Middle South

October, 2011
Regional Report

Adjust Soil pH

Do you know why it's so important to test and adjust soil pH? Simply this: much-needed nutrients are most water-soluble when the soil is slightly acidic, or between 6.1 and 6.5 (7 is neutral). In general, climate regions with high moisture tend to be acidic, while those in arid regions are usually alkaline. Increasing and decreasing the pH of the soil by topdressing with the appropriate mineral is relatively simple, but requires months of percolation. Autumn is the best time of year to test and make adjustments, so garden soil is ready for planting in spring.

Create a Wildlife Pond

A well-planned wildlife pond is not only a beautiful addition to the garden, but will also provide food, water, and habitat for a vast array of small animals throughout the year. Create sloping sides for easy access and a deep center for overwintering and hiding, and then add stones for sunbathing and a variety of plants for shelter and food.

Provide Suet for Birds

Now that daytime temperatures have cooled, remember to bring out the suet feeders and keep them filled so birds have the high-calorie fuel necessary to stay active and healthy in the lean months. For home-made cakes, mix a cup of lard with a cup of crunchy peanut butter and a cup of whole wheat flour, and then add two cups each of quick cook oats and cornmeal. For an additional treat, stir in a handful of raisins or nuts.

Divide Peonies After Frost

If your herbaceous peonies are overcrowded, divide them as soon as the leaves are killed by frost so new plants have time to establish themselves before the ground freezes. Cut foliage to four-inches tall, then lift the clump with a spading fork. Carefully brush away soil, then use a sharp knife to make divisions that have at least three "eyes" (growth buds) and three roots. Allow divisions to cure for a day or two before planting in rich, well-drained beds. Position eyes no more than an inch below the soil, spacing plants a couple feet apart.

Make Leaf Mold

There is no question that compost is the best amendment for soil, but leaf mold is also a worthy additive and much easier to make. Simply corral leaves in an out-of-the-way spot, or rake them into large piles where they can sit and decay over time, usually 6 to 12 months. Dampen the entire pile and periodically add water during dry spells. If you're impatient, hasten the process by turning the pile occasionally or covering it with a tarp to preserve moisture and warmth.

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