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Bill Starr: Never too early to plan garden

I know it is winter time but it is never too early to start thinking about your garden. Gardens require a lot of care if they are to be productive. Of all the things you can do for your garden, one of the most helpful is a liberal dose of high-quality compost. It can improve your gardening by providing plant nutrients and improving your soil. Compost is an excellent slow release source of plant nutrients. Compost will not provide all the fertilizer your garden plants will need; it will reduce the amount of additional fertilizer required. Nutrients from compost are only half the story; not only does compost supply plant nutrients, it also provides many other benefits that can help your garden soil be more productive. Compost is high in organic matter, which can help to loosen compacted soils. Many gardens in our area have sandier soils that allow excessive leaching of nutrients. Compost can dramatically increase the nutrient holding capacity of these soils. Time and time again insufficient soil moisture lowers the yields and quality of vegetables in gardens all over our area. During droughts like we usually have during our growing season, lack of moisture can be devastating. Did you know that compost could help? Compost helps water infiltrate into the soil and helps boost the soils’ water holding capacity. During drought the compost is not going to eliminate the need to water, but it will help your garden to use water more effectively.
Are you ready to do your garden a big favor and apply some compost? As a rule of thumb, make the first application from 1 to 1.5 pounds of compost per 5 square feet of garden area. Be sure to scatter the compost uniformly over the entire garden, and for best results incorporate the compost into the soil after you apply it. You may want to do a follow up application three weeks before you are going to plant your garden. There are many good reasons to apply compost to your garden, it will provide plant nutrients, improve soil structure, increase water use efficiency, and help to build up beneficial microbes in your soil. Adding compost to your garden will mean a more beautiful and more productive garden and a more rewarding garden experience. It is a treat for you and your garden. If you need additional information on composting visit your local Extension Office, they will have publications available on composting.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator and ANR agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.