by Daniel Feeser
With the summer heat rising in the city, the plants in our gardens are under a lot of stress. Stressed plants are more susceptible to insect damage and disease in the landscape. So how do you help your plants be the healthiest plants possible?
Start with the ground
Always start with the ground! Soil is where nutrients, water, and beneficial living organisms live and help plants thrive. First, learn more about your soil with a soil test from the local Penn State extension office. Visit https://bit.ly/3bo5ToY to find out where to bring or mail your soil sample. A general test costs between $9 and $10 and includes an overview of pH and nutrients. It may also be a good idea to include a heavy metal test for urban soils.
The chemistry of pH dictates which nutrients are already available to the plant from the soil. A pH of 6-7 is suitable for a wide assortment of plants, but not all. Soil test results will also include cultivation recommendations. Research the plants you plan to grow and make sure these plants like the pH of your soil! Feel free to ask us at Bartram’s Garden for plant suggestions from our nursery based on your results.
Add compost and mulch
In general, our city gardens appreciate compost, which increases nutrient retention and loosens the soil. This helps our heavy rains drain through the soil and allows plant roots to grow freely. Free compost is available for Philadelphia residents at the Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center at 3850 Ford Road.
Another way to help your soil is to mulch around plants. Mulch comes in many shapes and sizes. Mulch suppresses weeds, maintains moisture and helps stabilize soil temperature. In the garden we use salt hay, leaf mulch and wood chips for different areas of the garden. Wood chips are great for walkways, but they can also be used on garden beds. Leaf mulch is a delicious material for your garden beds. Apply two to three inches of mulch around the plants, being careful not to bury the trunk if it is a tree or shrub.
And stay hydrated!
And of course, don’t forget to water your plants! All plants have different growing requirements, but during hot, dry weeks many of our plants may need a drink. Watering your plants deeply but less frequently is the way to go. Deep waterings can help your plants have deeper roots. Water your plants at the base, not the leaves, so the water droplets don’t heat up and scorch your leaves on sensitive plants. Morning watering is usually best because all the water droplets dry up before it gets too hot, but water at the base, no matter when you water!
These are just a few gardening practices, but hopefully these tips will put your garden on the right track! It may seem like a lot to learn at first, but start small and build on your successes! Happy gardening and have fun!
Daniel Feeser is the nursery manager at Bartram’s Garden.