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Volume 15, Issue 21 ~ May 24 - May 30, 2007

Gardening is an Art;
Horticulture, a Science

Scientific principles take the guesswork out of growing

I asked my audience at a recent lecture how many had had their soils tested in the past five years. Not one person in the crowd raised a hand, despite being readers of Bay Weekly. Just prior to making my presentation, however, several people asked what kind of fertilizer and how much they should apply to their lawns.

I see two misconceptions in these — and many more — gardeners’ minds: One, that only fertilizers make plants grow. Two, that growing a healthy green lawn — without contributing to the pollution problems of the Bay — is a guessing game.

Home gardeners seem reluctant to take the time to have their soils tested. It appears they’d rather guess, taking chances at applying fertilizer and waiting to see what happens.

Agriculture is a science; as is horticulture. Science has clearly identified what it takes to grow healthy plants and how to make conditions favorable for the optimum growth.

The science of growing plants begins with the species of plant to be grown: What soil pH does it require? What nutrients does it need? Does it require full sun or can it tolerate shade and how much? What temperatures can it tolerate, and how is it affected by day length and water needs?

Of these, rooting environment ranks most important because unless the plant grows healthy roots, it cannot survive.

To succeed, home gardeners’ must know soil conditions such as pH and nutrient concentrations. The only way to discover these data is to take representative soil samples from your lawn and garden and have them tested by a reputable laboratory.

For example, you should not be fertilizing your lawn if the pH of your soil is below six. If you are applying fertilizers on soils that are too acidic for growing grass efficiently, you are most likely contributing to the Bay’s pollution problem. If you are trying to grow azaleas and the pH is too high, you are most likely contributing to the death of those plants by applying the wrong fertilizer, which ends up in the Bay instead of in the plants.

Nurturing plants is a science, and your success begins by having your soils tested, then following the recommendations provided with the results. Test, and you will grow plants more efficiently while protecting the Bay.

Find information on taking representative soil samples at Or write to A & L Eastern Agricultural Laboratories, 7621 White Pine Rd., Richmond, VA 23237.

Become a Bay-friendly gardener and adopt horticulture as a science — not a game of chance.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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