Question: I have two questions about my garden soil. First, will adding manure to my garden make the soil too hot and burn the roots?

Second, my garden soil has lots of clay and gets hard clods in it. What is the best way to make the soil in my garden better so that it is easier to work with?

Answer: Some manures, especially fresh manures or poultry manures, can be very “hot” or rich in nitrogen and other mineral salts. When fresh or hot manures are added to the soil it can cause moisture to be pulled from the roots, drying them out.

You can safely use manure in your garden soil if you used aged manure. If in doubt, make a light application instead of applying a lot of manure at once. Applying the manure in the fall and letting it sit over the winter can also reduce the risk to the roots in your garden next year.

Adding compost to your garden soil is the best way to improve it and make it more workable. Compost can help to loosen the soil, improve its moisture-holding capacity and improve its drainage.

Compost can be added to your garden soil any time during the year. If you’ve never used compost, you can work in several inches the first year, but then add only an inch or two every year after that.

Poinsettia pointers

The week after the Thanksgiving holiday is the prime time to pick out a perfect poinsettia. The plants are fresher, and they haven’t been picked over yet, so the selection will be better.

Poinsettias should be showing up now at florists, independent garden centers and big box stores. Here are some tips for choosing the best poinsettia and keeping it looking good:

  • Look for a fresh poinsettia. Some of our local nurseries grow their poinsettias on site, and many of the plants you’ll see in the local big box stores will come from large greenhouses in Utah. You should be able to choose from a nice selection of poinsettias that haven’t traveled very far from the grow to you.
  • Choose a plant with sturdy branches and young flower buds that haven’t opened. The flower buds are the little green and yellow structures in the center of colored bracts leaves. Poinsettias with open, mature flowers won’t keep their good looks for as long. Protect your poinsettia from freezing weather while you take it home.
  • Poinsettias stems are brittle, so they often come in a cellophane or plastic sleeve to protect them from breakage during their trip to your home. That plastic sleeve is helpful in keeping your plant safe on its trip to your house, but you should remove it as soon as you get it home.
  • Place it in the brightest location that will meet your holiday decorating needs. If you need your poinsettias to beautify a place that won’t provide the best conditions, you can simply move your plants to where they are needed for special events but put back them in a more ideal location at other times. This place should be away from the cold draft of doors and windows and where it won’t be in the warm, dry airflow from furnace vents.
  • Water properly. Poinsettias don’t like to dry down completely, but they also won’t tolerate overwatering. Thorough, less frequent watering is better than adding a little water to the pot every day or two. When the plant feels a little lightweight and the upper inch or so of the soil is dry, it’s time to water. Water thoroughly so that the pot feels heavy again and some water comes out the bottom of the pot.
  • It’s best to remove the pot from its decorative cover when you water so that there is no standing water in the pot cover. If that isn’t practical, you’ll need remove any standing water from the pot cover after the potting soil has had several minutes to drain. Poinsettias are susceptible to root rot, and standing water contributes to this problem.
  • You won’t need to fertilize your poinsettia unless you’re going to keep it for more than a few weeks during the holidays. If you want to keep your poinsettia for longer, you’ll need to provide light fertilizer applications occasionally or apply a slow-release fertilizer that includes micronutrients.