Gardening – with Daphne Ledward

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Improve your drainage

I sank a spade into the area of my vegetable garden destined to be the potato patch this year, but the soil was still too wet.

Although it usually drains well, it clearly hasn’t coped with the excessive rainfall this winter, and I guess there are many other gardens in this area which are struggling too.

Whatever soil you have, it’s usually possible to improve drainage through good gardening practice.

The first thing is not to try and cultivate it when it’s wet.

Walking on it, or using machinery such as a rotovator, will consolidate the soil particles and ruin the structure. With really heavy soils, as soon as they are dry enough to walk on, dig in grit or sharp sand to open up the texture.

Horticultural gypsum will encourage small particles to bond together into larger ones. Liming will open up and sweeten a heavy, sour soil that has been waterlogged for more than a few days.

One of the best ways of improving drainage, regardless of soil type, is to add plenty of organic material; this will benefit performance whatever the season.

During the winter months it will help surplus moisture to run through, while retaining it during the growing season.

Good, homemade garden compost is an ideal material for improving your soil; it is free, and not only will it help drainage and texture, it also adds nutrients in small amounts.

However, badly made, wet, slimy stuff is worse than useless, though, so if yours doesn’t come up to standard, invest in some bags of soil conditioner or processed farmyard manure instead, or use the compost which is free from Lincolnshire County Council recycling depots if you take your garden rubbish there for processing.

Stable manure, even used fresh, will do much the same job if dug in thoroughly. Any extra organic matter will also provide home for millions more beneficial micro-organisms, improving fertility and helping to increase the availability of nutrients.

A soil can dry out enough to work in a matter of days if the weather stays dry.

Start on it as soon as it’s ready and you’ll have it in good heart early for the season ahead.