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Florida Soil Thoughts

Many people in Florida come from some where that had “good” soil. Soil that easily grew vegetables, roses, daylilies, or even bamboo. Most plants we enjoy require a decent soil which holds water, nutrients, has abundant organic material yet is reasonably well drained. I call it garden soil. Sand isn't soil.

Most of Florida has sandy porous soil. After a heavy summer down pour water stands in this soil for only a few minutes if at all. Water and nutrients pass through rapidly giving plant roots insufficient time to feed. In such an environment even a once health plant struggles to survive much less look attractive.

Is your soil suitable for growing flowers or bamboo (that’s what I sell so I'll focus on them)?Test the area you intend to locate your plants to find out.

TEST 1 When the soil is a bit damp after a rain or irrigation dig up a square foot area with a shovel. Turn over the soil you dug up, whack it with the shovel to loosen and separate into finer particles. Count the earth worms. Zero or one equals a poor soil. Two or three isn't bad. More is terrific. Earthworms are drawn to organic material and need moisture. Both are things plants want.

TEST 2 Observe your potential garden plot during or just after a hard summer storm. If the water from a two inch down pour piles up and stands on the surface or in low spots for an hour or two that soil has reasonable water holding capability. If the water doesn't stand at all or for a few minutes it is too porous. Most plants won't get enough water even if you have irrigation. Even if the water stands for a day that soil may be suitable for most plants.

I'll assume most of you will have a porous soil. There are many ways to remedy that deficiency. I will describe some inexpensive methods. There are many more ways to do this.

Add clay and organic material. Inexpensive kitty liter is baked clay. Target about 25 % clay in your large planting hole. For a bamboo that could be a 25 pound bag of kitty liter. Cost should be around $4.00. Also add one to four forty(40) pound bags of composted cow manure for a bamboo depending on your soil. Good soil one bag, poor soil four bags. I always add in several handfuls of a low cost SLOW RELEASE TURF FERTILISER. When you have finished using the fertilizer role the open top closed and clip the bag for storage in a dry area for future use. A trip to my local Wal­Mart gets me a forty pound bag of composed cow manure for $1.42, a twenty five pound bag of kitty liter $4.00. I get my fertilizer at Lowe’s for $29 for a 42 pound bag which lasts a long time. More expensive fertilizer is better in some ways but not worth the extra expense. The more expensive bagged garden soils are a worse product in my opinion than composed cow manure.

Compost is excellent if you have enough. Peat moss is effective but more costly. Fresh horse or cow manure would be alright although a bit on the hot side so some root burn may occur. But low cost or even free makes it attractive. Florida counties have landfills which grind up yard waste such as tree and bush branches. They have huge piles of the stuff composting free for the taking as long as you have a way of transporting it. Sweat equity. Add extra nitrogen to hasten and complete the composting process.

There are other soil types such as swamp, peat bogs, shell fill, clay, rocky and others, all of which have different characteristics. Most of these are more suitable for bamboo than sand and require less, if any, modification. For example my property has clay over 100 feet deep. In low areas water stands for weeks after hard rains. Standing water lasting for more than a few weeks will deprive roots of needed oxygen. The roots rot so the plant dies. I haven't planted bamboo in the extreme low areas on my property. Every where else they thrive.

Although our property is a clay soil I have had close to one thousand large truck loads of wood chips dumped free of charge here on our two and one half acres. I have one load dumped right next to another and rake the tops off leaving the chips two to three plus feet deep. Weeds are smothered and die. Within a few months the chips weather and settle lower as the decomposition process kicks in. After a few years what was once three feet high becomes less than a foot in depth. It is superior soil full of earth worms. The pH which had been 7 here was lowered to about pH 5 give or take some. Try it on a smaller scale if you have the space. Tree trimming companies are generally happy to have a place near by to unload their chips versus paying at a landfill.

Think of bamboo as a very large grass and treat it accordingly. You give it water, decent soil with some drainage and fertilizer and it is happy. Sun is needed, of course, but most bamboos are not fussy about the amount of sun.