My soil report, any comments?

olreaderJanuary 7, 2014

I am planning on planting some peaches and apricots in a 8'x20' area south of my garage. When it was warm in December I submitted a soil sample to Colorado State extension. They told me what I suspected, high pH, low nutrients, low organic matter, slow draining. Am I missing anything? Should I do anything to the soil before I plant, it is such a small area that I think I could add something to the whole area.

The sample I submitted was mixed from 7 plugs that I dug 8 or 12 inches deep, whatever the instructions were. The two plugs near the garage had some sand that I think was from construction fill. In October I did a drainage test in another part of the yard, I dug a hole 12 inches deep, filled it with water, a small amount started draining in the first hour, but 24 hours later there was still 3 or 4 inches in the bottom of the hole. We don't get much rain here so I'm not too worried about drainage. The place near the garage is on high ground with a slight slope away from the garage which maybe will help.

Here is the report (first page)

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page two of report and link with picture of planting area

Here is a link that might be useful: my original gardenweb post about this site

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 3:26PM
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This seems like a site that can be fixed (except for drainage) with a truckload of wood chips from a tree company. One foot of wood chips, and you will be good for a decade. I would plant the trees in mounds obviously, at least those on the non draining side.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 4:21PM
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alan haigh

I wouldn't use a foot- more like 3-4", but I agree that an organic mulch would eliminate most of the issues, although you need a source of N. to get trees to establish quickly and to help them crop until the second or third year of mulching. It will require at least as much N. as they suggest because the mulch will pull out N at first unless it is from small branches only or is some other mulch with a high nitrogen to carbon ratio..

When enough organic matter has composted it will begin to release available N, although not at the optimum timing for fruit production. It is in early spring and fall when N is utilized for that, OM release most when soil warms up in early summer- which encourages vegetative growth. Good for establishing trees but not so good for bearing ones, depending on how much it is.

The mulch will even help with the drainage issue by increasing the root activity right to the soil's surface, although it may not be adequate to create ideal aeration. Mounding or ridging the soil could do that.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 6:30AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Besides doing what glib said, and it's good advice! Is maybe add some rock phosphate and iron sulfate to the mounded dirt. Don't use compost or organic fertilizers until the plant is a little established The mulch is going to take years to break down, and your soil does need some help so after a few months maybe add some organic tree fertilizer and/or compost. Supplement for the first three years. After that is should be OK. I would not use a soluble fertilizer the first year for sure, if at all. The organic takes time to break down, is impossible to burn roots. Phosphorus usually stays where it is put, unusual it is low. This concerns me. Since it stays put does not leach well, I would add the rock phosphate at time of planting in and around the roots mixed well with the soil. Try to use native soil to mound. It has to learn to live in it. If you need to bring soil in, mix it well with the native soil. I guess some compost is safe to add but I always worry about young roots establishing first before being fed. The iron sulfate will add the iron, and lower the PH a touch. Which is not crucial, but will not hurt either. Again as a soil amendment before or when planting.

Since your soil is so low in nutrients, it may be wise to add composted manure at the start, and later when established apply organic fertilizer. I would add the compost as a mulch then add the chips over that. I would not mix it in the planting hole. Cottonseed meal would be good, as it is also acidic. The manure compost would add nitrogen and potassium which your soil needs. If you were planting vegetables, I would follow the advice in the soil report to the letter, except again would use iron sulfate and cottonseed to help with acidity. the ammonium sulfate would really help too, but in this case, do not use that with trees! That could kill them if not established.
After three years you may want to send another sample in. That report was excellent! See where you are...

This post was edited by Drew51 on Wed, Jan 8, 14 at 7:15

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 6:47AM
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alan haigh

The P is low because of the surprisingly low level of organic matter. Soluble fertilizer does not kill trees or Miracle Grow would be out of business. People kill trees when they don't follow directions and use too much material. You really have to go overboard to add enough salt to kill a tree when applying to the soils surface. Soluble fertilizers are salts.

What you don't want is much soluble N placed in the holes and against the roots when planting. I don't recommend any.

12 inches of mulch will greatly delay adequate warming of soil in spring and is excessive for optimum growth, IMO.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 7:59AM
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Thanks for the great responses. I will be sure to plant the trees in mounds, and I will mulch, and I will follow the instructions on the soil report and apply supplements to the top. What I'm still not sure about is whether to mix anything (compost, supplements) into the soil. I'm leaning towards not mixing anything in, but if I do add compost I want to mix it in evenly in the whole 8'x20' area. The ground here is usually not frozen in the winter so if I decide to do bareroot trees I think I could dig big enough holes and mound and plant without too much trouble. But if I want to improve the entire planting bed that's a big project and I think I would wait and do that in the spring.

I have planted shade trees and bushes just a few feet away from this site and they have done great with no fertilizer but I understand that fruit trees have different nutritional requirements and soil drainage requirements.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 11:14AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Nobody said Miracle Grow would kill anything.
But I still would not use it. I would add the supplements.
As you saw on your bushes, I'm not sure you need to add compost at first? I agree that adding compost in the hole is not a good idea. As harvestman says, and that is why I said ammonium sulfate could kill your tree if added to the hole as suggested in the report. The report recommended amending the soil with it, thus it would end up in the hole which is not good. That stuff is strong! 21-0-0!
If you are worried about heat loss, use organic fertilizers on top of the mulch. I myself would add the compost in the fall of the first year. I would use organics too for the first three years.

I experimented with amending soils with compost for trees. I didn't really see any difference? It didn't kill the tree. I did notice that amending the hole made it stay wet longer. That was a problem! As the compost broke down the problem went away.I should have mixed it with native soil better. If you do amend the whole area, it may not help, but it won't hurt either. It will eventually be useful to the tree, it takes 2 to 4 weeks for the nitrogen to become available anyway. i don't have a problem with you doing that.

I have seen studies where phosphorus didn't really leach into the soil. And why I suggested adding it to the soil. As putting it on top is almost useless. Other nutrients and trace elements do. The iron will etc.

Once trees are established they will send roots extremely far to find all they need, but at first the stuff should be readily available.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Wed, Jan 8, 14 at 14:23

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 2:14PM
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First, I'd be pretty happy with that report.

Second, I'm a little wary of a hole that is still retaining some water at 24 hours. I agree with the idea of planting up on a mound.

Third, I am not an advocate of supplements. The only thing I would mix into your soil would be 25-33% finished compost. That should make up for the deficiencies I read and allow the trees to get a start while getting them to grow into your land. As the trees establish themselves and with wood chip mulch annually applied the deficiencies and soil texture will improve quickly and pretty dramatically actually unless the roots cannot penetrate the soil.

I like the 1 foot of wood chips too except I am not absolutely sure it is appropriate for your environment. You definitely want to keep them away from contacting the trunk regardless. I'd lay down a 8" pile...they will rapidly settle to 4" thickness within 3 weeks. A 4 foot radius spread of wood chips around the tree is a minimum. As the wood chips decompose they slowly return nutrients that fertilizers are used to return the same nutrients to the soil. In addition to maintaining a more stable moisture and thermal environment under the surface. Cut down on weeds/grass competing with the young tree's roots too, and help keep the soil in that 4 foot diameter hole from compacting.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 2:20PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I was kind of neutral on supplements until I heard Tom Spellman speak highly of them and how well the trees at Dave Wilson Nurseries were doing.
You are what you eat, same with trees too. The increase in disease resistance Tom saw was notable.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 2:38PM
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alan haigh

In general, anything on top will be useful to the trees, especially in a mulched situation. If the feeder roots don't reach the free P the mychorizal fungus certainly will and will provide it for the trees in exchange for some carbos the trees will be sloughing off anyway.

That doesn't mean the rock phosphate is a bad idea, just isn't really necessary as I see it.

The directions don't suggest incorporating the N. into the soil so the assumption I make is they are suggesting to broadcast it- but they don't say when. The trees won't be able to use it until they have established new fine roots and that won't happen until fall after spring planting for pomes and early summer for stone fruit. At least that's when research shows applications can have some benefit with newly planted trees.

I agree that incorporating compost into a soil with so little organic matter would be helpful and I'd do it if it was for my own small orchard. When I use compost this way I thoroughly incorporate it into the top 4-6" of soil using at least a quarter of a yard spread over a 6-8 diameter circle for each tree. A roto-hoe might help.

The trick is always to improve the soil where the new roots will be growing and not so much where the old roots are. Dumping compost into a hole is rarely helpful and sometimes creates soggy conditions that kill roots.

You could also add equal parts top soil and compost and blend it to create mounds for each tree which would really be good for your drainage issues.

A foot of woodchips would not settle to just a few inches in a matter of weeks, IMO. They don't break down anywhere near that quickly. The book is to use 3-4" and I would never use more than 6.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 6:00PM
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olreader one thing you don't mention is your time frame for improving the soil. Quite a difference between getting it "good" before you plant vs slowly improving it over many years. And of course all the middle ground in between.

Your soil sounds a bit similar to mine in the CO mountains, except that you have some clay. What I have tried to do, both in my orchard and garden beds, is a two prong approach. Some fertilizers/materials are added solely to provide for the immediate needs of the plants. Others are added for the long term improvement of the soil. (and of course there is some cross-over with some serving both purposes)

Since the short and long term needs/materials often don't align, I have tried to deal with them as separate projects. I use some soft rock phosphate for long term phosphate level improvements, and MAP for more immediate phosphate needs, for example.

You might find thinking of this question as really a set of long and short term questions makes more sense.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 11:05PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

I'm not agreeing with the mound. I understand that drainage might be slow but that's different from not draining at all. Our winters are so harsh and springs so volatile that I would be leery of a mound.

I haven't had my soil tested yet but any hole I dig and water will still be wet after a day but it WILL drain. We almost never get rain several days in a row (except that last year we got our 1000 year flood:))

You don't mention where you are in Colorado but the description of your soil matches mine. My trees have done well just plopped in the rocky, clay soil. Adding compost as a top dressing has worked well for me.

When I first started planting my trees I thought I might have to sift the whole lot but I think it was fruitnut that encouraged me to just go ahead and plant. I wish I could find the post.

Adding a PVC drip irrigation system has improved the growth of my trees dramatically.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 2:12AM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

Your soil report looks very normal for native soil. A few thoughts on the test. First, the pH is normal for our area and you have a lot of free lime. Any attempts to lower the pH will take a LOT of sulfur or other acidifying agent to neutralize all the lime. The trees will do fine at your current pH, though. The pH tends to quickly mineralize the phosphate and ties up the iron. Consequently, soils tests usually show them to be low. However, with a clay soil, it probably has a reddish cast, which is iron oxide and in that case, you have plenty of iron, it just isn't in a soluble form due to pH, and you also probably have plenty of phosphate but again it isn't in an available form. You can sprinkle a little iron sulfate on the surface if you want, the sulfur seems to keep the iron available long enough that the plants can drink it up, but you need to reapply every year or two as it gets tied up in the soil. The best guide for that is whether the leaves show yellowing from iron chlorosis. Different varieties and rootstocks all seem to have different abilities to take in iron, and you may not need to supplement iron at all, or you may get trees that will require a lot of supplementation. You can add phosphate, but it is likely to be mineralized in the soil over time.

Boron is low, which I also frequently see, but you really don't want it that low. You can add some boron, but take it easy as as a reading of 2-4 parts per million is adequate, and if you go over 4 ppm, it can quickly become toxic to the plants.

Mulch will probably be the best thing you can do. As it rots, it releases organic acids that will create a shallow layer of lower pH soil and once the tree roots reach this layer, they will probably find plenty of iron and phosphate. Just add mulch, leaves, etc. and let them decompose around the trees, then refresh the layer as it breaks down.

I try to mulch my trees that aren't surrounded by lawn with pine needles, and then fertilize the trees when I see signs that something is missing. If they start showing iron chlorosis, I'll add some iron sulfate. Lack of growth or pale leaves, then I'll give them a little nitrogen. Just keep them mulched and add additional fertilizer based on what the tree is telling you it needs.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 2:28AM
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alan haigh

Climate in CO is beyond my experience, but any liability of mounds would be neutralized by a thick layer of mulch, however, because you don't get much rain during the growing season there might not be much reward from using a mound. Depends on conditions when plants are fully out of dormancy with large leaves. If soil remains soggy well into the growing season you needn't fear the affects of the mounds, IMO, if you don't mind the appearance and the need to mulch.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 6:06AM
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"Lime is greater than 5%," I wouldn't even bother trying to lower the PH. A cubic foot of earth weighs roughly 100 lbs. this translates to at a minimum 5 lbs of lime per cubic foot of earth. In the mountain states typically soils can be up to 20-30% lime and we don't know what yours is just that it is above 5%. It would be impractical to lower the PH at least to any depth.

I would add a little rock phosphate to the soil when you plant. Then I would mulch heavily like everyone else said to help improve the upper shallow layer of the soil to feed the roots.
Last and probably most important would be to get trees that are grafted onto root stocks that can handle your PH level. Apricots and peaches should do just fine at that PH. Also the slower draining soil helps save water in the summer!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 10:08AM
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Natures_Nature(5 OH)

Soil test normally just measure the soluble, plant available nutrients. So your soil test could show that you are deficient in soluble nutrients. But here is the kicker, soluble nutrients are only a fraction(around 1%) of the nutrients found in soil, the majority is locked immobile in mineral form. So you could have a soil test conducted, and your test results show you are deficient in various nutrients. However, these nutrients are already in your soil, just no in soluble form. The secret is getting these nutrients in plant available form. The soil food web break down these minerals and nutrients and make them available to the plant. Sand, silt, and clay formed from thousands of thousands of years of rocks and matter decomposing and breaking down into what we know today is soil. Think about all the rocks and matter that break down in those thousands of years. Look at our feet of soil we have to grow on. It takes hundreds of years just to make one inch of that soil. Once you understand that, it's easy to see that our soil, or most soil(sand,silt,clay) is already full of every nutrient a plant needs. More times than none, synthetic fertilizers are unnecessary.

The key to unlocking these locked nutrients in the soil is the organisms breaking down this matter, and then the predators eating those organisms and excreting the nutrients from that organism. That's a very simplistic view of the soil food web, theres much more to it.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 10:49AM
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Thanks everyone for all the comments and I have read and appreciate everything even if I leave something out here...

Milehighgirl, I'm in Longmont (which is about 40 miles north of Denver), I saw some posts from you and you really have a big backyard orchard going! The Boulder county extension office is very convenient and I will visit them again with a copy of my report. Like you, I'm not too worried about drainage because we get so little precipitation here and from the slight slope and my overall experience in the yard. But I figured why not mound if it's supposed to help? But your points about warming up too soon in the spring with mounds is a good one, also the winter problem, so I will have to think about that. I will mulch very well whatever I do.

Yes, I am happy with this soil report, I hadn't even considered that I might have salts in my soil and I'm glad that I don't (there are places within a mile of me with white salty crusts). And I think that I don't have salts means the drainage isn't terrible.

Maybe I was using the word supplements incorrectly; I meant it very generally, to include any kind of fertilizer (for N, P, K) and also things like boron, iron, sulfur etc.

Time frame: I want to get trees in before summer so I don't have much time. I am happy and think I will be able to grow good trees, we have plenty of sun and warm days and not too much humidity. I will be able to give the trees water and anything else they need. The problem will be getting fruit on the trees.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 12:06PM
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