Soil tests, mulching, garden charts Secrets to success


OSU Extension educator


There are no secrets in gardening. Being a good gardener is simply about paying attention to the basics. Your investment in the basics will go a long way toward a beautiful landscape and bountiful garden.

Get to know your soil

We offer soil testing through OSU Extension because it is the foundation to any successful garden and it is the most overlooked factor when planting anything.

When it comes to understanding your garden’s nutrients and pH, there is no cheaper way to begin.

The clay soils here in the Mahoning Valley are not an end-all to gardening; they are simply a challenge for many of our favorite landscape plants.

We need to drain water away from plant roots and amend the soil to get ideal conditions for many of the plants we love.

Thus, create a plan to improve drainage. From drain tile to raised beds, there are many reasonable options to create better growing environments.

Soils should be the first thing you think of when you garden.

To learn more about improving drainage, visit

Harness benefits of mulching

Mulch is a great way to save moisture during the summer months and helps keep plant roots cool.

Over time, mulch will break down, improving your soil. This may be the best benefit of all.

But weed control is the never-ending battle, and mulching is the best solution.

Mulching is your best friend, but also your worst enemy.

Mulch should be about 2 to 3 inches thick. Too thin and the sunlight will get to the weed seeds. Too much and you’ll cause issues with fungi and even stem-girdling roots around trees.

To deal with weedy areas, use newspapers under mulch, overlapping the edges and five layers thick. This will suffocate existing weeds by blocking out the sun.

Create a blooming chart

Although many gardeners don’t keep a paper chart, they know the seasonality of their landscape.

Don’t simply relate blooming to the flowering aspect of a plant; think of blooming as visual impact.

This visual impact could include ornamental effects, such as branching habit, texture, bark color, scent, foliage or fruit that stays on the plant into the winter months.

Having year-round interest is one of the most important aspects of a great-looking landscape.

Instead of buying more plants, make a list by month of what has blooms or interesting characteristics.

From white bark to fruit that stays on all winter, there are many options to improve the aesthetics of your landscape.

Once you have an inventory of your landscape, you can begin to fill in the blank bloom times with something that has a visual impact in your landscape.

Avoid miracle cures

If it sounds too good to be true, it is most likely a waste of your money and time.

There really are no miracle cures for your garden.

The miracle cure is most likely something very basic in disguise or something you should not be doing in the garden.

Don’t believe everything you hear when it comes to advertisements.

Save yourself the frustration and disappointment by doing some research or using your university extension when searching for a solution to your gardening problem.

Share and learn

Attend a gardening seminar or workshop.

Take the training to become a master gardener volunteer.

Join a local garden club.

These experiences will help you grow the best garden on the block.

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