Gardening Tips: Let’s talk some dirt, by Master Gardener Judy Jean

The topic of this article is based on the results of a needs assessment that was conducted to determine the horticultural needs and interests of the residents of Flagler County. A needs assessment is a systematic process of gathering and analyzing information to identify gaps between current conditions and desired outcomes.
In the context of this article, the needs assessment was conducted to identify the specific topics related to gardening that Flagler County residents are interested in, as well as the level of knowledge and experience they have in gardening. The results of the needs assessment provide a foundation for creating content that is relevant and useful to the residents of Flagler County.
Are you familiar with the UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County office? The UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County office and other Cooperative Extension offices throughout the state of Florida work in the Cooperative Extension System. The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide network of land-grant universities that provides education and outreach programs to help individuals, families, and communities improve their lives.
This system was established in the early 1900s to connect the research and expertise of land-grant universities with farmers and other rural residents. Today, Cooperative Extension offices, like the one located in Bunnell, FL, provide a wide range of services, including agricultural education, youth development programs, nutrition and health education, and environmental stewardship. These programs are designed to address the unique needs and challenges of each community and to promote sustainable, healthy, and thriving communities.
The Cooperative Extension System plays a critical role in ensuring that research-based information is accessible to all individuals and that communities have the resources they need to make informed decisions and create positive change. This month we will be exploring soil.
Gardening is a fulfilling and rewarding hobby that can help you connect with nature and create a beautiful outdoor space. However, to have a successful garden, you need to pay close attention to the soil. Soil is one of the most important components of gardening. It is where plants draw nutrients and water from, and it provides the foundation for a healthy and productive garden.
However, not all soils are equal. Some soils are more fertile than others, and some soils have a better structure for plant growth. In this article, we will explore different types of soil, how to improve soil quality in your garden, and Flagler County’s soil.
Soil is composed of four main components: mineral material (texture), organic matter, water, and air. The mineral material, also known as the soil texture, is classified into three categories: sand, silt, and clay (See table 1 below). The organic matter is composed of decomposing plant and animal material that provides nutrients and helps to retain moisture. Water and air are also crucial components of soil, as they provide the necessary hydration and oxygen for plants to grow. These components of the soil contribute to the physical properties of soil.
Soil Texture Description
Sand Gritty texture, made up of larger particles that allow for drainage. However, cannot hold much water or nutrients.
Silt Smoother texture than sand and is made up of smaller particles. Is able to hold more water and nutrients than sand.
Clay Dense, heavy texture that is made up of very small particles. Is able to hold a lot of water and nutrients, but it drains slowly.
The key to a healthy garden is healthy soil. If your soil is not providing your plants with th necessary nutrients and water, you can improve its quality by adding organic matter like mulch and/or compost.
Organic matter is anything that was once living and can decompose, such as compost, leaves, or grass clippings. When added to soil, organic matter can improve soil structure, increase water-holding capacity, and provide essential nutrients to plants.
Covering the soil with mulch helps to retain moisture in the soil, suppress weed growth, regulate soil temperature, and adds organic matter. To use mulch in your garden, spread a 2-3-inch-deep layer of mulch over the soil surface around your plants. Make sure there are at least 2 inches of space around the trunk of trees to prevent a mulch volcano This prevents rot.
You can create self-mulch areas in your landscape by allowing fallen leaves to stay in place. Using mulch such as melaleuca, pine straw, or eucalyptus, which are sustainably harvested, is recommended by the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program. Cypress mulch is not recommended because it may not be harvested sustainably.
Lastly considering adding compost to your landscape maintenance routine is a great way of placing nutrients back into the soil in a form that plants can easily use. Compost is a mixture of decomposed organic matter that can be used to assist soil quality. Recycling yard waste from mowing, pruning, and raking is a sustainable way of creating organic fertilizer.
It is no secret that Flagler County is experiencing growth. Many residents in Palm Coast are currently living in newly built homes. As a result, construction activities like land clearing, use of heavy equipment, and import of fill soils can lead to problems with plant establishment, growth, and aesthetic qualities.
According to the Soil Survey of Flagler County, Florida (U.S.D.A., Natural Resources Conservation Service, 1997) “Naturally, the soil fertility is low for most of the soils in the county. The soils generally have loose, sandy surface layers and subsurface layers that are rapidly permeable or very rapidly permeable, thus allowing the rapid leaching of fertilizer and lime following heavy rains. However, soil fertility changes as the soil is used” (pg 76).
Overall, this means to better understand your soil it is important to get it tested. At the UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County office located at 150 Sawgrass Rd Bunnell, FL Flagler County Master Gardener Volunteers do pH testing and plant clinic for free.