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It's All in the Soil

What does every gardener want? Bigger veggies, taller sunflowers and all-around healthier plants.

What’s the secret?

Easy, it’s in the soil. These tips from The Espoma Company will teach you how to test and amend your soil for healthier, bigger and better crops come spring!

All About Soil
Conduct a soil test, which measures how acidic or alkaline your soil might be, this fall. Too much of either means plants won’t be able to absorb the nutrients they need. Though most plants grow best when the soil pH is in near-neutral, between 6.0 and 7.0, there are outliers. Blueberries and potatoes, for example, love acidic soil, so a pH above 7.0 will not make them happy.

The guess work is gone with a soil test. You’ll know exactly what your soil needs. So, you’ll add the right amount of lime or sulfur, and you’ll select the best plant food, too.

Test & Amend Soil’s pH:

  1. With a stainless steel trowel, dig 6-8” deep if sampling garden soil, or 4” if testing your lawn’s soil.
  2. Choose an easy to use, at-home soil test, or call in the professionals and send your soil sample to the County Extension Office.
  3. Based on results, fix soil’s acidity and alkalinity in a way that’s good for the planet and your home. Go organic! Espoma soil amendments are 100% natural, safe to use around pets and children, and contain no fillers whatsoever.
  4. Apply Espoma Organic Garden Lime to raise the pH of very acidic soil. Poke holes in the soil’s surface and scatter on the lime. Rake lightly into the top inch of soil.
  5. Apply Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier to lower the pH of extremely alkaline soil.
  6. Apply compost to neutralize the pH of any soil.
  7. Wait until spring to test your soil for positive changes.

The Espoma Company has been the pioneer in natural gardening solutions since 1929. Espoma provides an extensive selection of natural products that work in harmony with nature and are safe for people, pets and the planet. The company produces more than 100 products to cover the nutritional needs of plants and to grow beautiful lawns and gardens. Visit for more information and tips about organic gardening.

Top Tips on Pansy Planting

If plants were people, pansies would be the Julia Roberts of flowers. A friend to everyone, loved by all, with a colorful personality and infectious laugh that brightens whatever room they’re in. (Ok- pansies may not actually laugh but follow me through this analogy anyway.) They are a hardy bunch (“Steel” Magnolias, if you will) and provide a gorgeous (“Pretty” Woman) show of color in the dull, colder months. Dare we say, we could “Eat, Pray, Love” pansies.

So now that you’re sold on the Oscar award-winning caliber of these blooming beauties, how, pray tell, do you give them the attention to detail they deserve? (And their agents insist on!) Good news- it’s easy pansy…er easy peasy!

Soil - The basic necessity of any plant, pansies love moist, organic-rich, well-drained soil. Bonus tip: "Dibble" McDonald Garden Center greenLeaf for extra nutrients. Dibbling is a planting method where you dig the hole, put fertilizer in, and then plant on top of fertilizer. Good news is the greenLeaf is right there for the roots (pansies HATE waiting) and there’s no worrying about the fertilizer on top of the soil washing away!

Spacing - Gimme some room here!! These stars need their personal space. Plant them about 7 to 12 inches apart.

Temperature - Be cool man. Pansies love cooler temps. In fact, if Hampton Roads graces us with a mild winter, there’s a good chance your pansies will make an encore performance the next year. Bonus tip: If you live in an especially cold climate or we have a especially chilly few weeks, add a layer of straw mulch when temperatures drop for better protection.

Sun Exposure - Every star loves the spotlight. Give pansies full sun or partial shade.

Pruning - Show business is rough. If there are faded or dying blooms, cut them loose and make room for the younger, more beautiful flowers. It's as easy as just walking by and picking off old blooms. Can actually be quite therapeutic.

Watering - “We would like a regular spritzing of Evian at a temperature no more or less than 67 degrees. With a sprig of mint.” Just kidding. Water regularly.

Like all plants, pansy varieties are not created equal. We encourage you to peruse our stores this weekend and pick a pack of pansies that fits you and your aesthetic just right.

Trend Alert! Here’s what’s popular this season: Coastal Sunrise, Pansiola Iris, Pansiola Quartz, Colosus Yellow Blotch & Halloween.

Gardening Made Easier

Think you don’t have time to garden? Well, think again. Our experts have gathered their favorite timesaving garden tips to share with you. Try them—we think you’ll agree that these shortcuts help make you more efficient in the garden.

Mulch is the Answer - mulching is the answer to two time-consuming activities: watering and weeding. A thick mulch will suppress weeds, preventing them from even growing. It will also keep your soil moist and cool, eliminating heat stress on plants and reducing the need to water. No only does mulch look good, it also adds humus to your soil.

Weeding Without Weeding - what’s better than having the weeds all pulled? No weeds in the first place! That’s what pre-emergents are for. These miracle workers kill weed seeds before they can sprout—truly a gardener’s best friend. There are chemically derived pre-emergents and organic ones made from corn gluten. Using a pre-emergent at the beginning of every growing season will save you lots of time and your back, too. Be sure to apply before the weeds sprout.

Plant Like with Like - grouping plants according to their water needs seems logical, but we may not always take this into consideration when planting. Place plants with high water needs near the house and those with lower water requirements at the far ends of your gardens. Moderate water plants should be placed somewhere in between. Planting according to watering needs can save you tons of time (and a lot of failed plants), since you won’t need to hand-water individual plants according to varying needs. You’ll also be able to quickly water moisture lovers, since they’re near at hand. Your low-water plants will require less frequent visits out to the “back forty”.

Plant “Self Cleaners” - what’s a “self-cleaner”? Quite simply, it’s a plant that doesn’t need you to tidy it up. Put another way, one you don’t need to deadhead or remove the spent flowers. With roses and perennials, self-cleaners can save a lot of time. Most annuals have been selected and bred to require no deadheading, but not necessarily roses and perennials. So, before you buy, observe and don’t be afraid to ask, “Does this plant need to be deadheaded?”

Use Time-Release Food - time-release foods (Osmocote is the most well-known) are real time savers for containers of all kinds, especially hanging baskets. Plant foods are coated with a polymer that dissolves in water over time, releasing food gradually. This allows you to feed once every four months (depending on the fertilizer) at a time.

Plant Self-Sowers - a self-sower is a plant that re-seeds; depositing seeds after blooming that will sprout year after year and supply plenty of color for years to come. This can be a real time saver for busy gardeners. But you have to appreciate a casual, cottage garden look, since plants will appear where they want. Self-sowers give a garden a natural, lived-in look that is very appealing. The famous English gardener, Rosemary Verey, once said, “all good gardens are at least 20% self-sown.” Be sure not to cut off the flowers once they bloom or you’ll have no seeds at all.

Perennial Power - using more perennials in your garden will reduce your dependence on annuals for garden color. Perennials return year after year and often increase considerably in size over time. This means less time spent planting (and removing) seasonal plants. Of course, you’ll want to use low-care perennials. Ask a McDonald Garden Center expert to help you select what’s right for you.

Leaves are the New Flower - this is a very popular garden trend for time-starved gardeners. Let your plant’s leaves be your garden color. No need to replace if the plant goes out of bloom! With today’s fabulous foliage plants, gardening with leaf color is easier than you think. Plants with beautiful, colorful leaves include ipomoea, heuchera, coleus, ornamental grasses, canna, plectranthus, colocasia, Rex begonia, cordyline and more. With these, you’ll never lack for stunning color.

Think Small - plant breeders have done us a favor by introducing new versions of favorite plants that are tidy and compact. How does this save time? Little or no pruning! No need to keep plants within bounds below windows, under eaves or from blocking a great view.