by Daniel Feeser
With the summer heat rising in the city, the plants in our gardens undergo a lot of stress. Plants that are stressed are more susceptible to insect damage and diseases in the landscape. So how do you help your plants be the healthiest plants they can be?
Start with the Soil
Always start with the soil! 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 for instructions on where to bring or mail your soil sample. A general test costs $9–$10 and includes a pH and nutrient overview. It can also be wise to include a heavy metal test for city soils.
The chemistry of pH dictates what 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. The soil test results will also include some growing recommendations. Research what plants you are planning on growing and make sure those plants like the pH in your soil! Feel free to ask us at Bartram’s Garden for any 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 up the soil. This helps our heavy rains drain through the soil and allows the plant roots to grow freely. There is free compost available for Philadelphia residents from the Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center at 3850 Ford Road.
Another way to help your soil is mulching around the plants. Mulch comes in many shapes and sizes. Mulch suppresses weeds, keeps in moisture, and helps stabilize soil temperature. At the Garden, we use salt hay, leaf mulch, and wood chips for different areas of the garden. Wood chips are great for pathways, 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 plants, making sure 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 water droplets don’t heat up and scorch your leaves on sensitive plants. Morning watering is generally best because any water droplets dry off before it gets too hot, but water at the base no matter when you water!
Those are only a few gardening practices, but hopefully those tips will set your garden on the right track! It may sound like a lot to learn about at first, but start small and build off of your successes! Happy gardening and have fun!
Daniel Feeser is the Nursery Manager at Bartram’s Garden.