Need Assertive, Agressive, Tough... just plain mean plants

virginiagardener(7)January 25, 2009

We bought our house 2 years ago and I may have the worst clay soil in the state of Virginia The previous owner killed what was left of the soil with chemicals and before the house was built the land was a tobacco farm so there was not much to begin with. Add to that the effects of a couple of yearÂs drought. We are on spring water and couldnÂt water as much as we wanted to. Basically we concentrated on watering the new fruit trees and left the rest to go to crabgrass, which it promptly did. The best way to describe yard at the moment is a brick with some dead weeds and really tough grass clinging to it. Last summer even the crabgrass died leaving huge bald patches in the yard. I have one dump truck load of compost so IÂm not ready to give up yet but realistically I cannot improve the soil on a large enough scale to have an easy time gardening for years.

I am trying to get pregnant so IÂm afraid of using chemicals in the yard because it will be likely to get in the spring and into my water supply. I want a pretty yard but not at the risk of having the kid come out with three eyes or something. On top of that hubby and I have a busy schedule this year and do not have a lot of time for yard work so I need to find something that can:

1. Defeat crabgrass

2. Can live in clay soil that has not been improved.

3. Thrives on neglect.

4. Grows from seed ($$$ short due to other things the house needed so I canÂt buy plants)

IÂm not a complete novice and I know cannot just toss some seeds on the soil and pray they turn into a garden but think in terms of what a pregnant woman could manage and factor in the size of the yard (over 2 acres) and you will see why I am looking for "lazy gardenerÂs plants". Can anyone recommend some plants that will survive the neglect and abuse I am going to be heaping on them?

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You could try a wild flower seed mix, they make them for all types of soils. But you will still have to water it until it gets established. Check out this link below, and search seed mixes for 'claybuster' mix.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wildflowers for Clay Soils

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 8:09AM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

In the high deserts of the Great Basin where even the sage brush is sparse and sickly a wild flower mixture from a local big box store does very well. There is one plant with teeny tiny white flowers that even has to be thinned or it will overgrow the others.

Marigolds and calendula do well too.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 12:10PM
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Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) Are the only things that will grow in a patch of property that I fondly call 'Hell' Everything else there dwindled and died with a whimper. The daisies are spreading in fact! And are beautiful all summer long! Throw seed down in the rainy part of the year or water until they sprout. No mulch. No supplemental water. Pure clay in full sun.

Butterfly magnet.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 12:34PM
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The meanest annual I've ever grown is . Small yellow flowers, and lots of big, thick dark purple-black spines on the stems (and leaves!). Makes fall cleanup an adventure.

More practical advice: Have someone build you a couple of raised beds where you can garden more comfortably in amended soil and grow whatever you want. Don't try to do too much too soon - gradually amend your other growing areas while looking at your landscaping as a long-term project.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 5:30PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Could you maybe cross a porcupine with a wolverine, then just plant it .... in gravel & broken glass? I know the last poster mentioned annuals, so I'll hope you don't really care one way or t'other - just so they're tough - b'cuz these are both perennials. Just a thought.... I sure hope someone comes along that's more help than I was.


    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 8:53PM
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token28001(zone7b NC)

Datura inoxia thrives here on neglect. Cosmos too. Lantana should work as well. You may need to start them in pots. The cosmos are used here in NC as roadside flowers along the interstate.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2009 at 11:00PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The good news for you is that some of the best agricultural sites in the US consist of red clay soil. As long as your property DRAINS sufficiently, it's no big deal to tame this stuff. Trust me, I know from personal experience!

Rather than looking at the big picture, why not focus on one small portion of your area that will make you happy each time you look at it? The ordeal of it ALL won't seem so insurmountable if you attack it a little bit at a time. Eric had the right idea in his earlier comment.

I'd surely suggest that you turn as much of your property into something useful (and easier to take care of) instead of grass. Large landscape beds and tree collections can all be mulched to keep weeds down and to add to their attractiveness. Assorted mulches eventually break down and begin improving that soil, too.

When we moved to our present home, this yard was pretty discouraging, too. I was horrified at this brick hard stuff we were supposed to grow stuff in. We tilled in a fair amount of aged bark fines and compost ONLY into those areas where we planned to add landscaping (shrubs, perennials, and annuals). The several trees we added, as well as the grass (mostly weeds when we got here), simply had to make do. Guess what? Trees planted directly into that hard red clay, with no amendments at all, grow like crazy!

Those beds were amended once. We top dress with mulch and compost annually. We aerated the areas meant for grass heavily, then sodded with a hybrid Bermuda. After a very brief growing in period, the grass began to thrive like crazy on top of that red clay. Again, with very little watering (and we don't have an irrigation system).

Come to find out, there's nothing difficult about growing in red clay soil. Well, we use a heavy duty auger to plant things rather than a shovel... but so what? ;-) Our plantings have thrived with less water, less fertilizer, less fuss than I have ever experienced in all of my years of growing! Go figure.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2009 at 12:48PM
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omniphasic(9 Ca)

Nasturtiums are a good option for you~Get the tall assorted varieties and they will ramble and trail all over the place.I'd wait until mid April to plant them there in your zone,but they grow quick and are very inexpensive when grown from seed.They bloom best without fertilizer too!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2009 at 12:00AM
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Nell Jean

I know of nothing that will grow on hardpan clay, if crabgrass died.

Think long and hard about planting agressive plants -- one day you will have time to properly garden and the agressors will be all over your nicer plants.

I would just make small improved beds that grow nice plants for now and keep the rest mowed. You can keep extending the beds in a 'lasgana' gardening manner until the little beds become big beds. Start a compost heap. A cold compost heap will break down into mulch over time.


    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 2:15PM
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spartangardener(z4 MN)

do some reading about "lasagna gardening" - that's a good way to easily build raised beds with terrific soil, and it can be done on the cheap and will smother out the crabgrass underneath.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 1:01PM
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