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Loose soil best for root vegetables

By Ellen Nibali, For The Baltimore Sun

4:44 PM EDT, April 4, 2013

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I'd like to grow carrots, but I hear it's tricky. Any tips?

Because carrots are roots that need to push through soil, having light loose soil is a big determiner of success. For carrots, a depth of 12 inches is ideal. Add compost to your soil structure. It is the Year of the Root Crop on Grow It Eat It, our all-vegetables. all-the-time site. Find us at our new url: extension.umd.edu/hgic. Our online newsletter starts off the year with a great article providing many tips for growing root crops in Maryland.

What should I use for an organic amendment in my vegetable garden? Peat moss? How much?

Three percent organic matter holds a whopping one gallon of water per cubic foot. Like tiny sponges slowly releases moisture to your plants, the value of organic matter is enormous. A 3 percent organic soil is considered good normally, but for a vegetable garden, 5 percent is better. Add about 3 inches of a well-composted material (dead leaves, manure, etc.) yearly. Peat moss can be used but is expensive, non-renewable, makes the soil acidic (a vegetable garden should be closer to a neutral 6.2-6.8) and provides little nutritive value. Also, it is hydrophobic — meaning it repels water when dry.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the Week

Bearded iris

Iris germanica

Rainbows with beards? Iris means rainbow in Greek, yet irises come in more colors than a rainbow. Their beard, a fuzzy appendage on the lower petal, apparently attracts or directs pollinators to pollen. Richly fragrant with big flower heads, iris make a big statement in spring. Now there are fall-blooming iris, too. Iris need full sunlight and well-amended, well-drained soil. Plant in late summer/early autumn. (Transplant after spring flowering.) Plant shallowly so rhizome tops are at, or just above, soil surface. Established iris are drought resistant, but new iris need 1 inch of water weekly. In autumn, remove dead foliage and cut healthy foliage to 4-5 inches. After ground freezes, 1 inch of mulch helps prevent soil heave. In spring, remove mulch. Feed with a thin layer of compost to ensure rhizomes are still visible. —Lewis Shell