Soil Health
The key to great daylilies
I have been growing daylilies for over 20 years now and during that time I have had both healthy and unhealthy soil. Because of this, I can attest to the fact that good soil health is a key factor in growing great daylilies. I don't claim to be an expert but like most hobby gardeners have made observations over the years and hopefully, learned from my mistakes. If you want to know more about my mistakes, check out the history of my garden's soil.

Healthy soil is a combination of minerals, rock, water, air, organic matter (plant and animal residue), microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi and protozoa and a variety of insects and worms. This intricate web carries out a process that continually replenishes the soil and maintains long-term soil fertility.

For sustained growth, plants require macro-nutrients and trace elements. Macro-nutrients include, nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S). Trace elements include, iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn). For optimum plant growth, soil must be capable of storing these nutrients and transferring them to the root surface for uptake by plants.

The first thing I recommend in a program to increase your soil's health is to have a soil analysis done. This soil 'check up' will give you a starting point from which to work. I believe most states have a program where you can submit soil for analysis. Here in Texas soil testing is conducted by Texas Agricultural Extension Service at Texas A & M University. You should attempt to provide your soil with what it lacks (usually not too difficult) and in some cases attempt to correct problems when your soil has an overabundance of something if it is causing problems (this can be much more difficult). I recommend using organic materials whenever possible.

Soil pH is an important factor in your soil's health. Daylilies do best with a pH between 6.5 and 7 (neutral to slightly acid). In most cases, increasing the organic matter in your soil will go a long way toward bringing your soil's pH into the proper range. However, if your soil is too acid, it can be brought back to a favorable pH by applying agricultural-ground limestone. Dolomitic limestone is preferred over calcitic limestone because it contains magnesium in addition to calcium. If your soil is too alkaline, it's best to incorporate naturally acid organic materials such as oak leaves, oak sawdust, ground up oak bark, cottonseed meal, or acid peat moss.

There are various materials that you can add to your soil that will improve its health. I can't really give you a specific program to follow because each soil's needs are different. Instead, I'll just comment on some of these various products that can be used and what they do for your soil. You can then form your own program.

Manure - well composted of course is the mainstay of the organic garden. Horse and cow manure are probably the most commonly used but manure from any non-meat eating animals can be used. Manure feeds the soil's microorganisms which break down the manure into humus and other products which can be absorbed by the plant roots. It supplies various macro and micro nutrients necessary for proper plant growth. Manure also feeds the earthworms which are important for soil aeration. While it does not have a particularly high nitrogen content, the organic matter feeds soil microorganisms that release nitrogen and thus it's also effective when applied as a fertilizer. Rabbit manure is harder to come by but has the highest nitrogen content of all manures.

Humic Acid - this substance, called 'liquid compost' by some, is an excellent addition to your garden soil. It is a naturally occurring compound that makes up a significant part of decayed organic matter. Here's a list of the benefits that turned up during a brief web search:

There are various sources of Humic Acid. Some have high concentrations while others use it as part of an overall formula. The product I'm currently using is called Humate from the Medina Corporation. It contains about 12% humic acid.

Compost - this is basically organic matter such as garden waste and kitchen scraps (vegetable only) that has been decomposed. good compost is rich in nutrients, microorganisms, and humus. It also improves the soil's tilth.

Vermicompost - this is an organic matter compost that is made by using worms to do the composting. it creates some of the best compost (also known as worm castings).

Leaf Mold Compost - as the name suggests, this is made primarily from compossting leaves often with small amounts of other vegetable matter added including manures. Because it is typically composted slowly it is especially rich in microbes and humus. it can be worked into the soil or used as a top dressing.

Green Sand - comes from ancient sea floor deposits. It contains potassium, iron, calcium, and many trace elements. It also helps loosen heavy clay soil. It is used both as a soil conditioner and as a fertilizer (NPK = 0-1-6).

Expanded Shale - this is made from shale that has been fired at very high temperatures. This causes the shale to expand. The result is a lightweight nature material that not only has the ability to loosen heavy soils, it also holds moisture.

Alfalfa pellets - addition of alfalfa pellets to the soil stimulates vigorous growth. This is primarily from the nitrogen made available as the alfalfa breaks down but there are also important trace elements plus growth hormones present in the pellets. The most obvious result is larger plants and the daylily foliage is a darker green than the foliage of untreated daylilies. Care should be used when mixing alfalfa pellets in the soil around the plants roots. During decomposition alfalfa pellets can give off heat and can result in the soil getting quite warm if too many are used. Applying to the soil surface prior to mulching is an alternative method of use. Alfalfa is also a good additive to a compost tea.

Microorganisms - yes, microorganisms are something that you can add to your soil. True they are present already and manure will add more, but you can purchase microorganisms that are known to be beneficial to give your soil a real jump start. A high concentration of beneficial microorganisms will also help keep the unfavorable ones in check. Agricultural molasses is a bio-stimulant and can be added to the soil to provide additional food for the microorganisms. Microlife has a good organic fertilizer that contains microorganisms and they can also be purchased as additives.

Compost teas - these are an excellent way to boost your soil's productivity. Yes, they are a little work (and usually unpleasant smelling) but are well worth the effort. A number of tea recipes can be found on the internet and you can create your own. The basic concept is to create a liquid that contains a high concentration of beneficial bacteria plus additional nutrients to feed the plants. Here is a sample recipe using a 5-gal bucket. Fill the bucket most of the way and let stand for 24-48 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate before adding the ingredients.

1 cup alfalfa pellets
2 Tbsp kelp powder
3 Tbsp humate (humic acid)
3 Tbsp agricultural molasses or unsulfured blackstrap molasses*
2 cups garden soil
4 cups compost (non-sterilized)**
Stir the mixture vigorously to incorporate air and mix the ingredients. Then allow the mix to stand for at least 3 days (or longer if it doesn't smell bad) stirring periodically. Apply the liquid around each plant. It can also be filtered (to remove solid particles) and used as a foliar spray.
* The molasses contains sugars which feed the bacteria so they can multiply rapidly.

** The reason non-sterilized compost is used is because we want the natural beneficial bacteria and fungi present in the compost be able to multiply in the tea. Alternately, you can purchase products that contain beneficial bacteria as well as products that contain mycorrhizal fungi to add instead of the compost.


Organic Sources of macro-nutrients
Nitrogen (in addition to those already mentioned)
  • Bone Meal
  • Blood Meal
  • Ground Feathers
  • Sewage sludge
  • Cottonseed meal

Phosphorus

  • Manure
  • Ground phosphate rock
  • Bone meal

Potash

  • Manure
  • Wood ashes
  • Granite dust
  • Greensand

Calcium

  • Natural ground limestone
  • Dolomite
  • Wood ashes
  • Bone meal
  • Ground oyster shell

Magnesium

  • Dolomitic limestone

Sulfur

  • Agricultural Molasses


Organic Sources of micro-nutrients

Iron

  • Usually there is plenty of iron in most soils but it is primarily in the form of insoluble rocks and minerals and therefore unavailable to plants. Adding humus (or humic acid) is the best way to make iron available to the plants.

Manganese

  • Shortage of manganese is likely to occur in a high organic soil that is too alkaline. Check soil pH and work acidic organic materials such as oak leaves into the soil.
  • Alfalfa pellets

Copper

  • Sawdust
  • Wood shavings
  • Grass clippings

Zinc

  • Manure

Boron

  • Manure
  • Granite dust

Molybdenum

  • Alfalfa Pellets
  • Ground limestone

Note that for some micro-nutrients, too much is just as bad than not enough so be sure and get your soil tested. Using organic methods to correct your soil's deficiencies is the safest way.

The organic method of improving my soil's health is working for me. I hope you have found something in this page that will give you healthier and more beautiful daylilies.