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Maintaining Soil Health for Plant Health

By: Mike Darcy

(c) Eddie Greenly 2011

The more you can do to make plants healthy and avoid stressful conditions, the likelier they are to thrive.

In many of these web articles, I have often stressed the importance of soil health. Whenever we plant something in the ground it offers an opportunity to amend the soil around and below the root zone. At no other time can one easily add compost or fertilizer to the soil around and below the roots. The same thing is also true when we plant something in a container, except that in a container we have more control over the actual soil.

Health guidelines for people stress that maintaining a good diet and lifestyle will help keep our bodies healthy. This same principle is true for plants. The more we can do to make a plant healthy and avoid stressful conditions, the likelier that plant will thrive. Of course there are some exceptions to this, and roses are a good example. Some roses will get black spot on their leaves regardless of overall plant health. Even in the case of roses, there are techniques we can do to lessen the effect of damaging diseases or insects. I have always had some rose bushes in my garden, and over the years I have removed those rose plants that are susceptible to black spot and replaced them with new varieties that are disease resistant.

When I look at my own garden, I have learned that by providing the best gardening practices will greatly reduce stressful conditions for plants. I continually add Black Gold amendments whenever I am planting something new. I mix fertilizer into the existing soil and add Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. In the many containers that I have on my deck and throughout the garden, I perform a similar treatment. I use either Black Gold All Purpose Potting Soil or Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. At this time, I also add some quality all-purpose fertilizer, and then I know I am providing my plants with what they will need for an excellent beginning.

Rose Knock Out

Choosing disease-resistant roses really pays off.

One thing that I find many beginning gardeners (and experienced gardeners too!) tend to overlook is the right environment for their particular plant. By environment, I mean determining whether it is a plant that needs sun, partial sun or full sun. If a shade-loving plant is placed in a very sunny location, there is no amount of fertilizer, water or proper soil that is going to keep that plant from getting stressed. Always check the plant label and ask your local garden center personnel about the proper planting location for the plant you are selecting.

Another major factor is watering. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have recently had some very hot weather. Even plants that thrive in the sun may wilt because they are losing more water than they can absorb. On particularly hot days, after an early morning soil drench, I like to actually spray wilted plants with water as I have found that this will usually revive them. Of course this is a temporary course of action, but it does work. Another solution is to add a mulch around the root base using Black Gold® Garden Compost Blend as this is excellent water retentive material for plants both in the ground and in containers.

Digiplexis 6-17-14

Plant potted plants in the best mix and caring for them well will keep them healthy and thriving.

There are many plants in containers in my garden that are in the sun, and I find that sometimes I may need to water them twice a day, especially later in the season as the plant roots fill the container. As a plant grows, the roots may soon fill the container, and this will make the pot become drier much faster than it would have earlier in the summer when the new roots are just beginning to grow.

I do not think many people like to use chemical sprays and in their gardens; I have not used any insecticides or fungicides for many years. I have many birds and encourage them as I find that they can keep many insects under control. There are times when spraying is necessary, but do some research before you do. A good rule to follow is to check with your extension service or local garden center to learn what is the least toxic chemical option available.

Gardening should be fun and relaxing, and you can help make it that way by providing your plants with the best possible materials for them to grow and thrive. Yes, there will always be some failures, but that is how we learn. We don’t give up. We try again!

About Mike Darcy


Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

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