5 Things To Help Your Soil

In the old days, gardeners had to outsmart weeds because there were no chemical weed killers. Take a few tips from them, save a trip to the garden centre, and keep your garden weed- and chemical-free.

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Green Manure Soil Conditioner

Often called 'green manures', these are annual crops that thrive in cool weather, improving the soil and protecting garden soil from erosion and weeds. Use a combination of grasses and legumes. Check with your local nursery for a list of seeds to suit your area.

What You'll Need:
Mixture of 'green manure' seeds (grasses and legumes)

What To Do:
1. After clearing vegetables or annual flowers from a bed in autumn, sow green manure seeds in cleared beds according to packet directions.
2. In early spring, 3 to 4 weeks before planting time, dig the green manure into the soil, or harvest it at the lower stem and use it for mulch. As it decomposes, green manure adds humus to the soil and acts as fertiliser for the next crop.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock)

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Coffee Grounds Fertiliser

Acidic coffee grounds make an excellent soil conditioner or mulch for acid-loving plants such as conifers, azaleas and rhododendrons. You can often have as much of the used grounds as you need, free for the taking, from your local cafe.

What You'll Need:
Coffee grounds

What To Do:
1. Apply an 8 cm-thick mulch of coffee grounds around the base of acid-loving plants, leaving a 15 cm ring of bare soil around the trunk of the plant to discourage fungal collar-rot diseases and trunk-eating insects.
2. For a complete fertiliser, mix 4 parts coffee grounds with 1 part composted wood ashes, and work into soil in autumn.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock)

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Garden Pest Deterrents

They may be cute, but when rabbits and possums munch on your prized garden produce or gnaw the bark of young trees, they wear out their welcome. Blood and bone is an organic fertiliser that is high in nitrogen, the nutrient most needed by green plants. But more importantly, the rabbits and possums associate the smell of it with predators, and will avoid gardens treated with it.

What You'll Need:
Blood and bone fertiliser

What To Do:
1. Sprinkle the fertiliser over the soil around garden perimeters and in garden beds according to packet directions.
2. Reapply after heavy rains.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock)

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Wood-Ash Potassium Boost

Wood ashes from a fireplace or woodstove (not coal or charcoal ashes) are a free source of the plant nutrients potassium, calcium and phosphorus. They can also be used to decrease soil acidity, similarly to lime. Benefits of treating soil with ashes include improved hardiness and flavour of fruits. Be sure to apply in small amounts or compost well before applying, to keep the caustic ashes from burning plants. Water-soluble nutrients can leach from ashes, so be sure to use fresh ones that have not been exposed to rain.

What You'll Need:
Wood ashes

What To Do:
1. Apply 750 g to 1.5 kg of ashes per 30 square metres of garden in the autumn.
2. To reduce soil acidity, use wood ashes as a substitute for ground limestone: see packet directions for limestone and apply up to twice as much wood ashes as it recommends. Allow ashes to weather over the winter before planting.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock)

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Seaweed Soil Conditioner

Seaweed is actually higher in nitrogen and potassium than most animal manures and is also a rich source of trace elements. Check with beachside municipalities if they are happy to have you haul it away.

What You'll Need:
Seaweed

What To Do:
1. To cleanse seaweed of salt, pile it where runoff will be directed to a storm drain, such as on your driveway. Allow several rains to rinse away the sea salt, then add the seaweed to your compost pile or dig it into garden beds in the autumn.
2. To make seaweed tea, steep an old pillowcase filled with seaweed in a bucket of water for 1 week. Remove and discard the bag, dilute the liquid to the colour of weak tea, and water your plants with it.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock)