Productive backyard gardening starts with soil preparation

Wednesday January 20 2021
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A backyard garden. PHOTO/Rachel Mabala

When she was ready to kick-start her long-desired venture into Veranda Gardening, Florence Bukirwa collected some top soil from the backyard of her apartment into flowerpots. She carefully placed the different plants into the pots, and covered their roots and stems with the soil.

Along with close inspection, she would water the plants every morning before leaving for work. A few days later, Bukirwa realised something was amiss.

“The top soil had formed into clumps, and some amounts of the water crated on the top,” she says. “I noticed the water was not penetrating through the soil, thus I started praying that the plants do not die,” she adds.

Fortunately, Bukirwa says, the soil she had collected from the backyard was good, and it just needed manure to become ready for supporting plant growth. Following advice from friends, she mulched the soil with cow dung and soon, her hope was restored.

But, after several inquiries, it dawned on her that “not every soil you can find is good and ready for gardening.”

Importance of soil preparation

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According to Peace Kukundakwe, a gardening expert and director of Pejo Flowers, many gardeners disregard the impact soil has on the health of their plants.

Kukundakwe says soil preparation is the most important aspect of planting, and when it is done right, there is little worry about the outcome of your garden. She says the process of soil preparation starts with knowing the type of soil that is suitable for successful gardening.

Loam soil, according to experts, is the most ideal for most plants. Composed of almost equal amounts of sand and silt with a little less clay, experts say Loamy soil has good drainage and retains water for plant roots to find it.

Jennifer Ajula, who prepares soil at nursery beds on Sixth Street, Industrial Area, notes that most plants die because of poor drainage of the soil.

“Soggy soil can easily lead to rotting of the plant roots,” she says, adding that in backyard gardening, most people are let down by soil.

“They love good plants but they fail to get what they desire because of poor soil, most times, without nutrients,” she adds.

Kukundakwe says it is nutrients such as calcium, nitrogen and potassium that feed the plants and support proper growth.  She says the gardener should ensure the presence of the ingredients that add these nutrients in the soil.

There are various kinds of ingredients that can be mixed in or mulched on to make good soil. Elisha Ojambo of Kololo Nursery Company at Port Bell road, Bugolobi uses what they call ‘Coffee dust,’ a mixture of peelings of coffee, rice and timbers.

Ajula uses volcanic soil and sawdust, and charcoal dust. These are mulched on the soil to conserve the moisture, improves fertility and health of the soil, reduce weed growth and enhance the visual appeal of the flowerpot or garden area.

“Whereas white stones are for mainly decorative purposes, dry grass and saw dust add nutrients into the soil,” Kukundakwe says.

Ajula says once you get any usual soil, one can mix with silt, which is easily found in drainage trenches, to give the soil a smooth texture for proper drainage.

Kukundakwe notes that there is soil for potting and backyard gardening, and both require different ingredients. Potting soil, she says, can be a mixture of lake sand, charcoal dust, loam soil, volcanic soil and saw dust. On the other hand while preparing a backyard, she says it is better you add black top soil, dry cow dung and composite manure.

Composite manure can be rotten leaves from trees and dry grass. “These can be kept under a shade, and when they rot in the soil, they turn into good manure. They add nitrogen in it,” she says.

Kukundakwe also notes that the soil should be cared for, lest it loses the nutrients and becomes poor. “The most viable method is mulching the soil. You can mulch with saw dust, dry grass and white stones,” she says.

She also recommends spraying with organic sprays like soda bicarbonate.

She advises that before you plant, clean the soil, remove all waste that doesn’t rot, especially poltythene bags, plastics and metallic objects.

To Kukundakwe, setting up the garden is more important in ensuring its realisation, and she advises that if you don’t have the patience, it is better you get someone to help you set up and care for your garden.

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