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janicej11

Can you amend soil around established plants?

janicej11
14 years ago

I know it's a little late to pose this question. I had to dig out a garden and replant my perennials (weed invasion) and realized that the soil just never loosens up. Perhaps too much clay deep down. I tried added peat moss, but the soil just doesn't respond. Is there any way to amend the soil around some of the plants to get it looser so that I can weed and eventually have an easier time of it?

Comments (30)

  • lindac
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Just pile on the shredded bark or fine pine chips...it will take a few years but the worme will loosen your soil for you.
    Linda C

  • janicej11
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi Linda....I have been putting mulch on for years...even used a little gypsum some years back. But the soil just doesn't make you want to get in and work with it.

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  • echinaceamaniac
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    What I have been doing is digging down and removing some of the soil. Then I replace this with some top soil I bought. Each time I plant a flower now, I remove some soil and replace some of it with a good soil and mix it together good. Your soil will get better every year.

  • DYH
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Try to find 'garden soil' instead of 'top soil'. Around here where I live, there's a difference in the richness.

    Cameron

  • sjmarq
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Peat moss isn't really the best amendment. (search soil/compost/mulch forum for more info) Better than a bag of soil would be to buy a bunch of compost. Top/side dress all existing plants. Do this couple of times a year and it adds organic matter to your beds. Leaf mold also does wonders.

    You dug up a perennial bed and didn't add a truck load of compost? Seems criminal somehow to go to all that work and not amend the soil.

  • anitamo
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Compost and/or shredded leaves will be much better than adding top soil. Just add an inch or two around plants every spring and in no time you'll have richer soil. Do you have a lot of worms? What section of IL do you live in? I agree that peat moss never needs to be added to the soil.

  • janicej11
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    anitamo - I live in Chicago...and, actually in the area I was digging,I don't remember seeing many worms. The soil is always hard in this one garden. Is it too late to add maybe some Mushroom compost around the plants and try to mix in the soil now??

    sjmarq - I was so focused on getting rid of the invasive plants and weeds, that I clearly screwed up on not amending the soil. Thought peat moss would help.

  • anitamo
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    IMHO, more worms equals better soil. So if you see few or no worms, it's a good sign that it's lacking in organic matter.The worms are working to keep the soil friable and their castings add organic matter to the soil. Not sure about mushroom compost...have heard good and bad about that...I'd try to find some regular old good compost at the nursery...not HD.

  • janicej11
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Anitamo - do you have any general compost names I can request from the nursery?

  • anitamo
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Nurseries sometimes sell their own special mix. I don't have names, but I've seen it at Planter's Palette in Winfield. Too far for you, I'm sure, but if they have it, others would too. Anderson's supply, where I get my wood mulch, sells compost, too. They deliver and are located on Rt. 83 in Elmhurst. You must have some nurseries near you, right? Why not check them out or give them a call.

  • phyl345
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    janice ... thanks for starting this post! ... it has been very informative to read ...

    anita, i never know what the *generic* term *compost* refers to either ... do you consider the bags of *composted manure* good? ... that is the one thing (for about $2 a bag) that i see pretty much everywhere that has gardening items, even in the parking lots of the grocery stores!

    phyl, who covers her beds in the fall with shredded leaves ...

  • janicej11
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks for the great tips. I'll try adding some compost around my perennials and top with mulch and see if that helps a bit.

    I've added mulch every year to this area, but the soil continues to be very hard and claylike (underneath). Maybe compost will do the trick.

  • lindac
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Sand will also help with heavy clay. An inch of builder's sand over everything will loosen the soil....but be very careful. a load of sand I introduced years ago is what started my nasty infestation of bind weed.
    Linda C

  • mxk3 z5b_MI
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I pile on a good, thick layer of fallen leaves in the fall (by spring, it's at least half decomposed, if not more). After doing this consistently for many years, there has been a vast improvement in my soil. Compost, leaves, etc. it's all good.

    Amending a bed when you first create it (and/or decide to plant in it) is a great idea, but in reality it takes *years* to get that rich "good" soil. Keep top-dressing and be patient - it will happen. :)

  • Donna
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi, Janice,
    This has been going all week, I see, but I can add a couple of suggestions to the good ones already put forward. If you are gardening on really heavy clay, I have my doubts as to whether you can adequately amend your soil without removing the existing plants first. (But try it first, and if something works, by all means, report back!:)

    So, if in another year your soil is no better off, here's the easiest way to work clay that I have found in my years of gardening on REd, yellow, AND gray clay (yep, three layers) here in Mississippi. Next spring when your plants begin to emerge, dig them up and heel them in somewhere else: either in existing beds or in containers. (Heeling in means planting them temporarily. You can cram them in tight if they're not staying for long.) Then cover your entire area with a thick (l0 sheets or so) layer of newspaper, overlapping all the edges, bringing the paper all the way to the front edge of the border. Then cover it with any organic material you can find: grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps (not meat or oily stuff,of course). Keep piling it on until it is at least a foot thick, but two feet is even better. Let it all stay there fallow for a good six months. As far north as you are, probably all the way through to the next spring, simply because if you replant your plants in fall, they might not have time to establish before your winter sets in. Then when the first warm days of spring arrive, go out and stick a shovel in it. You won't believe how soft and wonderful your soil is!
    I believe that people on gardenweb call this "lasagna" gardening, but I personally call it a miracle. I have used this technique on several beds over the years, and it has never failed to produce wonderful, perfect soil. Once you have re-planted your bed, add mulch and organic top dressings as the above posters advise from that time forth. You soil will not revert to clay again.

  • janicej11
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Donn - your idea sounds great...and, actually it's been recommended previously as well. The problem is that I'm dealing with a relatively large area with a couple of bushes and many perennials. I don't really have another spot to move them to - even temporarily. I'd have to try to amend around the plants as a fix. It does sound great, though, to have workable ground to play in.

  • debstuart1
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Here's another idea, but from somebody without clay soil. However, I am trying it to enrich parts of my borders/gardens which have pretty poor soil without digging up things which don't like to be moved even temporarily.

    I think I got this idea from the latest American Gardener from the Hort. Society. I am making "honey holes" which are about two feet wide and as deep as I can get them. These go NEAR plants not under them. In these holes I put all kitchen veg/fruit peel wastes as well as the kind of stuff you would put in a compost pile - mostly small weeding remnants. Unlike a compost pile, you do not have to balance green and brown materials, although I guess you could. The holes fill up quickly and then pack down over a short amount of time so I am still adding a bit of material every now and then.

    The AG suggestion is to put them in the middle of a group of plants or bushes, or beside them. For instance, my high bush blueberries are only doing OK. I have a group of three. I put a hole dead center in the middle of the group.

    In my perennial beds if I have a space (as in the one which happened when I pulled up non-performing tulips) I have made min-holes.

    When I water I fill the holes. The article suggests that these holes can act as water reservoirs - and I should think this would be particularly true in clay soil.

    I have not had critter problems except with one and that only once.

    Mind you, I am just a month into this process, but I am enthusiastic about the idea. It is SO easy to do, I think it would be worth a try to give it a go as many places in your garden as you can tuck these in. I am keeping a small container on my counter and each day/night just take the orange peels/lettuce trimmings/etc out an dump 'em in one hole or another.

    I also think the "remove the plants and amend" idea is great for plants that will tolerate it, but some won't. And the honey hole is so simple, it's worth a try.

    Deborah

  • janicej11
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Deb - interesting idea! Do you cover the holes after adding the organic materials? Wonder if that might bring mice or other vermin to the area?

  • kowalleka
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have very heavy clay soil and am very cautious about digging up any established perennials that I have managed to keep alive. I am lucky enough to have several horses, so I have an ongoing compost pile. In early spring and in the fall, I put shovelfuls of the compost in every part of my garden that does not have a plant sticking up, being careful not to pile it around the stems of existing plants. It works beautifully. My plants are thriving, and I can dig down at least 6-8" before I hit clay now. Full of earthworms too! And best of all, very little work!

  • Donna
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I like the sound of these two ideas! Deb, I bet a bulb planter would make an ideal sized hole for your mini composting. I have one that you can step on like a shovel, and it makes a hole about three inches in diameter and a good 8 inches deep. I may try that!

    Kowalleka, I am glad to hear your input as well. How long have you been doing this topdressing with the manure? And do you compost the manure first? If so, how long? I have a friend with horses who is always offering it to me, but I am afraid of having a bunch of pasture weeds coming up in my beds.

    Janice, not trying to take over your thread here! :)
    If I were you, I'd try one of the less extreme measures suggested here, and do the lasagana bit only as a last resort. I am sure I don't have to say this to YOU, but it's a good reminder to ME that doing a thorough job of soil prep FIRST is always the best way to go. (I had been contemplating just digging some holes for some excess hostas. Nope. You've reminded me that in the long run, it's easier to do it right the first time.)

  • kowalleka
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    donnabasket - Oh my goodness, if you can get manure, take it! I compost mine for a couple months in summer, longer in winter. It's easy to tell when it's ready, it just looks like good black dirt! I just make a big mound, wet it down thoroughly and through a dark tarp over it. No turning or anything. Within a month or two, it is great. Sometimes I get impatient and use it sooner. If it 'cooks' for a month or so, it will kill all the weed seeds.

    Don't put on fresh manure because it will smell and it will burn your plants because it gets hot as it decomposes.

    I have been doing this for almost 30 years now. Never need to fertilize my gardens, my horses do it for me. I use this on both my veggies and my flowers. With my veggies, I just empty my wheelbarrow right into the garden all winter long. In the spring, I rototill it in.

    I work at a barn in the area, and the neighbors know which days are barn cleaning days. In the spring, they line up early in the morning to take garbage cans of manure away. They take as fast as we can fork it out of the stalls! Brown gold!

    I also take fresh manure and make manure tea for my potted plants. Just take a shovelful and put it in a 5 gallon bucket. Fill with water and stir. Stir every day for two or three days and water your plants with it once a week or so. Works wonders!

  • SandL
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Oh sure! When I first moved into my house, the soil was a very heavy clay that was horrid to garden in. Luckily, we were blessed with several very large trees which have supplied a great amount of leaf mold/mulch to the beds every Fall.

    In the Spring time I lay down compost and manure in beds with heavy feeders. We also use grass clippings from the mower.

    It has taken about 8 years to get the soil in each bed nice and loamy, but with consistency it does happen. I've never removed any of the soil from any of the beds nor have I ever added purchased topsoil.

    Heather

  • janicej11
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Donnabasket - Wish I could change how I re-dug up the garden bed and go back and add all sorts of organic matter. It was such a difficult job that the sweat must have dulled my brain.
    But, better late than never.

    I like Deb's idea of digging compost holes for the time being at least. Is it a good idea to buy manure from a garden center now?? Living in the city, I want to make sure I ask for the right thing from the nursery.

  • diana_noil
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    This is a really interesting thread. I am going to try Deb's "honey holes."

    I have a question for those of you that spread leaves on your beds in the fall. I have about 3 inches of mulch in my beds. Do you just spread the leaves over the top of that? Does it look like a big mess in the spring?

  • lindac
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    You spread leaves....chopped of course.....and in the spring spread more mulch, if you don't like the looks of the leaves.
    Remember, contact with the soil speeds up decomopsition, or with finished compost...so a few shovels of bagged compost in the early fall will hasten the process
    Linda C

  • janicej11
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Linda - when you say bagged compost, do you mean manure?

  • Donna
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Janice, I have used bagged "Composted Manure" for years. It is inexpensive and easy to use. I am sure it's not as good as say, kowalleka's horse manure from the barn (thanks, kowalleka. I am going to talk to my friend this week!), but it has been an excellent product for me. It definitely contains some sand, but as it mixes in with my heavy clay, that is a good thing. Last fall, I dug out some daffodil bulbs from the first bed I prepped here five years ago. The soil was so loose, I was able to plunge my hands into the soil, feel around, and bring the bulbs, uninjured right out. The bulbs were planted six inches deep. Was I gloating? Oh, yeah. :)

    This is just a guideline I use, but when I am digging a new bed, I add five pounds of composted manure, plus all the chopped leaves I can get my hands on to each square foot of bed space. A bag of the manure is about 40 pounds, so it covers eight square feet, and it costs $1.29 here in Mississippi. I think that's a fairly inexpensive way to go. There is also Black Kow, which gets very high marks for nutritive value. But, it costs three or four times more. I'd love to use it, but I like buying new plants too much. :)

    I have found a RELATIVELY easy way to prepare new beds in my heavy soil. It's highly possible that someone has an easier way, and I'd love to hear it, but this might help some of you that are still working on a method. My soil is so heavy and so dense, that I wait for at least four days after a rain to begin digging. Wet soil tends to clod up something awful, but even more, it's extremely heavy.

    I start by sharpening my shovel. Then I plunge it into the ground as far as I can get it with my feet. Then I stand on top of it and move the handle forward and backward while standing until I get it to go all the way in (about a foot). My neighbors call this Donna's shovel dance:) But, I'm too old to jump! Once it's in, I pull back on the shovel handle and let it break the earth. (I recommend Craftsman shovels. If you break the handle, they replace it for free. They know me by name at Sears.:) I move the shovel over and dance again. I cut a line across the bed, then move the shovel back about six inches and start the process over. I do NOT lift the dirt or turn it. It's too hard on my back.

    Once I have broken the dirt all over the bed (or in the section I'm working), I take my mini tiller to it and pulverize it. I rake the soil smooth.

    THEN I lay my soil amendments right over the top of the pulverized dirt: usually about four inches of composted manure and chopped leaves, more if I have it. If I don't have leaves (or home-made compost), I use bagged soil conditioner. If I have it, I also give a generous sprinkling of organic fertilizer/s (pelleted chicken manure, blood meal, green sand, etc.). I take a garden rake and rake this smoothly over the top. Then I use the tiller again. And rake it all smooth again.

    Ideally, I then cover the whole bed with pine straw and let it sit for a couple of weeks before planting. But sometimes, I plant directly into it. Either way, in a month, it's amazing how beautiful, soft, crumbly, and worm-filled the soil is.

    Is this alot of work? Yes! (It sure helps me control my weight, though.) Is it time consuming? Yes, but I don't try to do it all at once. I work two hours at a time 3 or 4 times a week (instead of joining a gym, you see.) If you stay with it, it's amazing how much you can accomplish. And the good news is, you only have to do this one time. As long as you tend the soil by digging some fresh compost, manure or other organic material in to every hole you plant, AND add mulch each year, the ground only gets better with time.

    One more note, there used to be a business in our town that sold top soil in bulk to contractors. It also carried something it called "organic mix". That stuff was pure gold. It seems like it was $250 for a small dump truck load, delivered. I went into mourning when they went out of business (It was a second job for the owner.). It would be worth checking your yellow pages for something like this if you are digging big beds. We built this house and when we were first getting started, this was the best way to go.

  • tasymo
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    You might want to purchase some Cocao Hull mulch. It smells like chocolate, looks very tidy, and breaks down over the Winter to a nice rich humus that will help amend your soil. I have heard, however, that it can be toxic to dogs if they eat it.
    Regarding horse manure- I read in Mother Earth News, that deer do not like the smell of horse manure, so will leave your garden alone if you use it.
    Those "honey holes" are an intriguing idea that I think I will try!

  • debstuart1
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Me again. To answer a question one of you asked... with one exception I have not had any action from critters (and that was v. minor and after I tossed a little dirt on, it didn't happen again) and I now have about 8 holes. Size ranges from about 10-24 inches across. Debth has ranges from about 8-20ish inches.

    Yes, I do throw a tad of dirt on the top after I dump a quart or two of green stuff. Note that I go back and add to the holes and guess I will do this until it doesn't settle at all. I am using all vegetable materials , a lot of it things like chopped up huge iris stems, wilted flowers which came out of vases, small weeds, etc. I don't generate enough fruit and veg. compost to do a whole lot if this kind of thing, although I am throwing that in as well. I bet if it was a lot of fruit peels/waste there might be mice, etc.

    Haven't done any baby holes but it's an interesting idea w. bulb planter

    I urge people to find the article that was in American Gardener. It's in the March/April issue and is called "Composting Goes Underground". Has other ideas for burying compost, include a neat trench system. But I am LOVING the honey hole thing!! I will post later in the season to say it I think I see a difference where I have done it.

    This is a great thread!

    Deborah

    PS...I tried cocao hulls and they got moldy. But I do know people who like them.

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