News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Summer gardening means pulling weeds and testing the soil

Linn County Master Gardener

OSU Linn County Master Gardener

Finally, there is more sun than rain (hopefully) and the soil is warming up and drying out. We can get into the gardens and plant for summer. 

First we have to clean up the weeds and messes from blustery wet winds. 

Then loosen up the soil and add some compost, humus or sand. Raising or mounding the soil/compost is preferred to rototilling because it nurtures the microorganisms (that help plants grow) while protecting the structure of the soil. 

Remember the best approach to weeding is:

1: Take out the bloomers before they go to seed.

2: Remove the big ones that want to bloom or creep around

3: Use a hoe to uproot the little weed seedlings before they become bigger. 

A serrated (steak) knife is a good tool to cut the roots below the surface and easily pull up the plants. An asparagus knife, a tool with a v-shaped cutting edge, make a good weed cutter just below the surface. 

There are “stand-up” tools available that twist the root until it breaks then lifts out the plant – what a back and knee saver! 

Layer the green weeds with brown soil or leaves in a compost heap, and they will reward you with good soil in a matter of months.

Testing the soil, either from a kit available at garden centers or samples sent to a lab, can determine what kind of fertilizer to work into the planting area. The fertilizer should be balanced, all three numbers the same, or chosen for the crop it will feed. 

The first number on the package indicates the percentage of nitrogen in the mix. Nitrogen encourages leaf development for foliage plants, but can sometimes be encouraging more leaves than fruits or roots on other plants. 

For flowering and fruiting plants the second number on the package is important, and should be a higher percentage of potassium than the other two numbers. 

The third number on the fertilizer package indicates percentage of phosphorus, important for root development. Phosphorus does not leach from the soil, so if fertilizer has been applied many times before, there may already be a build-up and a lower number would be appropriate. 

A simple test will tell what the soil needs. Applying fertilizer before planting, and/or one month after planting will give plants what they need to perform their best. 

Different plants prefer more or less acidity of the soil (pH). Test kits and probe instruments can measure the acidity of soil quickly and simply. 

An easy estimate can be made at home with baking soda and vinegar. Make a thin mud slurry of a soil sample. Divide it into two cups. Add baking soda to one cup – if it fizzles then the soil is acidic. Add vinegar to the other cup – if it fizzles the soil is alkaline. 

Plants like cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, celery and cauliflower prefer alkaline soil, so adding lime to the soil at planting time encourages their healthy growth. 

In the case of tomatoes, lime breaks down faster than egg shells, is more available for plant uptake, and helps prevent blossom end-rot. Some gardeners suggest adding banana peels or Epsom salts, but our soils are already sufficient in those minerals. 

There are agriculture and horticulture experts at Oregon State University sharing their knowledge through Extension Service publications and Master Gardeners manning the phones at County Extension offices. Publications, videos and “Ask an Expert” advice can be accessed by searching extension.oregonstate.edu  or catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu .

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