral, what did you make with your rhubarb and did it taste inadequate?

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 3:36PM
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