After a busy summer feeding edibles or flowers, garden soil needs a recharge.
WORDS & PHOTOS Shannon Hunt
Hopefully, you have harvested basket-loads of goodness from your garden this season, so now is a good time to replenish your soil as growing vegetables, flowers and fruit trees will have stripped it of much of its goodness. Let’s check a few easy ways to bring your soil back to life and ensure your next crops are as fruitful as your last.
Feed your fruit trees
Fruit tree soil needs feeding and watering well, so make sure it gets regular doses of animal manure, compost, specialised fertilisers and/or seaweed liquid. Watering in some or all of these around the dripline now, and again in late spring, is a wise move. Digging in thin layers of matured animal manure (such as from chickens, domestic horses or cows), blood and bone powder or liquid, and/or compost around the dripline of your fruit trees will reward you over the next fruiting season. Your citrus tree will love organic, slow-release fertilisers too – so if your lemon, grapefruit, mandarin or orange trees are looking yellow and spindly, feed them. And remember, adding organic matter and mulching helps plants to retain much-needed moisture through the hotter months. Always leave a gap (about a stretched adult hand) between the mulch and the tree trunk. Placing mulch too close to the bark of the trunk may cause decay, especially if it is damp.
Tip: Used black or green tea leaves, applied sparingly, make an excellent mulch around established citrus trees when mixed with a good compost.
To rest your soil or not
You have two choices for feeding your vegetable garden soil this month. One way is to replenish it with organic product before you plant out your new season’s plants, and the other is to ‘give it a rest’. To rest it, remove spent vegetables (place them in your compost) and plant out nitrogen-fixing, green cover crop seeds like blue lupin and mustard, an effective soil cleanser. Leave them to grow over winter until they are about to flower, then chop them up and dig them in. Adding a small sprinkle of gypsum will speed up the decomposition of your cover crop and add quality calcium to your soil, but always ensure you apply plenty of compost or manure before you add it. I recommend you plant out a cover crop in a small portion of your garden and use the remaining soil for growing your veges. This way, you continue to produce vegetables and replenish small areas of soil at the same time. Next year, rotate where you grow your cover crop.
Tip: Don’t let your cover crop (green manure) start flowering before digging it in. The seeds can be carried by birds, wind and your feet to regrow and spread everywhere you may not want them to, which is why it’s important to dig your cover crop into your soil when the plants have matured, but before they start to grow flowers.
Alkaline or acidic soil
Flowers like rhododendrons, pink hydrangeas, azaleas and camellias, as well as berries, black/red currants, blueberries, gooseberries and cranberries, do well in slightly acidic soil, while other annuals and perennials prefer slightly alkaline soil. If you are not sure what plants grow better in what soil type, ask a good garden supplies store for help. Do keep your soil well manured regardless, and remember – if you try and grow acidic-loving plants in alkaline soil, or vice versa, they may not be able to take up the food they need to truly thrive.
Tip: If your camellia leaves are going yellow and are faded, they may be suffering from chlorosis (a nitrogren, manganese and magnesium deficiency). A feed of camellia acid food granules or a specialised camellia liquid food, or mulch with a good compost, should help. Always apply fertilisers to damp soil so they can more readily release their goodness.