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Suggestions for improving soil and creating raised vegetable beds

QUESTION: The soil in my yard is sandy and unhealthy. What can I do to solve this problem? I am surrounded by neighbors who also have unhealthy lawns, so we should all do something.  —B.D., Weatherford


ANSWER: Spread a 1/2-inch layer of compost over the landscape now, and spread 20 pounds of dry molasses per 1,000 square feet in February. Spray the lawn monthly with Garrett Juice and Thrive by Alpha BioSystems during the growing season. (Follow label directions.)


QUESTION: I am preparing to create a couple of 7-by-4-foot raised vegetable beds. I have cleared Bermuda grass from a 15-by-9-foot area, and I removed about 1.5 inches of soil from the same area to get rid of the grass roots. I am digging down another 6 inches and tilling the soil with a small cultivator My next step will be to mix compost, rock powders and sugars into the garden soil. I plan to build two rough-cut cedar frames and fill them with the soil mix I produce. I will then level the soil and cover the area with mulch.

The native soil is dense clay, and I plan to place a French drain at the outer edge of the beds on the lower sloped side. This drain will tie into an existing French drain that runs along the side of my house and out to the street. Will this plan produce a bathtub effect with the surrounding clay soil that could lead to drainage problems? —S.G., Fort Worth


ANSWER: Your plan sounds good. I recommend that the new soil material you bring in be tilled or forked into the base material and compost to help prevent a bathtub effect. Avoid having an abrupt transition between materials and you should have few drainage problems.


QUESTION: I have several landscape clients who use Wilt-Pruf anti-transpirant on plants when a freeze is in the forecast. I am not familiar with this product. What do you recommend as a protectant during freezing weather? —D.S., Dallas


ANSWER: I don't recommend Wilt-Pruf or similar products because they interfere with the natural conditions and functions of leaves. Here is what the manufacturer claims: Wilt-Pruf spray dries to form a transparent and flexible protective coating without interfering with plant growth or materially affecting respiration, osmosis or photosynthesis. An organic landscape program provides winter protection, especially if you use Garrett Juice or seaweed spray. Follow label directions for all products.


QUESTION: When and how should I plant Texas mountain laurel seeds? —M.F., Fort Worth


ANSWER: Before planting, soak the hard red seeds of Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) in Garrett Juice for two or three hours to improve germination. Filing a shallow cut in the seed coat also will help with germination.  Plant the seeds just under the surface of organic potting soil. If the pots are kept in a warm place, seeds can be planted now. If you start the seeds in pots outdoors, wait until spring or summer to plant.


QUESTION: I've always heard that pet waste should not be composted because it could attract rodents to the compost pile. It seems that you now say pet waste is OK to compost. —H.K., Dallas


ANSWER: When a compost pile is properly maintained (mixed well, kept moist, etc.), everything that once was alive can and should be composted if possible – this includes pet waste. Food scraps should be composted separately at first in a closed container. Partially composted food scraps can be added to the main compost pile later. Doing this reduces the attraction for rodents.





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