Over the past 30 years the No. 1 question I have been asked is: “What killed my plant?”
Very often plant problems can be traced back to poor soil or improper installation.
This in turn has a direct correlation to root growth and the general health of the plant.
A critical factor in the growth of plants is the amount of air in the soil. Roots have to breathe just as we do. Deprived of air, roots will die of suffocation.
In heavy soils, such as our Dawson County clay, the space between soil-particles is small.
When water is applied to the soil, air is driven out by filling the small pore spaces.
Too much water in heavy soils for an extended time can cause plants to wilt.
The unsuspecting gardener may continue to water in belief that the plant needs more moisture. In reality they may be killing the plants with kindness. This is not to say you should not water during dry weather.
Plants vary greatly in their requirement for soil air. The following ornamentals are classified according to their aeration requirements, measured by the percentage of air space in the soil after excess water from an irrigation has drained away.
High air requirement (10-20 percent): Begonias, gardenia, rhododendron and snapdragon.
Intermediate air requirement (5-10 percent): Camellia, chrysanthemum, gladiolus, hydrangea and lily.
Low air requirement (2-5 percent): Conifers, ivy, roses and turf.
Organic matter: The only quick way to change a heavy clay to a rich garden soil is through the addition of organic matter. The addition of organic matter-compost, makes clay soils easier to work. Organic matter opens up tight clay soils, improves drainage and allows air to move more readily through the soil.
The quantity of organic matter must be large enough to physically change the structure of the soil, and enough means that at least 1/3 of the final mixture matter. To add this amount, spread a layer of organic material over the soil to be improved at least two inches thick and work it into a depth of six inches.
For additional information on plant care, contact the Dawson County Extension at (706) 265-2442.
Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.