Step Garden Beds

How to Choose Soils and Amendments

Peg Bier, Merrifield Plant and Design Specialist

With such an abundance of planting mixes, composts and fertilizers to choose from, deciding what products to purchase for use in your garden can be overwhelming. Thankfully, there are a variety of products to meet every budget and task, from budget-friendly mixes with a wide range of uses to specialized amendments formulated to benefit specific plants. I have used many of them over time, and so I’ve written a round up for you here of some of my personal favorites.

Products for Established Garden Beds

This picture is of the garden bed at the entrance to our Fair Oaks location.  Before adding these plants, the soil was thin and contained lots of roots from existing trees and shrubs in the area.  To improve the soil we spread a 1 inch layer of bagged Merrifield Topsoil over the existing soil, then used a shovel or two of Coast of Maine Lobster Compost and a handful of Espoma Plant-Tone fertilizer when planting with each of the plants we planted, all of which came in 4.5 inch pots. If using these materials in your own plantings, you can adjust the amount of compost and Plant-Tone used accordingly.

We chose lime green coleus, New Guinea impatiens and cascading creeping jenny in rows to repeat the horizontal flow of the cascading blue atlas cedar behind it. The bed turned out beautifully!

Products for Vegetable Gardens

Coast of Maine Lobster Compost and Master Nursery Bumper Crop Organic Soil Builder are both wonderful amendments for vegetable garden beds that I have had great success with. When planting your vegetables, work these amendments into the top few inches of the existing soil with a shovel or hand trowel to improve the nutrient content and composition of the existing soil.

Organic Espoma Plant-Tone as an additional fertilizer is also a product that works very well in vegetable gardens. Follow the package instructions to fertilize your vegetables when planting and as they are growing.

All of these products are organic, slow release products that supply soil-enriching nutrients to help vegetables thrive. I prefer to use organic products exclusively when growing vegetables. Compost is also a valuable soil additive and is available in bag form as Leafgro, which is an excellent multi-purpose and budget friendly product that can be used to amend any garden bed or as a topdressing on the lawn.

Products for Raised Beds

Growing vegetables or flowers in raised beds is a great option for an efficient, easy to maintain garden. There are now a variety of planting mixes available specifically formulated for use in raised beds, which are, effectively, very large containers. Both Coast of Maine Organic Raised Bed Mix and Espoma Organic Raised Bed Mix are excellent products for use when growing either vegetables or flowers.

Other beneficial additives include products you would use in a regular vegetable garden bed: Coast of Maine Compost Lobster Blend, Bumper Crop, Leafgro and of course slow release organic Espoma Plant Tone or Garden Tone. As you would for your regular vegetable beds, mix the lobster compost, Bumper Crop or Leafgro into the top few inches of the soil with a shovel or hand trowel, and apply the fertilizers according to the package directions.

Products for Planting New Beds

Merrifield Planting Mix, Leafgro, and Coast of Maine Lobster Compost can all be mixed into the existing soil when undergoing a major redo of a garden bed or establishment of a new bed.  All of these products are beneficial when planting trees, shrubs, perennials and of course a touch of annuals for extended color. Mix any of these into the existing soil, about 1/3 of the amendment to 2/3 the existing soil, when planting.

**Many of these products are interchangeable and there are other bagged goods that are also beneficial. These are the ones that I have been using and I am quite pleased with their performance.  The nutrients in these bags vary and I am sure you can see I am a little prejudiced toward the Lobster Compost.