“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil…There can be no life without soil and no soil without life, they have evolved together” Charles Kellogg
The best way to get to know your soil is to dig a narrow, hole about 24 inches deep. There should be a dark topsoil layer above a paler layer, known as subsoil. Your topsoil should be loose and well-draining. If it’s hard and compacted, then roots will have trouble growing in it and drainage will be poor.
There are different types of subsoils: hard clay, bedrock, stony material, and even sand. There really isn’t anything you can do about your subsoil but it’s important to know what type of drainage it provides.
A porous subsoil will allow roots to reach down for nutrients, and during dry weather, for water. If your subsoil is compacted, then your best option is to make raised beds. That way you can increase drainage and the amount of good soil available to your plants.
Is Your Soil Alkaline? Or Acid?
This video will show how to determine your soil’s nutrients. 1:38 minutes long
Measuring your soil’s pH level is important because most plants need soil which is slightly acidic, in the 6.2 to 6.8 level. For reference, a pH of 7 is neutral, less is acidic and anything above 7 is alkaline.
A laboratory test is ideal, but soil test kits are sold in most garden centers and home improvement stores. The kit will quickly indicate your soil’s pH by using a simple color system. Acidic soil using turns the testing solution an orange-yellow, neutral shows as green, and alkaline soil turns it dark green. If you have a local Cooperative Extension Service, nearby, you can have your soil tested there. They will also be able to tell you if your soil has any deficiencies and suggest ways to improve it.
Types of Soil
• Sandy soil drains easily but it dries out quickly in the summer heat. It contains few nutrients so you will need to fertilize regularly. It is a good soil for cool-season crops because it retains heat in the spring when most gardens in northern regions are being started.
• Clay is heavy and rich in nutrients. It drains poorly in winter which makes for a waterlogged garden during the spring thaw. They maintain moisture in the summer so they’re good for warm weather crops.
• Loam is a crumbly soil that combines the best features of sand and clay.
How To Check Your Soil’s Drainage
Remember the hole you dug to examine the soil in your yard? Now it’s time for a little experiment to find out how well it drains. Fill the hole with water, cover it, and leave it overnight.
If the water is still there the next morning, your soil is draining poorly. This means you may need to set up a drainage system or resort to raised beds. Excess water is deadly for plants, causing root rot and weakening the plant and making it susceptible to pests and diseases.
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” Audrey Hepburn
Here Comes the Sun!
If you decide to grow most types of beans or artichokes, for instance, you’ll need a spot that is sunny for most of the day. On the other hand, if you want to grow lettuce or spinach feel need a spot which offers some shade.
But how do you know which spot is sunny at 12 pm but shady at 4 pm or vice-versa? By checking the light and shadow patterns during the day.
Place wood stakes in the areas you’re considering for your garden. Record the times when each area is fully covered with sunlight and the times when shadows appear. In general, you’ll want an area that receives at least six hours of sun. Again, your choice of plants will play a role in the amount of sun your garden should receive.
Examples of plants which do well in partial shade:
• Arugula • Cabbage • Endive • Horseradish • Lettuce • Spinach • Peas • Swiss Chard • Radish • Rhubarb
Rain, Rain, Go Away!
Climate will influence your selection of the fruits and vegetables you can grow successfully. Most areas in North America are located in a temperate zone which is unaffected by the extreme heat of the tropics and frigid cold of the polar circles.
However, that doesn’t mean that all of North America has the same weather conditions, as you already know. There are areas that are drier and hotter, and others with cooler, wetter conditions. Your plans should always reflect your local weather conditions.
Most plants have a range of air temperatures in which they thrive. Most common vegetables are divided into two categories: cool season and warm season. Obviously, these vegetables vary in their planting requirements and in the conditions they will tolerate.
It sounds like a lot of work, but again, preparation is key. Now, that you know which areas receive the best sunlight for your planned crops, and where you have the best access to water and good soil, you need to do a little more groundwork.
Your site has to be free from underground utility lines. Local utility companies will happily locate and stake out their underground lines if you contact them.
Create your map, by first taking a photo of the site to map out the garden. Shoot the photo from a point which allows a full view of your entire garden area. Now, you draw a design of the area and mark the shady areas or any areas which have obstructions such as roots, large rocks, or slopes.
If you’re like me, you may have envisioned nurseries growing rose bushes from seedlings. Or you may even think of them growing from smaller plants, like when you bring home small tomato plants. If that’s your conception — and it is for many who are just starting the hobby — you’ll be surprised to learn how roses really are bred.
Buds or Shoots
For the most part, the roses you buy at most retail outlets today are grafted or more appropriately budded. This means that the buds or shoots of a specific rose are attached to the roots of a second rose. This second rose is called the rootstock.
Once attached, they grow together to create one plant. The point at which two parts are joined is referred to as the bud union. Later in this blog, I’ll refer more to this particular part of the rose.
Not only that but on most plants that you buy, you’ll be able to identify this section with relative ease. This point is usually slightly swollen. If for some reason, you can’t see this point and you know without a doubt the rose is grafted, you can safely assume the bud union is then the point where several main stems or canes join the base of the plant.
Canes which are attached either above or directly at the bud union are called “the top growth.” These are nearly always those of the desired rose. On rare occasions, a plant produces what’s called “sport”. This is a shoot with traits that differ from the rest of the plant. Traits like vigor, habit or even flower color could be among these types of traits on occasion.
If the cane emerges below the bud union, it’s called a sucker. These are outgrowths of the rose which was used as the rootstock. If left to grow, the sucker usually crowds out the desired top growth. Most people remove these as soon as they recognize them. It’s best to snap these off where they come out at the root, rather than just cutting them off at the ground level. If you don’t do this, the plant is likely to continue to produce another sucker at this same point.
You may be confused at first by some of the other terminologies, rose lovers used to describe their growths. Once you get a handle on this, you get a better idea of not only what these individuals are talking about, but you’ll gain a better understanding and enjoyment of your gardening habit.
Grafted or Own-root
Once you’ve decided on which roses you’re planting, then you have a second choice to make — one you may not have thought much about up until now.
Are you going to buy a grafted or “own-root” plant. Either choice has advantages attached to it, as well as disadvantages.
Grafted plants are essentially the top growth of the desired rose attached to the roots of another rose — called the rootstock. This method of propagation allows the producers of these plants to quickly create a garden-ready plant. It also allows a better variety of rootstocks to suit a particular growing condition.
Three rootstocks are among the most commonly used in the United States.
The first is called ‘Dr. Huey’. This one tolerates average to dry conditions and alkaline soil conditions.
The second is ‘Fortuniana’. This particular rootstock is well suited to hot climates. It tolerates nematodes that are soil-borne pests. It needs to be fertilized regularly and generously. You may also discover that it may take an extra year or two to settle into its new home as well as produce some good top growth. If you choose this type, then you need to be patient with it.
And the third type is called ‘Rosa multflora’, which adapted quite well to cold climates. Not only that, but it also tolerates acidic soil and nematodes well.
Fascinating and Frustrating
Now here’s the kicker, it’s what makes growing roses so fascinating and so frustrating at the same time. The same top growth grafted onto different rootstocks can perform differently. That’s why two roses with the same name but bought by different sources may differ drastically in their performance.
For the most part, you just don’t know which rootstock a plant has been grafted to. But, for the best results, seek out suppliers who can tell you what rootstocks they’ve used. Then they’ll be able to tell you whether the rootstock itself is suited to your area.
In the last few years, a new trend among rose growers have occurred. More nurseries offer roses propagated by cuttings. These cuttings, in turn, actually form their own roots.
As you can imagine, this method has several benefits. First, many of these plants survive winter weather much better. They tend to live longer and their chances of developing the rose mosaic virus, a common rose disease is minimized.
If by chance, the cold weather kills the top growth of one of these plants, the odds are in your favor that new growth will actually sprout from the roots. And the good news here is that the new growth will be the same rose you originally chose.
This is in contrast to the grafted rose. When a grafted rose dies, the new growth will be whatever the rootstock was and for you, that’ll be a surprise. Chances are it’ll be nothing like your original choice.
So now you have yet another decision to make in choosing your roses. Some rose hobbyists love the own-root roses. Others, however, feel the benefits of selecting the rootstock make the grafted plant a better choice. But only you can decide.
If you really can’t make up your mind (and while you’re new at this, you may not really have much of an opinion), why not choose one or two of each? In this way, you’ll have some experience with each kind.