Here’s some tips to aid recovery
Our poor gardens! The rain just hasn’t know when to stop this winter and as a result many gardens have soil that is water-logged and trees, shrubs and plants that are uncomfortable with their roots being continuously wet. It must be like having cold wet and soggy socks that they can’t take off!
The obvious signs of a problem are puddles of water on the surface of the soil. You may also notice yellow leaves on plants, plants may wilt and have black smelly roots when lifted and plants may fail to put on growth or if they do then the new shoots may die back. Bulbs and tubers may simply have rotted away.
Depressing stuff for any gardener.
The good news is that with a bit of first aid, not forgetting some hardwork, our gardens can and will recover. There’s nothing as resilient as nature and if we take action now then we can have gardens to be proud of again this summer. And if the weather forecasters are right and we do have a long hot summer then they’ll be plenty of opportunity to enjoy those gardens!
To determine whether or not you do have a drainage problem there is a very simple test:
1) Dig a small hole, about 15cm across and 30cm deep
2) Using a watering can fill the hole with water
3) Leave the water to drain away until the hole is empty
4) Refill the hole with water
5) Make a note of how long it takes for the water to drain away. If it takes longer than 4 hours then I’m sorry but you do have a drainage problem.
The foundation of any healthy garden is good soil. Worms do much of the work for you but when the soil becomes waterlogged even they could do with some help.
Do try and avoid walking on very wet soil as this will cause even more compaction. Instead walk on boards or, better still, invest in a temporary path that can be easily moved to wherever it is needed,
The following tests will help you to assess the extent of any damage and to decide what remedial action to take:
Is my soil compacted?
If your soil is compacted then to improve the drainage and therefore the soil structure you need to dig below the water pan and there’s a very simple way of finding where this is – you just need a spade and an empty biro tube (no ink required!)
The biro test:
First dig a small hole of about a spade’s depth. Then take your biro tube and starting just below the rim of the hole push it into the side. If the pen top goes in fairly easily then all is well. Keep going down the side of the hole. If/when you reach a level where the biro top won’t go in then you have found the pan, i.e. compacted soil which will restrict growth and drainage. You will need to dig the soil to just below this level.
What soil type do I have?
The rain will have washed away many nutrients from the soil but before taking any action you need to assess your soil type. For descriptions of the different soil types please click here
The squeeze test:
Take a handful of garden soil and add a little water so that it is moist but not over-wet. Close your hand and give the soil a firm squeeze. Open your hand and assess the soil as follows:
– If it holds its shape but crumbles when you poke it then you have loam soil
– If it holds its shape, even when poked then you have clay soil
– If it collapses in a heap as soon as you open your hand then you have sandy soil
For a more comprehensive test:
The washing-up liquid test:
– Take a clean empty jam jar (380g) and add enough soil to fill 1/3 of the jar
– Add a teaspoon of washing up liquid
– Fill the Jar with water
– Replace lid and give a good shake
– Leave to settle for two hours
– Then take a look at the sediment profile
Most of the sandy particles sink and form a layer on the bottom, and the water looks fairly clear = SANDY SOIL
The water remains cloudy with a thin layer of particles on the bottom. The tiny clay particles take ages to settle = CLAY or SILTY SOIL
Lots of bits floating on the surface, the water stay a little cloudy and a small amount of sediment is sitting on the bottom = PEATY SOIL
A layer of white, gritty fragments form on the bottom and the water is a pale greyish colour = CHALKY SOIL
Water stays fairly clear with a layered sedimentation on the bottom – the finest particles on the top = LOAMY SOIL
What is my soil pH?
The ph. (acidity level) of soil is tested on a scale of 0 to 14 with 0 being extremely acidic and 14 beig extremely alkaline. Unsurprisingly, the majority of plants prefer a neutral pH, somewhere in the
middle, i.e. between 6 or 7.
To test your soil you will need a simple PH Tester, click here for details.
How to Improve the Different Soil Types
Clay Soil – the good news is that clay soil is often well supplied with nutrients however it tends to be cold so not suitable for early crops and also becomes waterlogged in wet weather and cracks in dry weather. To improve clay soil wait until the surface has started to dry out and then dig deep. Break up the clumps with the back of the fork and apply a dressing of lime. Then dig again.
Sandy Soil – free draining and easy to work the downside of sandy soil is that it is usually short on nutrients – “the soil with the least backache but the most heartache.” The answer is to ad plenty of hummus making material and a “sticky” type is best, e.g. well-rotted cow or pig manure. Fertilisers are also needed, click here for details of our range of green manures. Green manures are a range of seeds sown specifically to improve the condition and/or fertility of the soil.
Chalky Soil – liked by a large number of rockery-type plants this soil can be sticky and soft and is too alkaline for many plants. Keep the digging shallow and add fertilisers and compost or well-rotted manure. Green manures are very beneficial to chalky soil.
Loam – lucky you! This is just about the best soil and will need little attention however will still benefit from some green manure.
Our lawns will also be struggling to recover from the prolonged wet. Moss may have gone a little rampant and needs to be removed with a scarifier, click here for details. Once you’ve removed all the debris and moss it’s time to break up and aerate the soil. This can be done with a garden fork or better still with a hollow tine aerator, click here for details.
Once you’ve spiked the lawn and aerated the soil add a top dressing of compost or lime-free sand. Then, once the weather has warmed up a little and the grass has started to grow you can re-seed or over sow any sorry-looking bare patches. We recommend using Rapid Green Self-Repairing Lawnseed, click here for details.
- Prune back any broken branches on shrubs and trees to healthy wood
- Replant container grown plants into fresh compost, cutting away any damaged roots
- Avoid using any rotary cultivators as this could further damage the soil structure. Sorry but digging needs to be done by hand!
- Trees and shrubs may have suffered root damage and may need watering if we do have a hot dry summer