Q: I was wondering what I could put in my garden to revitalize my soil. The past couple of years, my flowers have not done well, and I'm thinking it has to do with the soil. A relative told me to mix seaweed in this fall and let it decompose over the winter. Would that be best, or is there a better solution?
A: You've certainly chosen the right time of year to amend your soil. You'll find lots of soil amending products in garden centers, but what does your garden really need? Is the soil deficient in some way? Find out! First, do a soil test.
Professional soil testing is done at the University of Massachusetts — go to its website, www.umass.edu/soil/test, for rates and directions for taking samples and a form. Standard soil tests are about $13.
There are also many inexpensive, easy-to-use, do-it-yourself soil-testing kits available at larger garden centers.
Start a compost pile; it doesn't have to be huge. And this fall, you can rent a leaf shredder or run your lawn mower over the leaves several times to shred them. Then dig them into the soil and let them compost over the winter right on-site — a free amendment and minimal work and cost. This is one of the best soil amendments you can use.
Seaweed is the only "weed" that you want in the garden! Seaweed is a great source of trace elements, such as boron, as well as nitrogen — and it's free. Collect seaweed, hose it off well to reduce the salt content, and then allow it to air-dry if you can. (Dry seaweed has less odor than wet seaweed.) Chop seaweed with a shovel or run the mower over it to speed decomposition. Use the fresh seaweed in the garden in the fall or put it in the compost pile to decompose all winter.
By spring, you'll be on your way to a happier, healthier garden, and over the next years, you'll see a big difference.
Reach Barbara Barger at firstname.lastname@example.org.