by on February 3, 2011

The Dirt on Soil

SoilHow much do you know about the soil in your garden?

Soil supplies plants with water, nutrients, and an anchor for their roots. Here’s a primer to help you understand soil.


Made of relatively large rock particles that fit loosely together, sandy soil warms faster in the spring and drains quickly during wet periods. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold water well during drought and loses nutrients faster than other soils.


Silty soils are made from medium-sized particles. They shed excess water more quickly than clay, but not as quickly as sand.


Made of small particles that fit tightly together, clay soils hold water and nutrients in times of drought, but stay damp longer during wet periods. They’re susceptible to winter heaving, which exposes and harms perennial roots.

Check Out These Top Picks for Shade

We all have problem areas in our gardens. For many of us, the issue is shade, so you’ll be happy to know that there are solutions for this common problem.

Understanding shade is the first angle of attack, because not all shade is created equal. Once you’ve determined what type of shade you have, you can turn that problem spot into a beautiful focal point with these shade-loving beauties:

Monkshood or wolfsbane

Monkshood or wolfsbane

Aconitum carmichaelii (Zones 3 to 7) does best in light shade, and has beautiful blue flowers and dark green divided foliage.

Chocolate vine

Chocolate vine

Akebia quinata (Zones 5 to 9) gets its common name from its fragrant flowers. It thrives in light shade and blooms in early spring. The purplish flower clusters give way to edible fruits.

2011: The Year of Tomatoes and Zinnias

Tomatoes and ZinniasWe love tomatoes and we love zinnias. And we think a celebration is in order, as they’ve both been honored as crops of the year for 2011.

When the members of the National Garden Bureau choose a crop of the year, they look for one flower and one vegetable that are “popular, easy to grow, adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile,” according to their press release. For 2011, tomatoes and zinnias rose to the top of the list.

New varieties of both have hit the shelves in recent years, as hybridizers try to come up with anything gardeners might fancy, including a sweeter cherry tomato, a pint-sized patio tomato, a more drought-resistant zinnia, and zinnias in sizzling hot new colors.

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