Soil Testing

Soil Testing

Soil Testing - What is it? And why should you do it?

As a Master Gardener I am often asked questions regarding suspected nutrient deficiencies of plants. People will ask how much fertilizer they should add at planting time. Or what to add to fix a plant with yellowing leaves. My answer is usually an unexpected one because my answer is always “I don’t know.” Followed by, “What does your soil test say?” 

The truth is that no matter how much a lifelong gardener may suspect that a plant is deficient in X, without a soil test, there is no true way to know. A soil test is undeniably the best way to get a snapshot of your soil in time and to get the exact recommendations for what needs to be amended and by how much. 

Many assume that a balanced fertilizer should be added to the lawn or garden every year but that is probably a waste of both time and money and could potentially be damaging the environment.

Let’s start with the basic fundamentals.

 

NPK

You may be familiar with these three letters as they are on every bag of fertilizer or soil amendment you have ever seen.

N = Nitrogen

P = Phosphorus

K = Potassium

A bag of fertilizer that is listed as 10-10-10 will have equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (10% each). This is a very common fertilizer. A “balanced” fertilizer. Many people will use this on their lawns and gardens thinking that because it is balanced, nothing will be getting too much. Unfortunately, this is not true. Nitrogen is the only nutrient that is rapidly used by plants. Phosphorus and potassium are needed in smaller amounts and excess will wash away through the soil into rivers and streams. Excess phosphorus is responsible for algae blooms in natural waterways. Excess potassium is responsible for contributing to soil salts. 

Plants also require small amounts of calcium,  magnesium and other nutrients like boron, manganese, iron, copper, and zinc. These nutrients, known as micronutrients, are required by every plant but only in very tiny amounts. There are many fertilizers and soil amendments on the market today that advertise these micronutrients but these fertilizers and soil amendments are usually quite expensive. This is a standard case of “more is not better”. More nutrients available to plants does not make a healthier plant if there are already sufficient nutrients in the soil. More will definitely be a waste of money and could also damage the plants, the environment, or both. 

The recommendation to lime your soil every year is common but is intended for soils that are naturally acidic. Here in the Okanagan, where we have naturally alkaline soil, adding lime without recommendations from a soil test can lead to phosphorus and iron deficiencies in your plants. 

So how do you determine what is actually required and wade through the vast area of fertilizers and soil amendments on the market?

A soil test.

Soil tests are the only accurate way to determine what is in your soil and what nutrients, if any, are lacking. 

In Canada, soil tests can be done at private labs. They are easy to do and inexpensive. On a commercial basis, I would recommend getting a soil test every year but for the home gardener every 3-5 years is fine.

Regular soil tests are also a baseline with which to measure your soil in years to come. They let you know how your soil has changed and adapted over the years so that you can definitively measure the difference that compost application, for example, has made.

Each lab will have a slightly different method of testing so to maintain continuity, use the same lab for your future soil tests.

Although there are many DIY soil test kits on the market, I would highly recommend getting a professional soil test. The DIY tests seem easy to use but they are difficult to understand the results. They also don’t provide any information on what needs to be added in order to achieve the desired amount of a missing nutrient. Different plants also require different nutrients so when you are sending off a professional soil test, you are able to indicate what plant(s) you are growing in this area and the lab will send back specific instructions for these particular plants. 

I’d love to hear about your experience with soil tests. Pop your questions and experiences into the comments section. 

Nadine

Dried Flowers Have Made a Comeback!

Dried Flowers Have Made a Comeback!

These Are Not Your Grandmother's Dried Flowers

Dried flowers have been making a comeback in recent years, with many people rediscovering the beauty and charm of these timeless arrangements.

Here at Blumen Fields, we love dried flowers and are happy to see them get the resurgence that they deserve. We hang thousands of stems of flowers each season into our drying barn for use throughout the year. 

Whether you’re looking to decorate your home or create a unique gift, dried flowers can add a touch of rustic elegance to any space. Here’s a guide to some of the best flowers for drying and how to keep them looking great:

Best Flowers for Drying

  1. Lavender: Lavender is a popular choice for dried flowers because it retains its scent and color well. To dry lavender, simply tie a bunch of stems together and hang them upside down in a dry, dark place.
  2. Roses: Roses can be dried by hanging them upside down or by using silica gel to speed up the drying process. Dried roses can last for years and make beautiful additions to wreaths, arrangements, or potpourri.
  3. Baby’s Breath: Baby’s breath dries well and can be used to add texture and color to dried flower arrangements.
  4. Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus leaves and branches dry well and add a rustic touch to any arrangement.
  5. Statice: Statice flowers come in a range of colors and dry beautifully. They can be used in wreaths, arrangements, or on their own.
  6. Strawflowers: Strawflowers retain their bright colors when dried and can be used in a variety of dried flower arrangements.

When harvesting flowers for drying, select only those flowers that are at their peak of freshness and fullness. Imperfect flowers look even worse when dried. 

Tips for Keeping Dried Flowers Looking Great

  1. Keep them dry: Dried flowers should be kept in a dry environment, away from moisture or humidity. This will prevent them from becoming moldy or losing their color.
  2. Keep them out of direct sunlight: Direct sunlight can fade the colors of dried flowers, so it’s best to display them in a shaded area.
  3. Dust them regularly: Dried flowers can accumulate dust over time, so it’s important to dust them regularly with a soft brush or cloth.
  4. Store them carefully: To protect your dried flowers from damage, store them in a container that is free of dust and moisture. You can also wrap them in tissue paper or newspaper to help protect them.
  5. Refresh the scent: If you want to refresh the scent of your dried flowers, you can add a drop of essential oil to the petals or place them in a sealed container with a few drops of oil for a few hours.

Dried flowers are a beautiful and timeless way to decorate your home, add a touch of charm to any space, or create a unique gift for someone special. With the right flowers and care, your dried flower arrangements can last for years to come.

Nadine

Planting Bare Root Roses

Planting Bare Root Roses

Plant a Bare-Root Rose in 12 Easy Steps.

While it might seem counterintuitive to purchase a rose that isn’t potted in soil, purchasing a bare-root rose is a great option and my preferred method here on the flower farm. Purchasing bare-root provides many advantages to container-grown roses, the least of which is cost. A bare-root rose can cost 30-50% less than container-grown roses of the same size because there is no labour required for potting them up. They also weigh significantly less and therefore don’t cost as much to ship. All savings that get passed along to the customer. 

Other advantages include ease of handling (again, because of the weight) and better growth performance. 

It is very easy for one person to plant a bare-root rose that might normally require a second person to help lift and remove the container of a container-grown plant of the same size. 

Bare-root roses generally have an easier time getting quickly established in their new home as opposed to their container-grown counterparts. The bare-root roses will not have to transition from the soil that is in the container to the native soil in your yard. They are only available in the winter/early spring which allows them to be planted while they are still dormant. This means that a bare-root rose gains weeks of root growth that a container-grown plant will lack. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a bare-root rose ensures that you will be able to see the roots and correct any issues before properly planting into the prepared hole. Container-grown roses lack this option unless you take the time to do a thorough root-washing to remove all of the soil prior to planting (always a good idea but more on that in another post).  

So without further adieu, here is a how-to for planting bare-root roses.

1.  Un-package the roses and hydrate as soon as they arrive. Hydration can occur in buckets or kiddie pools. Place the roses right-side up into the selected vessel and add water. Water height must completely cover the roots but can also cover the canes. Hydration can occur up to 1 day prior to planting but should occur for a minimum of 8 hours. 

2.  The tops of the rose canes were originally cut with a saw in the field prior to being dug up. It’s imperative that these ragged cuts are removed. Give each cane a fresh cut by making a 45 degree angled cut ½” above an outward-facing bud eye. Prune as high up on the cane as possible as a light pruning equals more blooms.

3.  Roots will often be broken in transit. Prune off any dead or damaged roots just above the damaged area.

4.  Dig holes for roses 18” wide by 18” deep.

5.  Form a cone shape (volcano) in the bottom center of the hole using the removed soil. Lay down a stick spanning across the hole and place the rose roots on top of the cone, splaying the roots around the cone. Judge the height of the cone to ensure that the crown of the rose is 2” higher than the ground using the stick as a measuring tool. Adjust the height of the soil cone as required to attain this desired planting height.

6.  Once again, ensure that the roots are spread out over the soil cone. Rotate the rose in the hole to ensure that all of the bud eyes and the bud union face towards the path of the sun (south). Doing so ensures maximum basal cane growth.

7.  Fill the hole with the native soil that you removed from the hole, firming gently to ensure roots have good soil contact. 

8.  Once hole is completely filled, make a basin around the rose for water retention.

9.  Pour a bucket of water into the basin to settle the soil. After the water has drained, add additional soil as required to fill in any settling that may have occurred. Maintain a basin around the rose for future water capture. 

10.  Lay dripline irrigation at base of rose. 

11.  Mulch up and around the rose canes to keep them hydrated until the first growth begins.

12.  Once first growth is seen on the canes, mulch should be swept off of the canes. Mulch should be placed over the soil surrounding the rose for water retention and weed suppression.

Yes, we shovelled snow off of these rows in order to plant one year!
The first bud!

Now step back and admire a well-planted rose that will provide you with years of beauty and fragrance!

Nadine

Growing Ranunculus from corm to bloom

Growing Ranunculus from corm to bloom

Growing Ranunculus - A How-To From Corm to Bloom

Ranunculus are the darling of any spring bouquet. Fluffy, romantic, rose-like blossoms made of tissue-thin petals that almost look too perfect to be real. They are well loved by floral designers because they come in a wide range of colours, and have the soft, romantic look of a rose but last much longer in a vase. 

Ranunculus are not often seen in home gardens because the corms are not often sold in garden centres but they make a great addition to a container or garden bed and are relatively easy to grow. 

Here’s how to grow ranunculus like a pro.

First things first. Ranunculus grow from corms.

A corm serves the same purpose as a tuber or a bulb in that it is a thick, solid underground mass that stores starch as food for the eventual plant. But unlike tubers, corms tend to be slightly round and flattened. And unlike bulbs, corms do not produce layers (like an onion bulb). 

A corm, a tuber, and a bulb walk into a bar...

Other plants that produce corms are anemones, gladiolus, liatris, and crocosmia.

The leaves and buds of the ranunculus will form from the top of the corm and the roots will form from the bottom. 

While corms of different plants can look more bulb-like, ranunculus corms look like baby octopuses. This makes it easy to identify and also really easy to plant because unlike some other corms that are difficult to tell which side is up, ranunculus have a clear top and bottom. 

Plant your ranunculus corm with the “fingers” pointing down. 

Dried corms prior to soaking

When you purchase ranunculus corms they will be small, dried, and hard. This is the hibernating form of the corm that would occur naturally in its native Mediterranean region over the hot, dry summer months. 

In order to wake these corms up it is essential to mimic the Mediterranean winter rainy season by either soaking the corms in buckets of water or planting them directly into the soil and keeping the soil very moist until the first sprouts are seen. Here on the flower farm, we choose to soak the corms in buckets of water and pre-sprout them into growing medium prior to planting them out. This allows us to get an earlier start on the blooms. This is an easy enough process for a home gardener to do but you can also plant the corms directly into the garden or a container and keep the soil moist (but not soggy because the corms and new roots will rot in excessive moisture). They will take a little longer to get started when planted directly but they will still successfully grow and bloom. 

If you decide to try soaking and pre-sprouting, soak the corms in a bucket of water for 2-4 hours. It is imperative that the water stay oxygenated so leave a trickle of water running from the tap into the bucket. The soaked corms can be planted directly into the garden or they can be pre-sprouted by layering them in a tray with 2.5cm (1in) of dampened soilless medium both on the bottom and top of the corms. The corms will form roots and small buds within approximately 10 days and should be planted out into their final location at this time. 

Before
After

Ranunculus before and after a 2 hour water soak. The “fingers” of the corm on the right are fully plumped and ready for planting.

.

As with all plants, if we can mimic the conditions of the native environment, our ranunculus will grow happy and healthy. Knowing that they will begin to sprout after a rainy, Mediterranean winter breaks the dry dormancy and that they will go dormant again when the soil gets hot and dry, we can predict that ranunculus prefer to grow in the cool days of spring. Thus, corms should be planted as early as possible in the spring into a sunny location. 

Plant the corms 15cm (6in) to 22cm (9in) apart and 2.5cm (1in) deep. The corms can easily be planted into a container as they have a very shallow root system and do not require much depth for growing.  

When finding the perfect planting location, try to avoid an area with overhead watering as ranunculus foliage is highly susceptible to powdery mildew. 

Approximately 90 days after planting, your ranunculus will begin blooming and its beautiful show will last for 4-6 weeks. The bloom time will be cut short if the temperatures start to soar so be prepared to provide a little shade if you want to extend the bloom. 

Once the blooms have finished and the summer is heating up, the ranunculus foliage will begin to yellow and die back, preparing for the dormancy of another hot summer. 

Corms are hardy to zone 8, so in the Okanagan they will either need to be dug out after they have gone dormant in the summer and stored dry, or they need to be planted into a container that can be stored dry in a heated garage for the winter. 

Now you’re all ready to try your hand at growing ranunculus in your own garden. Already tried these beauties? Drop us a line and let us know how the experience was for you. 

Nadine