Sick-looking May veggie garden = poor soil

posted by Randy Lemmon - 

Last weekend, I got a flurry of messages from friends wanting to know why their tomatoes and vegetable gardens weren't looking so hot. 

In some cases, the soils and mulches were of poor quality. 

On the radio show last weekend, I suggested that if your veggie bed looks sickly right now, you've been doing everything wrong — starting with soil. The messages I received all read something like, "Randy, I'm using your idea of two parts potting soil and one part compost, but my tomatoes look bad!" 

Ugh ... potting soil is not rose soil! 

Another said that they purchased a blend that the employees at a soil yard assured them was "just fine on its own." A picture was attached that showed it was mulch blended with loam. 

Another couple of emails had pictures attached that showed dyed mulch was probably the culprit. 

A raised bed with the right mix and the right mulch will work infinitely better than poor soil and poor mulches. 

For years on GardenLine, I've tried to make it as simple as this: Make a raised vegetable bed with two parts rose soil and one part compost. I've also dedicated an entire chapter to proper soil in my recent book, "Texas Tough Gardening." 

Standard rose soils will likely have a decent amount of humus (compost) built in, because they should be equal thirds soil, sand and humus. Any rose soil that isn't made from that recipe should be avoided. I've seen people succeed to some extant with just good basic rose soil in a veggie garden. But that added kick of high-quality compost can really make a difference here along the Gulf Coast. 

Nowadays, many of the great soil and compost companies I endorse on GardenLine have high-end speciality soils, so you don't have to mix things up yourself. They include ... 

Nature's Way Resources 

The Ground Up 

Soil Mender 

Lady Bug Natural 

The Arbor Gate 

It's also important to remember that raised-bed building goes beyond just blending the bedding material into the existing soil. A good raised bed is locked in with stone, cinder blocks, timber or whatever. And at a bare minimum, it should be raised 6-8 inches — 10-12 inches is even better. 

Finally, why in the world would anyone believe dyed mulch could be beneficial for a veggie garden? The leaching dye will do nothing biologically beneficial to the soil or roots below. And water splashed from it to the plant will produce a negative reaction as well. Instead, use organically pure Texas-native mulches, or try mulching with compost this year. Compost as a mulch for landscaping is great, and it's beneficial for a vegetable garden, too. 

A financial advisor friend uses the first tip below as a starting point when helping clients prepare for retirement, and it's worth reminding you of my 10 points for successful veggie gardening in this region.

  1. 'Tis better to plant a 25-cent plant in a $5 hole than a $5 plant in a 25-cent hole. (In other words, build proper beds.)
  2. Compost, humus or organic matter - You say tuh-may-toe, I say tuh-mah-toh. Whatever you call it, it's a wonderful thing. Use it!
  3. Ensure good drainage - With our feast-or-famine rainfall, you'll eventually see why this is so important. Or you'll drown your first attempt in a gully-washer.
  4. Let the sunshine in - Pick a spot that can provide up to 6 hours of sunshine. Filtered light won't cut it.
  5. Pick proven plant varieties - Be sure it's approved for our growing region. In fact, check with your county extension agent for proven varieties.
  6. Cheat Mother Nature - Because of our heat, if you can start 'em early, more power to you ... especially if you're willing to protect them on late-freeze nights.
  7. Control your appetite - Don't over-plant; rein in that desire.
  8. Feed me, Seymore!!! - Veggies are heavy feeders (Just ask the Audrey II). The compost is a good start and a nice addition throughout, but amend that feeding with some kind of fertilizer, be it
  9. granular, liquid-organic or water-soluble.
  10. Keep your shadow in the garden - Get out there on a consistent basis, looking for insects, weeds and diseases. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  11. Consistency, consistency, consistency - Regular watering and repeated feedings are critical. Don't ever allow things to dry up before you water.
GardenLine with Randy Lemmon

GardenLine with Randy Lemmon

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