There’s a fungus among us and I don’t mean mushrooms.
If you have attempted to grow any sort of vegetation for any amount of time, you have probably dealt with an unfriendly fungus. While a great many varieties of fungus are essential to plant life and a great many others are neither good or bad, there are a few bad varieties and they really cause problems.
Before moving to the island, the only real battle I had with fungus was black-spot on the roses and powdery mildew on my veggies. But, one summer in a tropical setting and I have had a crash course in fungus!
As I will chat about later, watering the soil is very important. One day, only one day, I got lazy and got out the hose and sprayed everything down instead of using the watering can. JUST ONE DAY! And, I even did it in the morning. BUT, in 72 hours, my Belinda’s dream roses were covered in black spot. Lesson Learned- water the soil NOT the plant.
Fungi live in the soil, on our skin, in our house, basically any and everywhere. The problems arise when conditions are just right, and the fungi populations begin to multiply at breakneck speeds. When this happens, the host of the fungi population will be destroyed- this means your vinca will wilt and turn to goop, or your zucchini will disappear under gray fuzz or your rose bush will turn brown and yellow before becoming naked stems. Or, all of the above if its are really bad day.
In the garden, this hyper-growth of fungi will lead to plant death or really fabulous compost. The problem is when the garden beds are turned to compost piles because the fungus took over where it did not belong.
So, instead of focusing on how to kill the fungus, we should focus on how to prevent the colonies from getting out of hand. The environment is what determines if the fungus will thrive or simply exist and not cause problems. As gardeners, there are several things we can do to set out gardens up for the best possible outcomes.
Soil heath is essential for any aspect of plant life. A plant cannot thrive without healthy soil. Soil health will also determine the health of a plant’s immune system. Very few of us have perfect soil and even if you do, if you constantly take from the soil and never put back, you won’t have healthy soil for long. By amending the soil, you can put back into the soil.
Essential amendments are organic compost, green sand, lava sand, and rock phosphate. For a deeper look at fixing you soil, click here!
Choosing the right plant for an area is essential to success as a gardener. A plant that loves the sun will not survive a shady spot and a shade loving plant will die in the full sun. This seems like it shouldn’t need to be said, but I deal with folks everyday who just can’t accept the fact that a rose bush won’t bloom in a backyard that gets only 3 hours of sun per day. Plants have DNA and we can’t simply rewire them just because we want it that way.
Also, if there is a disease resistant variety- choose that variety. There are a lot of hybrids out there and some are bred to be resistant to fungal diseases. If those are available to you, then choose that plant.
If a plant is in a poor location or in poor soil it will be stressed. If a plant is stressed it will be compromised. A compromised plant will not have an immune system that can fight off disease.
More damage is done by overwatering than by underwatering. Fungus thrives in warm, wet conditions.
If you are keeping the soil soaked you are laying out a welcome mat for fungus.
If you water at night, you are laying out a welcome mat for fungus.
If you are spraying your foliage instead of watering the soil, you are laying out a welcome mat for fungus.
Do you see a pattern?
Fungi LOVE moisture.
So, water in the early morning so that what water does get on the leaves and foliage can dry. One inch of water once a week is sufficient water, except in times of high heat and drought, then water twice per week. If at all possible, water the soil, not the foliage.
One thing that a human cannot control is the weather. If you live in an area that is high humidity and warm, fungus is something with which you will battle. Galveston Island is my home and this year has been crazy with the fungal shenanigans.
Organic controls of fungus are fairly limited, but what is available is effective. Sulfur and copper are excellent fungicides but they can only be applied with the temperature is below 85′. Bicarbonates can be used at anytime. In an effort to be proactive, I spray a bicarbonate weekly, before signs and symptoms appear. For an indepth look at fungicides, read this article.
Don’t let challenges keep you from gardening- educate yourself and keep planting.
“Regard your soil as the living, breathing entity it is- to be nurtured, fed and sustained.” – Peter Fossel
Soil is the Soul of your Garden!
It doesn’t matter what you plant or where you bought your plants or seeds, if your soil isn’t healthy- you will not be successful. Soil may not be very exciting to a new gardener, but once you really understand the complexity and the vitality of healthy soil – you will look at soil with new eyes!
Micronutrients and Microbial Organisms are essential to healthy soil!
Microbes- the unseen, unsung heroes of soil and organic gardening. They serve first to break down organic matter into a form plants can use, and then to improve the soils structure and the ability of plants to draw sustenance from it.
Micronutrients are those minerals and elements that are not needed in great quantities but are essential for plants to be healthy.
Where to begin?
The first step in bringing your soil into the best shape possible and into a state of high fertility is to know what type of soil you currently have.
A soil test is important to do in the very beginning. Once you have a base line, deciding on amendments will be easier. After the initial soil test, it isn’t necessary to keep having the soil tested- the plants will tell you if the soil is lacking.
To do a soil test- get a sample bag from the county extension office or from the lab that you want to use. With a bucket in hand, dig 6-8 inches down with a small shovel and place the soil in the bucket. Take samples from all over the area you are testing. Even on a small piece of property, the soil can vary from on area to another. Collecting from multiple points will give you a better picture. Stir all the soil together and then fill the bag and mail it to the specified address and follow the lab’s instructions.
When the results come back- take the results to your county extension office and the agent can help you read and analyze the test results.
Now, it is important to understand that you don’t have to have a soil test to begin improving your soil. The following amendments are perfect for every garden and cannot be over used as they are organic in nature and mild in their effects.
But, you do need to look at your soil and determine what kind you have:
Or a combination of these types
Regardless of what you grow- fruits, herbs, vegetables, or flowers- it all starts with the soil. The plants will only be as healthy as the soil that their roots are anchored in. Therefore, it is imperative that attention is given to the health of the soil.
Key elements are:
Friability– the texture of the soil. It should be soft and crumbly- think potting soil.
Most people do not begin with perfect soil of just the right texture but that does not mean you cannot be successful at gardening.
If your soil is too coarse (sandy) texture will be improved by adding compost and other organic materials such as mulch, leaves, etc.
If your soil is too fine (clay), which causes it to be compacted’ then it is going to need organic matter and other amendments such as green sand or expanded shale to loosen up the soil.
The Ph Balance- the Ph balance in the soil should be slightly alkaline. If the soil is acidic the Ph can be adjusted by adding lime. However, I don’t think this point is worth getting worked up over unless you are growing a plant or crop that is extremely picky. There are also many acid loving plants out there. So, know what you are dealing with but then focus on using what you have versus feeling like you must change your soil. If a soil is alive with microbial activity, plants can tolerate a Ph balance that is not quite right.
Drainage- this is more of a location issue. If the location of your garden does not have good drainage you can fix this with using raised beds. Sandy soils tend to drain too fast and clay soils tend to not drain fast enough.
If you have sandy soils you need to slow the drainage down by incorporating organic matter into the soil. Any type of compost will work. Compost acts like a sponge and holds onto water which helps correct the problem of drainage with sand.
Clay soils do not drain fast enough, so incorporating expanded shale or rock phosphate, you can spread the molecules out and allow the water to flow through. Clay is very nutrient dense, so if you can solve the drainage issue, you can grow beautiful things in clay.
5 Key Amendments for Organic Soil
Organic Matter– compost, manure, etc
Lava Sand- The sand-sized and smaller waste material left from lava gravel mining is an excellent, high-energy soil amendment material.
Rock Phosphate– a finely ground rock powder, contains minerals and will enhance the soil texture
Greensand- a material from seabed deposits, contains minerals and improves soil texture.
Limestone (Lime)- rock powder used to sweeten acidic soils
Micronutrients- these may be missing from your soil but are essential for crops and blooms. Magnesium found in Epsom Salt is a good example.
Organic matter from a wide array of sources and greensand will ensure that you have micronutrients galore.
Worm castings have been long known to be a highly fertile component of organic soil. Compared to the average soil, worm castings are said to contain 5 times more nitrogen, 7 times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium. They are rich in humic acids and improve the structure of the soil as well.
How To Apply- use these methods with any of the amendments
Top-Dress- this is simply sprinkling the amendments over the top of the soil. This method would be used in existing beds.
Working It In- In using this method, you would apply the amendments to the soil and then turn the soil over. The soil can be turned over by hand with a shovel or by machine such as a tiller. This method would be used in new beds or in row cropping.
Compost! LOTS of it- This is one of the best fertilizers you can use. If you have your own compost pile then it is free- which makes it even better!
Animal Manures– any animal that chews its cud produces manure that can be added directly to the garden. This would include Llamas, goats, and sheep. Other animal manures need to be composted first for about 6 months then added to the garden. Rabbits are an exception to this rule, their manure can be added directly to the garden.
Carl Poole Fertilizers- this is a good company that makes some great products.
These should be applied in September thru November for Spring and Summer gardens and June – August for Fall Gardening. Top dressing is the best way as tilling can disturb soil biology. The less disturbance the better. Most beds are still in good shape from the summer garden and just need to be cleaned up and top dressed.
Bringing soil to a point of great texture and high fertility is an ongoing process- once you have achieved beautiful soil, you will still need to maintain it with these same amendments and fertilizers.
Even though your plants will tell you if something is wrong, don’t wait for a struggling plant to address the soil. Make amending the soil part of your garden schedule and then happy plants will greet you all year long!