Green Thumb Tips Soil pH, Soil Temperature, Potting Mix and More

Reader Contribution by Monica White
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Follow seed starting directions carefully. Photo by Monica White

Have you ever tried planting tomatoes or other vegetables only to end up with less than picture perfect results? Well there is a good reason, and probably multiple reasons, why your garden didn’t grow.

As with many recipes, a garden relies on many ingredients, in the best proportion, to end up with excellent results. If any key ingredients or important steps are missed, the desired results may not be fully realized. Here are a few green thumb gardening practices that will help turn your hard efforts into actual produce.

A garden’s success or failure relies heavily on its soil composition. Before plants go in, nutrients must come out. Vital nutrients must be present in the soil in certain ratios or combinations. Different plants rely on certain nutrients to grow well.

The basic nutrients for general plant growth are: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Soil pH

The ideal pH for vegetables and herbs are in the range of 5.5 to 6.5. Once you have had your soil tested, follow the recommendations to amend your soil. Address any soil needs right away, prior to planting.

Soil Temperatures

Soil takes longer to warm than the air above it, so you must pay particular attention to soil temperatures. Planting certain seeds or seedlings in cold soil may thwart or kill their growth potential. In most cases, warm, moist soil kept between 50-65 degrees Fahrenheit produces great starting conditions. Continuous exposure to harsh sun, dries the soil rapidly. Soil moisture needs to be continually monitored and constantly replaced as the moisture evaporates.

Water Requirements

The best watering times are early in the morning or later in the evening, when there’s less water lost from sun exposure by evaporation; allowing the plants and roots more exposure time to benefit from the precious moisture from the water. Water savings may be realized by watering only the base of the plants and not using a broadcast sprinkler, which may water some areas unnecessarily.

Sun is key to growing abundant vegetables. Photo by Monica White

Sun Wind Rain

Most vegetables require eight hours of sunlight each day to thrive well and preferably with an unobstructed southern exposure. Ideally, the tallest plants should be planted at the north end of the garden plot to prevent them from blocking sunlight to shorter plants. Each plant should be planted in a location where it will receive its desired sun requirements.

There are a few exceptions, which include leafy greens and herbs, which typically grow well in partial sun to shade-tolerant conditions. Young, fragile plants should be protected from the assaults of any harsh weather extremes. You can easily accomplish this with portable, breathable covers, tacked down and secured by other safe and effective means. Take the time to carefully plan your garden, paying particular attention to each plant’s sun, soil and spacing requirements.

Allow spacing to grow quality plants. Photo by Pexels

Spacing Requirements

Many new gardeners often make the mistake of planting too many plants and not allowing their plants proper spacing requirements. Plants need spacing to allow in sunlight, oxygen and airflow circulation. The ventilation controls excessive moisture, which can cause rot, mildew or blight. Proper spacing requirements also allows for future growth of limbs and root systems. Spacing also provides space for the gardener to maintain the garden.

Starting with Seeds

There may be certain vegetables in your specific area that are known to have better results by starting either indoors or outdoors or from seed or seedling. You’d be wise to heed the advice from others’ past knowledge and experience.

Soil requirements come first for starting plants. Photo from Pexels

Potting Mix or Potting Soil

There is a difference between potting soil and potting mix. Potting soil is coarser than potting mix. It is typically used around established plants’ roots when planting or potting established plants. Potting mix is finer, especially suited for seed starting. After seeds germinate, their tender young roots are able to penetrate this type of soil.

Starting with Seedlings

To take advantage of controlling and selecting the number of plants or when you only need one or two plants, seedlings are your best choice. Also if you’re in an area where you have a short growing season plant seedlings to get a better head start. You can determine the growing rate or recommended time to harvest by consulting planting charts for the specific region needed. Plant at the correct planting depth and allow for proper spacing. If you decide to start plants from seedlings, aim to select short, squat, full plants, rather than tall, thin sparse seedling plants.

Fragile young seedlings need protection. Photo by Pexels

After Planting

After planting, stay especially vigilant for weeds around the new plantings. To help keep weeds out and soil moisture in, apply mulch around the base of sturdy new plantings. Once you have made an informed decision to start your plants indoors or out, nurture the plant as best you can, giving it all that it needs. Follow all sunlight, moisture and temperature needs during this fragile growing state. Exert your best efforts from the beginning and grow from there!

Key Green Thumb Tip

One of the key tips of gardening is accepting that there is going to be risk and loss associated with any garden, despite your best efforts. You cannot control all environmental and growing conditions 100% of the time. You will benefit from the overall gardening experience and grow from there just as your plants do. Great gardens, like great gardeners, are one of a kind. Always evolving and always growing!


Monica Whiteis a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she’s growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on heroutdoor lifestyle blog, onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.


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