Recalculating the Internet

Every gardener I know is outside doing gardening chores. From planting veggies to inspecting what made it through winter to mowing the yard for the first time, it doesn’t matter—gardeners love being outside doing what they love to do, finally.

We’ve been busy at my garden center answering gardener’s questions, and boy-howdy do they have a lot of them! Most questions start with “I read on the internet” and end the question with “is that true?” Well I’m here to tell them and you, it depends. Let’s chat about internet gardening help and see what’s applicable to Wyoming conditions.

A lot of the gardening advice comes from the Mid-West and East Coast and their information is spot on if you live in Pennsylvania—particularly when it comes to getting your soil ready to plant. But for the most part I would have gardeners avoid this type of information for Wyoming conditions; we have the exact opposite soil conditions.

First, east coast soils are considered acidic whereas most Wyoming soils are alkaline. It is often recommended on the east coast to add wood ash from the fireplace to garden soils as it helps to raise the pH and adds valuable potassium to the soil.

Adding ash to Wyoming soils can create nearly sterile soil by making the soil too alkaline and unsuitable for plant growth. Plus most Wyoming soils have an abundance of potassium already in place. Ash is not needed here.

Another east coast trick on the internet is to add metal shavings or nails to the soil as it naturally releases the element iron to the soil. Iron breaks down and becomes easily available for plants to use out there. The opposite is true for us. Put all the metal shavings you want in our soil and it won’t be available to the plants.

Under alkaline conditions, iron becomes unavailable to the plant. Sure the iron is there but not in a form the plant can use. We must use specialized iron called ‘chelated iron’ that is specifically tailored for alkaline soils.

Although this one didn’t come from the internet, it is a common for people to ask if they should add sand to their heavy clay soils. They’re thinking the sand will loosen their clay soils. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Adding sand to clay is the equivalent of creating concrete—it makes the soil almost impossible to dig up when moist and impossible if it’s dry. The take home message is don’t add sand to clay, you will regret it.

What does make sense whether you live in Pennsylvania or Wyoming is the addition of organic matter into the soil. By organic matter, I mean anything from fallen autumn leaves to compost to sphagnum peat moss to aged steer manure.

Wyoming soils by their very nature are very low in organic matter content. Organic matter loosens clay soils allowing for better drainage and improved oxygen levels below ground.

Adding organic matter to sandy soils increases the water holding capabilities of the soil. In both cases, organic matter is a magical elixir fixing both clay and sandy soils.

So if you rely on the internet or your Uncle Bob from Missouri about gardening tips just remember what they do out east may not be in the best interest for Wyomingites.

Originally published in the Casper Star-Tribune, May 3, 2015