4 Things to Know about Plants

SOIL, DRAINAGE, LIGHT and WATER! 

SOIL & DRAINAGE

Let’s talk about soil and drainage together, because the soil you use is critical to the drainage allowed to your plant.

What is Soil? It is basically the dirt that you place your plants in. It’s where they are going to be living. But soil has some real work to do in our environment. It provides a habitat for organisms (such as insects), recycles waste products, filters water, is used as an engineering material and lastly, but most importantly for my tutorial it provides a medium for plant growth. Soil provides stability and structure for your plants. It helps to retain and discard water and other nutrients that are needed for a healthy plant.

If you are working outside in your garden, unless someone has added something to the soil, the type of soil you find will depend on where you live. Every region has their own natural Topsoil, Subsoil and Parent Materials. Do your research to find out what the local soil properties are and find out what you need to mix into it before planting your precious seeds and plants.

*Keepsake Gradening Tip* Find out if there are any contaminants in the soil. This is important for safe handling of the soil, as well as placement of a vegetable garden or kid’s play area.

The Topsoil layer usually contains less clay, but more organic matter and air, than the subsoil layers. The topsoil is usually more fertile than the other layers and has the greatest concentration of plant roots.

The Subsoil layer usually has a higher clay content and lower organic matter content than the topsoil.

The Parent Material is the material that has the highest content in your soil mix.

The Soil properties found in each layer will affect the depth to which plant roots can penetrate. The soil can contain impenetrable layers such as rock or compacted soil. This is where drainage comes in…..

Drainage in the soil means that the soil you will be placing your precious plants into is loose, and not compacted.  This is technically called having the proper Porespace for your plants. These are the spaces within the soil that are unoccupied by solid material.

Having the proper drainage for your plants is important for a few reasons. First, you want the roots of your plants to have the ability to reach down into the soil, to have room to grow.

Secondly, and to me more importantly, you don’t want your plants sitting in water due to compacted soil (or a pot without drainage holes on the bottom). Which leads to over-watering and rotting of the roots, and can cause other unhealthy results, even the death of the plant. Over-watering could also cause a white fungus that will appear behind the leaves, and can spread to other plants nearby.  You can save a plant that has that white fungus, but it takes a lot of work. This is why drainage is soooo important.

FOR POTTED PLANTS: I like to use Potting Soil from the local hardware store. I buy a bag of an expensive brand that has fertilizer infused, and also a cheaper brand bag. Then mix the 2 in equal parts. This way my plants get a kick of good nutrients and I save some money!

Next, I only use pots that have drainage holes at the bottom so I can monitor the drainage when I water. Any extra water will drain out. Without drainage holes it’s easy to over-water and the extra water will puddle at the bottom of the pot causing…..you already know….root rot. 

You can add holes to the bottom of any pot, plastic or pottery, if you have the right tools. With plastic an ice pick works great, you want to make 4 to 5 1/4 to 1/2 inch sized holes around the bottom of the plastic pot/bowel. For pottery, you will need to drill a hole. The type of drill bit you use will depend on whether the pottery is glazed or unglazed. Here’s a great tutorial on How to Drill Drainage Holes in Ceramic Flowerpots and Planters

I like to add a layer of rocks to the bottom of the pot, if I have some, it helps improve drainage,  1/2″ – 1″ sized rocks are a good size.

LIGHT

Every plant species has their own lighting requirements, and you’ll need to include this in your plant selection research.  You don’t want to spend a lot of time and money on plants and have them die on you because they got too much, or not enough light. It can take as little as 2 hours of direct afternoon sunlight to kill some plants.

Best Practices for Light: 

Before planting your out-door garden, or placing indoor plant pots, you will need to observe and document the lighting in the environment for a full 24 hour day cycle.  Pick a day when you will be home all day, or split the time up and log the information over the course of a few days.

Grab a pencil & paper and draw a rough outline of your outdoor garden perimeter, or indoor space. Then, as the day goes on, write down the times that the sun enters and exits every area of this space.  Use this information to decide where you will place your plants, depending on the plant’s light requirements.

Once you’ve planted or placed your planted pots, use the Watch & Learn approach to make sure your plants are getting the proper lighting. Watch them and take action if you can when you see signs of distress in your plants that may be due to light.

For indoor plants move pots to a new location if the plants show signs of getting too much or too little light, such as drooping or browning. You can tell if your succulent plants aren’t getting enough light if they start to stretch longer to get to the light.

For outdoor decorative plants, watch for signs of distress from the light and consider carefully digging them up and moving them to a new location. Or building or placing some sort of shade for them.

For outdoor vegetable gardens, if you planted in pots, move them as needed. If your plants are in the ground, you can put up temporary shade barriers for too much sun. The lessons you learn during this growing season can be used for next year’s garden 😊

Eventually, by using this Watch & Learn approach, you will learn the perfect location for all of your plants! 

*Keepsake Crafter Gardening Tip* If the plant likes partial shade, then make sure that the partial sunlight they are getting is in the morning.  Partial shade means morning sun and afternoon shade. 

*Keepsake Crafter Gardening Tip* The afternoon sun is the hottest sun of the day.  Even if the plant calls for “full sun” some environments may provide too much “full sun”.

WATER

Now let’s talk about why watering is so important, besides the obvious that plants are living creatures and need water to survive.  How much, or how little, you water is a key to keeping your plants happy.    Your research will give you this information.  Each plant is different, and drainage, lighting and the environment all play a factor on how much water your plants will need.  The Watch & Learn approach works for watering too.

Rule of Thumb for Watering:

Literally use your thumb – but a finger is easier.  Just sticking your finger into the soil around your plants will tell you if they need to be watered or not.  Give them a good soaking and then let them dry completely before watering again. 

For outdoor plants water plants gently around the base of the plant.  Don’t just water in the middle of the plant and move on.  Circle around the entire plant base and outer perimeter of the plant, let that soak in and do that 2 more times.  Avoid watering flowers and layered leaves that water could puddle in.

For indoor plants use the same technique making sure to water the entire root system.  Be careful to protect your furniture by using a saucer to place your pot in.  You can also take your pots to a sink or bathtub, water around the full base of the plant, let that soak in and do that 2 more times. You should start to see water coming out of the bottom of the pot, if not water repeat watering until you do. Then, let drain thoroughly and return the pots to their resting places.

DO NOT WATER AGAIN UNTIL THE PLANT IS COMPLETELY DRY.

*Keepsake Gardening Tip* Keep your garden as weed-free as possible.  This takes some work, but the results are worth the effort.  Weeds come out easier when the soil is wet, so pulling them about 20 minutes after you’ve watered, or in the early morning when the ground is wet. This will help ensure you remove the roots and all!!  To keep weeds from coming back, you will need to treat the soil.   If you are treating a fruit or vegetable garden, only use Food Safe products.  In the rest of the garden I use Round-Up for weeds, but I adhere to ALL safety cautions on the product labels.  It works extremely well, but I know this is now controversial.

*Keepsake Gardening Tip* When caring for succulents, make sure and keep the garden looking nice by carefully removing any dead leaves or flowers. This is critical to the overall appearance of your garden.

Gardening is good for the soul!

Keepsake Crafter