Saturday, December 17, 2005

What is Compost?

Composting is a degradation process brought about by bacteria and fungus organisms. Large amounts of organic kitchen, garden, lawn, and/or farm refuse can be reduced in a relatively short time to a pile of black, crumbly humus which makes an ideal soil conditioner.

Compost added regularly to soil will certainly benefit the soil. The soil's structure will improve, since humus contains substances which cause aggregation (sticking together) of soil particles. In a clay soil this means that the microscopic individual particles will be clumped together and more air spaces will be opened up between clumps. Without these air spaces the clay particles stick tightly to each other, forming a nearly impenetrable barrier to water and gases. This is why clay is so sticky when it is wet and hard when dry.

In sandy soils, the large sand particles are clumped with humus too, the humus adding its nutrient- and moisture-holding capacity. Normally, water and nitrogen fertilizers leach quickly from sandy soil, making it necessary to add them frequently.

A less widely recognized benefit from compost is that it contains humic and other organic acids which help to degrade compounds naturally present in the soil into the simpler form that plants use. These elements, or ions, can then be held by the humus particles, which contain many ion exchange sites on their surfaces. The ions are released into soil water, and plant roots are able to take them up.

Because there are so many ion exchange sites on humus particles, humus increases the buffering capacity of the soil. This condition helps to prevent rapid leaching of lime and nutrients as well as reducing the effects of over-liming and over-fertilizing. For example, when a soil's pH is increased too much by adding too many wood ashes, the most economical way to correct the condition is generally to add compost, which will absorb (take up on the surface) the extra ions that produce the high pH. (compost itself is somewhat acid because of the acidic products made by microorganisms.) In other words, compost buffers the effects of other soil additives.

Compost and other organic matter turns the soil dark brown or blackish and increases heat-absorbing capabilities to a small extent. Compost reduces soil erosion because it allows water to percolate into lower soil layers, rather than puddle on top and then run off. This quality also reduces crusting of soil. Compost provides food for earthworms, soil insects, and microorganisms, many of which will, over the years, help balance the populations of less desirable soil fauna. Mycorrhizal fungi, which have been proven to benefit plants through their association with plant roots, are also prolific in high humus soil. Finally, the products from the breakdown of plant and animal refuse contain many fertilizing elements in and of themselves, including trace elements not available from commonly used synthetic fertilizers.

About the Author:
"Why Should I Compost?" Want to learn more about about how soil affects plant growth? Want to find out how to adjust the ph of your soil? Garden Simply has an entire master's course just for you! Find it at

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Home & Garden Tips from actual moms

I stumbled across a website with unique tips from real moms. I thought this was pretty neat as I love to real tips from actual people.

Not only does it have home and garden tips, there are all sorts of other tips you might enjoy too. Some include decorating tips, laundry tips, home improvement tips and more.

Here is the link:

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Transplanting Tips

Early spring is a great time for transplanting trees and shrubs, but you must do so before they wake up. Transplanting a plant is a very traumatic experience for the plant if it is awake. It’s like doing surgery on a person while they are awake. Dormancy starts in the fall as soon as you experience a good hard freeze, and the plants remain dormant until the weather warms up in the spring. This is when you should transplant, while the plants are dormant.

You can transplant in the spring up until the plants leaf out. When the buds are green and swollen you are usually safe to still transplant, but once the leaf develops, you should wait until fall. When transplanting you can dig the shrubs out bare root, just make sure they are out of the ground for as short a time as possible, and keep the roots damp while out of the ground.

Make sure there are no air pockets around the roots when you replant them. When possible, it is always better to dig a ball of earth with the plants when you transplant them. The rule of thumb is 12” of root ball for every 1” of stem caliper. If the diameter of the stem of a tree is 2”, then you should dig a root ball 24” in diameter.

Don’t be afraid of cutting a few roots when you transplant. Just try not to cut them any shorter than the above guidelines allow. Cutting the roots will actually help to reinvigorate the plant. It’s a process simply known as root pruning. When the roots are severed, the plant then develops lateral roots to make up for what is lost. These lateral roots are more fibrous in nature, and have more ability to pick up water and nutrients.

Some nurseries drive tractors over the plants in the field with a device that under cuts the roots of the plant just to force the plant to develop more fibrous roots. This make transplanting the plant the following year much more successful, and makes for a stronger and healthier plant.

The old timers root pruned by hand by forcing a spade in the ground around their plants. If you have a plant in your landscape that is doing poorly, a little root pruning while the plant is dormant could bring it around. It’s worth the effort.

Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter. Article provided by,

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Garden of Weedin

by Niki Jabbour

Weeding is one of my least favourite activities and in terms of fun I would have to rate it somewhere between getting a root canal and beating my head repeatedly against a wall. That said, there is a certain amount of satisfaction derived from yanking on a dandelion and having the entire root slip easily from the soil.

After a rain I can often be found gleefully ripping weeds from the still damp soil of the perennial gardens. The ease with which the long taproots slip from the moist soil is a heady delight. When I’ve managed to pluck a particularly large weed in its entirety, I exuberantly wave it in the air to show my husband what a prize I’ve captured. He nods patiently knowing that I’m well on my way to complete insanity.

Weeding is a necessary evil in order to promote healthy plant growth and keep a garden looking its best. We all have certain weeds that we struggle with continuously year after year and my nemeses include Queen Anne’s lace and clover, although wild mustard is steadily climbing up the list. Corn Spurry plagues the veggie garden and if left to its own devices soon runs rampant choking out the precious cucumbers and tomatoes.

Since the definition of a weed is ‘any unwanted plant’, I can easily categorize my very unwanted patch of curly mint as a weed. I did know better than to plant it near the perennials, so I have no idea what I was thinking the day I nestled the harmless springs of mint beneath the vigorous leaves of my beloved delphiniums.

Although this particular garden was a contained raised bed, heavily lined with three layers of landscape fabric, two short years later the mint had spread not only across, but far beyond the containment of the garden assaulting the lawn, the gravel path meandering between the garden beds and into the distant rose garden. I comfort myself with the fact that if nothing else, the mint smells incredible when trod upon by wandering feet.

Not only do weeds make our gardens appear untidy, they also compete with our treasured plants for moisture, light and nutrients. As well, many weed species shelter insects and diseases, therefore eliminating weeds can increase the general health of your garden!

Have you ever noticed that when a weed is pulled from the garden, it seems as if two more grow in its place? Most weeds are not only extremely hardy and competitive, but they also produce profuse amounts of seed that sprout up year after year. As weed seeds may remain dormant in the soil for several seasons before germinating, it is therefore vital to eliminate weeds before they are allowed to produce seeds.

Mulch is a great weed suppressor and is readily available from most garden centers in the form of wood chips, shredded bark, pea gravel or chopped leaves. Applied after weed removal (sorry, not before!), mulch will create a clean, attractive appearance and help repel encroaching weeds from your garden beds. It will also suppress further weed seed germination by blocking light from the soil.

A layer of mulch that is 2” to 3” is usually sufficient to suppress weed growth, but if you have particularly persistent weeds a 4” thick layer may be required. Ensure that the mulch does not come in direct contact with the stems or trunks of the plants as slugs, moles and other small creatures that snack on plants may hide there.

Weeds in your grass can be a nuisance if you long for a putting-green perfect lawn. The key to minimizing weeds is to keep your grass healthy and to practice proper mowing techniques. Proper mowing practices include ensuring that your lawn mower blade is sharpened several times a season to prevent damage to delicate grass blades and putting the blade on its highest setting.

Grass that is kept at least 3” high will be healthier than a short mowed lawn as taller grass will help shade out the ground, preventing weed seed germination. Taller grass will also hold more moisture, helping to prevent drought damage and encouraging your lawn to produce deep vigorous roots. Finally, be sure to leave the grass clippings on the lawn after each mowing to break down and restore nitrogen to the soil.

The best defense against persistent weeds in the garden or in the lawn is to keep your plants and grass healthy. Healthy plants will be able to outcompete weeds easier than those that have been weakened by drought, damage or disease! Be vigilant in the war against weeds by spending a few minutes each week removing any newly sprouted offenders. This will save you much future time and frustration and most importantly, your garden will thank you for it!

Niki Jabbour is an Ornamental Horticulturist and a writer from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Fertilized by sea breezes, her gardens are comprised of a colourful mixture of perennials, annuals, vegetables, herbs and flowering shrubs, with a few patches of clover and chickweed thrown in for good measure. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, Niki is also the weekly gardening columnist for the Halifax Daily News and the Chester Clipper. She welcomes e-mail at