With planting time fast approaching, keep in mind that the average final frost date for our area is April 15. However, watch the weather forecast to help determine the best time to plant. After the last frost, and with soil temperatures on the rise, it’s safe to start your vegetable garden. For soil temperature and soil moisture levels for our area, visit www.weather.uga.edu.
Soil is a composition of living organisms, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, insects and earthworms, all playing important roles.
• Bacteria and fungi break down dead plant and animal tissue, which become nutrients for plants.
• Nematodes eat plant material and other soil organisms, releasing plant nutrients in their waste.
• Specialized mycorrhizal fungi bring hard-to-reach nutrients and water directly to plant roots, and the plants provide the fungi with carbohydrates.
• Worms and insects make organic material available to bacteria and fungi.
• Burrowing earthworms create pathways in the soil that fill with air and water for plant roots.
Whether you’re planting vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees or grass, one of the most important steps in gardening is soil testing. The UGA Cooperative Extension Soil Test Report provides current levels, as well as personalized recommendations to amend your soil. Soil test kits are available at the UGA Cobb County Extension; for details, call 770-528-4070. Once submitted, test results will be available via email in 10-14 days. Visit https://extension.uga.edu/county-offices/cobb.html to watch the video on how to conduct a soil test.
Organic materials can be added to garden soil in the form of manure, compost, peat moss, leaves and green plant material. When organic matter decays, the residue, called humus, improves the soil structure and the soil’s ability to hold the water, air and nutrients that promote healthy root growth. This especially is true for heavy-clay soil. While clay is full of nutrients, its fine particles need to be broken down, so that they can release those nutrients to the plant roots. Organic matter will help transform heavy clay into a healthy environment. Be cautious about using fresh material (i.e., manure) at the time of planting, which may interfere with seed germination or injure new transplants.
Soil compaction or excess tilling can make it harder for plant roots to penetrate the soil, absorb water and nutrients, and interact with beneficial microbes. Tilling also disturbs the soil and exposes weed seeds to sunlight, which increases germination and will give you more weeds than you started with.
To avoid soil compaction around plant roots, use these tips:
• Use walking paths in planting beds and in between garden rows.
• Try planting in raised beds no wider than 4 feet, to allow easy access from both sides.
• Instead of tilling, use hand tools to prepare garden beds.
• Incorporate 1-2 inches of compost 6-8 inches deep into compacted soil, to increase air, water and nutrients for flowers and vegetables.
Apply mulch to conserve soil moisture, minimize weeds and reduce plant stress by moderating soil temperatures. Visit extension.uga.edu/publications for best practices on how and when to mulch and water.
Rotating your crops each planting season, by planting different families of plants in the same space, will reduce the chance of disease-causing microbes overwintering in your garden soil. We are fortunate to have a long growing season in Georgia, so, if you’re planting a winter garden, make sure to use the same rotation practice when replacing summer crops with winter crops.
The Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County support the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and strive to improve the quality of life in our community by delivering research-based horticultural information, educational programs and projects.
– Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County is a part of the University of Georgia Extension.