Soils

Clay soil - Treatments for:  In the past few years I have noticed several products appearing on the garden center shelves touting miracle cures for our heavy clay soils. Do these work?

Answer: Your question about the effectiveness of several new products that claim to be the salvation to our clay soil problems is a good one. Most products that make these claims use testimonials as a marketing tool. Results of non-biased research will prove whether or not these products really cure heavy clay soils. In the meantime, buyers beware. Normally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Compost - Turning during winter:  I just started composting this past summer with mixed results. I am still committed to making this work. Is there any value in turning the pile during winter?

Answer: The composting process continues during the winter months as long as the pile is not frozen. During a mild winter the decomposition is still occurring, but at a slower rate. Turning the pile will help speed up the process. How often to turn depends on your methods and how well the process is working. Every three to four weeks should be sufficient over winter. Avoid overturning because that can slow the process. Keep your commitment. Once you master the composting process, you will be rewarded with a rich, organic soil amendment for use in the garden.

Sulfur - Application of to lower soil pH: The results of my soil test indicated the need to apply sulfur to lower the pH. At the garden center I found two types of sulfur, pelletized and dust. Which is best to use in my vegetable garden?

Answer:  Sulfur used to lower soil pH is the elemental form. Both pelletized and dust products will accomplish the same end result. The formulated sulfur is more for convenience. Because pelletized sulfur can be used in a fertilizer spreader, it is the easiest for most people to use. Dust forms are harder to spread evenly.

Watering in late fall and winter: So far, this fall has been very dry. What is your recommendation for watering in the late fall and winter?

Answer: To protect perennial plants from winter damage, it is important that they go into winter with the soil in a moist condition. All perennial plants will benefit from watering during a dry fall. It is especially important for evergreens since moisture is easily lost from the foliage. Watering during the winter occasionally on a warm day is also extremely beneficial.

A good, deep watering with moisture reaching at least one foot down into the soil is much better than several light sprinklings that wet only the top few inches of the soil. Deep watering will ensure that most of the roots have access to water. The roots that actually absorb water are killed when the soil temperature reaches 28 degrees. Roots near the soil surface do not last long in Kansas City winters.

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