It’s simple to test the properties of garden soil

A bountiful harvest depends on growing vegetables in the correct soil. CONTRIBUTED BY WALTER REEVES

A bountiful harvest depends on growing vegetables in the correct soil. CONTRIBUTED BY WALTER REEVES

Q: I have gotten a plot at my town’s community garden. I am wondering what I should be doing to prepare the soil for spring planting. Add compost? Emily Rome, email

A: Much of your success in the plot will depend on how quickly the soil drains after it rains and how well it keeps an open structure so oxygen can reach the roots. For soil that is mostly clay, or mostly sand, compost improves the situation. But if your soil already contains an excess of composted organic matter, it won't drain very well after a rain. Here is a test you can perform: Find an empty quart jar and fill it halfway with your soil. Fill it the rest of the way with tap water.

Shake it vigorously and allow it to stand for a day or so. The soil components will settle out in sequence. Heavy particles, like sand, will be on the bottom and tiny particles, like clay, will settle on top. Silt is between the two. Ideally, you want to see equal layers of each, plus a thin layer of black organic matter floating on top. Once you have added anything the soil needs physically, it's good to know what plant nutrients it contains. I have details on this process at

Q: Is now a good time to cut back salvia and other perennials or is it not a good idea with frigid temps still possible?Jennifer Klein, email

A: My practice is to cut down brown stems whenever I see them, no matter what the weather. Some owners of 'Miss Huff' lantana vociferously disagree with me, but I cut the stems off in early winter after they freeze. Whenever you do it, your salvia will look better next year after being compacted by pruning in winter.

Q: I have Carolina jasmine and boxwood planted around my mailbox. The rabbits are destroying them. Is a deer repellent good for rabbits too?

Roland Herts, email

A: I don't have a good answer for deterring rabbits. No repellent is 100 percent effective, but you'll get better results if you swap between products. Deer repellents are based on taste or smell components. They typically include rotten eggs, essential oil, capsaicin, or bittering compounds. Rabbits would be sensitive to all of these.

Q: I hate the thought of all my K-Cup pods going to the landfill. I planted Blue Lake green bean seeds and poblano pepper seeds in used coffee grounds after removing the aluminum covering. I put them in a plastic bag in the window. Now there are shoots coming up.Betty Gowins, Birmingham

A: I applaud your ingenuity, but I have some suggestions. Coffee grounds are not the best seed-starting material. If you give each cup a couple of drainage holes, I'm sure they could be successful for starting seeds after being filled with commercial seed starting media. The cups are not huge, and you don't want the roots to become so big they start circling around inside. You'll need to move the seedlings up into a somewhat bigger container before transplanting them outdoors in spring.

Listen to Walter Reeves Saturday mornings on News 95.5 FM and AM750 WSB. Visit his website,, follow him on Twitter @walterreeves, on Pinterest, or join his Facebook Fan Page at for more garden tips.

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