published Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Five tips to get your dirt ready for fall

Henry Coulter knows dirt.

Coulter, the owner of Middle Valley Lawn & Garden and Mulch Plus on Hixson Pike, confesses to not being much of gardener. He leaves that activity up to his family members, but he does know how to get the ground ready.

Tennessee soil itself is not very deep, he said, and so adding a topsoil or compost helps increase depth for planting.

"The soil around here isn't very good to begin with," Coulter said, noting that underlying clay is closer to the surface than is ideal for planting. To address this problem, gardeners can use compost or topsoil, both of which are available for purchase, he said.

"Nowadays, people are spoiled, and they don't want to dig out any rocks or sticks, or break up clods," Coulter said. "So the [sifting] machine totally takes that out to where it almost has the consistency of sand."

The company buys and sells mushroom compost. The mushrooms are grown in compost, then the mixture is sterilized at 400 F. The compost also contains fertilizer and lime.

Compost, Coulter said, holds 10 times more water than dirt. "It helps loosen the ground," he said.

Topsoils and composts can be mixed according to direction.

The natural soils can be tilled and turned to allow the plantings from the previous season to decompose and nourish the soil. This process is known as turning under.

Another option is mulch, which is derived from chopped-up bark stripped off trees at sawmills. It can be added on top of soil to hold in moisture. Some mulches are colored with a nontoxic dye.

Five tips

1) Till the ground to loosen the soil and allow old foliage to renourish the earth.

2) Add a topsoil to provide more depth

3) Consider using compost, which holds more water than dirt.

4) Add mulch to hold in moisture.

5) Do some research and ask for a mix of topsoil and compost.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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