Soil Improvements

Last year I added compost and a product from Microlife to my rose beds and they really appeared to do better. What do others use to enhance their garden soil?

Monthly foliar applications of Microbe Remedy is a good process/product to improve plant health, too.

Out here in Western WA we use Alfalfa meal a few times a year on established roses, 1 cup (dry) for large roses and 1/2 cup per miniature or MF rose bush. We scratch that in around the drip line and water well. Some of our friends in Tacoma Rose Society mix other dry organic ingredients and put that in the hole at planting time. I will look for the recipe.

Another soil improvement needed here is prilled lime. Spring and fall I use my Kelway pH meter to test and record the pH in several parts of each bed. The copious amount of rain we get in the PNW between Oct.- April lowers the pH of our soil. (It also washes away nitrogen but that is another story). Already this February I have measured beds with a pH of 5.7 (near ‘Irresistible’) and 7.0 (near ‘Maroon Eight’). Most tests were in the pH of 6.2- 6.4 range). Calpril lime has been applied already because it is slow acting, but not as slow as regular lime works.

This is what a TOP exhibitor in PNW uses at planting time! All organics.
Mixed in a wheel barrow I think.

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I have my soil tested every other year and adjust as needed. In general, I start with Soil3 veggie mix. I add 3-4 inches and follow that with alfalfa pellets sprinkled throughout. The next step is to spread a thin layer of seaweed/kelp powder throughout all of the flower beds. Next, I cover all of my beds with 1-2 inches of worm castings.

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That sounds great! No wonder you have such a beautiful rose garden!

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I did a lot of reading, over 40 years, and tried many of these products on one half of my garden while watching th other half as control. It does appear that if the soil is soil life friendly in terms of physical structure and the soil chemistry, such as well aerated, sufficient organic matter, and compost, pH between 6.0-7.0, well drained, then all the soil life we need will come looking for this soil and establish colonies and thrive. On the other hand, if the soil is not soil-life friendy, the added soil life in whatever form will not colonize easily, but no harm in trying once. I have settled down on applying at least two pounds of leaf compost per each square ft. space of my rose beds annually and covering it with three-inch layer of dobbe ground hardwood mulch for the last eight years and the results have been fabulous. I have never grown any better roses ever before. My indigenous soil is rock-hard red clay.

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Here in Western WA our normal pH is about 5.2 so you can see that we need to use lime to et it up into the 6.0-6.5 range for nutrient availability. The last soil test I had indicated that our magnesium level is quite high so the recommended lime to use is calcitic.

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Over the years, we have used a lot of typical fertilizers, and our soil has accumulated an excess amount of phosphorus and potassium. We have embraced the simplistic approach that Satish recommends. We have some organic supplements, such as worm, castings and alfalfa meal, but have not added any fertilizers that contain potassium and phosphorus. As the phosphorus and potassium in our soil have dropped, our roses have improved dramatically.
Joe Bergs

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Thank you for your comment Joe and welcome to our community! Diane

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That’s amazing. I think I’ll try that on some of my roses this year.

Most Midwest soils are normally high in phosphorus. Add the normal high pH, 7.2-7.8 means the phosphorus is not available to plants. Lowering the pH to under 7, closer to 6.5 releases the phosphorus to the plants.

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I’m in Oregon and my philosophy is to feed the worms and they’ll feed my soil. I have a pelleted fertilizer made from chicken manure that I scatter in my beds. I also buy bags of alfalfa pellets to scatter. I spread compost every other year or so. If something is potted, I will use Osmocote. That’s mostly all I do. I find that my worm population has exploded and with it, things are growing really well.

Anyone have experience adding humus to augment soil? Good or bad idea?

Once the potassium levels drop to “ low” or even medium levels, I would recommend adding some potassium nitrate to the fertilizing program. Instead of using two cups of urea per bed of 300 square ft, I apply one cup of urea and one cup of potassium nitrate and get excellent results.,When I make addition of generous amounts of leaf compost as the main stay of maintaining soil fertility, nothing else is really needed. After a couple of years of following this method, a lot of worm castings are made in the beds by the volunteer worms that find their way to the organically rich soil.A list more than typically bought and applied to a bed by gardeners. Not applying all kinds of fertilizers just because someone said it is “good” for something (?) also helps stabilize the pH of the soil.

I am not sure what product you are refering to when you say humus, because humus is the end product of continued decomposition of compost/all organic materials, Most rosarians use liberal amounts of compost each year in their rose beds. When I put in my new rose garden in Matthews, NC four years ago ( heavy clay) I added dump truck loads of leaf compost and tilled it into the rose beds. After I planted roses, I added two inches more of compost and covered with hardwood mulch. I repeated this each spring, and in four years, have developed excellent soil in my rose beds.

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If you can get chip drop, that is also a good way to build up your soil. Use it as mulch, as it breaks down it provides all kinds of good things.
I am not well versed in the particulars, I think there are some kinds of trees you want to avoid (like black walnut), but otherwise incorporating it is a good thing.

Chip drop? Is that different than shredded bark mulch?

Diane, yes it is. Chip drop is when tree service companies go around the neighborhood (or wherever) and remove branches or other tree parts and run them thru their commercial size chipper. So you get everything - leaves, wood, all of it.
Bark mulch is just that - bark.
Here is some reading: WSU Extension Publications|Using Arborist Wood Chips as a Landscape Mulch (Home Garden Series)

If you really want to dive into how soils work, read Robert Pavlis’ book ‘Soil Science for Gardeners’, it explains things in a way I found fascinating.

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