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South Texas Gardener - summer planting

Soil preparation is crucial for June, July and August planting

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — We all know summer in Texas can be extremely hot... But does this mean it will be harder to start some summer gardening?

We spoke with South Texas Gardner Gabriel Vega about how you can prepare soil for some summer planting.

The soil is a storehouse for all the elements plants need to grow: nutrients, organic matter, air, and water. Soil also provides support for plant roots. When properly prepared and cared for, soil can be improved each year and will continue to grow plants forever. Uncared for soil will soon become suited only for growing weeds.

Soil types

Texas gardeners must work with many different soils. Some are very sandy, some are sticky clay, and others are rocky and shallow.

Sandy soils do not hold enough water; in windy areas, blowing sand can injure vegetables. Clay soils hold too much water and do not allow enough air to enter the soil.

Vegetables need a deep and well drained soil with adequate organic matter. Good garden soil with proper moisture will not form a hard ball when squeezed in the hand. It should crumble easily when forced between the fingers. It should not crack or crust over when dry (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Good garden soil will crumble easily.

Soil improvement

Almost all garden soils can be improved by adding organic matter to make soil more workable. Organic matter:

  • Loosens tight clay
  • Helps sand hold more water
  • Makes soil easier to dig
  • Adds nutrients

Some common organic matter additives are:

Plant materials: This includes leaves, straw, and grass clippings. Work material into the soil several months before planting to allow it time to decompose. Most gardeners do this during the winter.

Manure: Use composted manure and incorporate it into the soil well ahead of planting. Do not use fresh manure, as it can damage plants and introduce diseases. Apply 30 to 40 pounds of composted manure for every 100 square feet.

Compost: Compost consists of decayed plant materials. Work it into the soil before planting.

Sawdust: Compost this before adding it to the garden. Do not use uncomposted sawdust because it will rob the soil of nitrogen and, consequently, starve the plants of this essential nutrient.

Green manure: Plant rye or oats in the fall and plow or spade it under in the spring. These cannot be used if a fall garden is planted.

Do not add more than a 4-inch layer of organic material.

Most heavy clay soils benefit from the addition of gypsum. It adds some nutrients but, more importantly, it loosens clay soils and makes it more workable. Spread about 3 to 4 pounds of gypsum per 100 square feet over garden soil after it has been dug in the winter. Work it into the soil or allow it to be washed in by rain.

Add sand and organic matter to clay soil to make it more workable. Mix 2 inches of clean sand and 3 inches of organic matter, such as leaves, with the soil. Do this during the winter.

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