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The Garden Guru

Season of the Soils 

Jim Boxberger
Posted 6/17/22

Thirty-nine years ago when I first started in my father’s store, Liberty Agway, selling soil, we only had a few types. There was topsoil, potting soil, cow manure and peat moss. If you wanted …

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The Garden Guru

Season of the Soils 


Thirty-nine years ago when I first started in my father’s store, Liberty Agway, selling soil, we only had a few types. There was topsoil, potting soil, cow manure and peat moss. If you wanted to get fancy you could buy vermiculite or perlite separately, but nothing at that time was pre-mixed.

For fertilizers, there was 5-10-5, 10-10-10 and 15-15-15 and lime was either pulverized or granulated. Those were the days, back when gardening was simple, but all of those items are still available, so what happened? Plant science happened and the rise of the suburbs.

Now back in the eighties and nineties, having a nice lawn was all the rage. It had to be lush, thick and green all through the spring, summer and fall. We used to sell hundreds of four part fertilizer programs so that your lawn was guaranteed to be the best on the block, but that all ended with the recession of 2006 and it never came back.

These days it’s all about a beautiful landscape and a relaxing backyard especially after COVID kept people in their backyards for the past two years. Functioning plants that are both beautiful and beneficial, like fruit trees and berry bushes have become the new must have landscape plants.

Japanese maples are very popular, yet we sell twenty times more apple trees now than maples. Peaches and nectarines with their lovely pink blooms are not only beautiful when blooming in the spring, but then you have the benefit of fruit in the summer. Blueberry bushes have made their way from the back garden to the front flowerbed with their bright white bell shaped flowers in spring, delicious berries in summer and flame red leaves in the fall. But, I digress from where I started, soil.

These days there are hundreds of soil varieties to choose from, so how can you pick the best one? If you are planting in a container like a window box or whiskey barrel, you need a soil that will help retain moisture so that you won’t have to water your plants twice a day. That’s right, twice a day. Almost everyday, I get asked which plants do not require daily watering and after thirty-nine years my answer is still the same, SILK. Hanging baskets, window boxes and containers that hold less than five gallons of soil will all need to be watered twice a day when the weather gets hot and dry in July and August.

There are products, like soil moist crystals, that will help reduce waterings, but daily watering must always be an option. Soil Moist Crystals can hold thirty times their size in water, so hydrate the crystals before adding them to you soil mix or you may end up with plants and soil that seem to have escaped from their pots.

Specialized soil mixes also benefit different types of plants. Light soil mixes are great for seed starting, while mixes high in peat content help to hold water and mixes high in perlite help drain excess water. Knowing what your plant wants will help you pick out the right mix for you and that is where the plant science comes in.

There are so many plant varieties available these days, so that is why you need to do a little research on what your potential plants want before you buy them. Plants that want plenty of water, like milkweed or joe pie weed, should not be plants next to lavender that likes to stay dry. Lavender would benefit from a soil mix that contains a lot of perlite for soil drainage, while milkweed and joe pie would like a soil mix with more peat moss to retain more moisture.

For container gardens, FoxFarm’s Ocean Forest contains natural fertilizers to feed your plants all summer long, while Black Gold’s Cactus soil has a blend of fine soil and sand for cactus that like their roots to stay dry. So long gone are the days of just dirt, now we are in the season of the soils...


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