Roses for dense adobe clay soil?

kristimamaMarch 14, 2012

Hi everyone,

I'm in the SF East Bay and we have fairly typical dense adobe clay all around the yard. Most of the places I have plantings have been amended over the years or built up and blended with other topsoils. I also use a lot or moss rock walls to build up planting beds and bring in outside soil.

But... I have a new area I'm thinking might make a pretty sitting area with a bench. I would love to add roses to this area, but the ground is densely packed clay and not a place (because of a walkway) where I can build up a moss rock wall for planting.

Amending just the rose planting hole would create a bathtub effect and probably drown out the rose. I suppose I could dig and amend a wider area, but with clay soil that dense it is likely the texture would eventually return to mostly clay as the compost breaks down.

So... I was wondering if there are OGRs that can tolerate (or that are actually happier) in this kind of soil? I can always put a small rose in a large container and get a pretty effect for a few years, but I'm wondering if there are roses that could go right in the ground there.



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If you are talking about dense adobe clay that you could form into dishes or figurines and fire, I don't know of any roses you could plant "right in the ground". If you google "plants for dense clay soil", there are various sites with recommendations & lists of plants (none are roses). If it were my problem, I would do some research, about the soil and your other conditions, and then plant some ornamental plants that would like it there. After a few years, with plants growing there and you amending the soil for them, you might end up with an area roses could tolerate.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 5:44PM
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I have dense non-adobe clay (it's dark brown) but it's tough on roses. However, add about half aged horse manure to clay...and the roses love it! Can you do that, around your bench? As long as you do a larger area, the roses should drain least, that's been my experience...and I water a lot :)

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 6:06PM
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Yep, Jackie... that's precisely what I mean about adobe clay. It's nasty stuff. About the only thing I've ever seen growing right in that stuff is multiflora and dr. huey rootstocks... long ago remnants that someone in this yard, a generation ago, planted some grafted modern roses.

Looks like it might be a rose in a container for me. At least there.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 6:20PM
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strawchicago(zone 5a)

If you google "Improve my clay soi.(photos)" it will pop up a thread posted in the Soil Forum, with many experiences.

I have sticky clay that form large chunks (the size of oranges and grapefruits). It's easier just to make raised bed and order a large pile of dirt. This dirt is still clay, but at least it's fluffy enough to mix free mulch or free horse manure to keep it separated.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 6:36PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

We planted roses in that stuff at the Stagecoach Inn -- Newbury Park, CA, in 1994. We used Ammended soil, in the biggest holes we could dig -- and some of the digging was done with a gas-powered auger. We mulched the whole place with about a foot and a half of very composted horse manure, and it's been re.-mulched often.

The roses grow like a house afire.
Sometimes, you just deal with what you got. :-)


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 11:34PM
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I garden in potter-quality gray clay myself so am familiar with the problem. I like Lavender Lass's solution: massive and deep amendment with organic matter over a large area, then plant tough roses (once-blooming old roses? Teas?). In addition, mulch and underplant. I'm getting enthusiastic about living mulches: annual herbaceous plants, in my garden many of them wild plants, that are reasonably attractive. They seed themselves in the beds, grow, and die, leaving their top growth as a dressing and their roots as soil amendment--legumes fix nitrogen as well--while the soil builds up its microlife. A living mulch might not matter as much where the soil is already good, but is particularly helpful with a very heavy soil.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 2:27AM
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Melissa- I plant smaller plants, under the roses and it does seem to help. Not only does it shade out the weeds, but the alyssum and other small flowers bring in beneficial bugs. And, the manure means earth worms will be in the soil, very quickly. Within a few weeks, if I dig somewhere nearby to move a plant, there are earthworms, everywhere :)

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 1:42PM
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aimeekitty(9-10, SW 18)

I've been gradually making my clay-y yard better with horse manure all over (from a farm) thanks to Kim's recommendation. I felt like already just from doing that once, I saw some improvement.

and just in general amending the soil (with things like Gro power plus, amend, manure, pumicy-things...) in as large areas as I can. I wish I'd done the whole yard before I started planting, but at this point I'm working with what I have. (ie there's already a lot planted, so I just amend as I plant mostly...,) I'm no expert though.

But even though my yard wasn't planted/amended perfectly going in, MOST of the roses do really well here, despite the alkaline clay soil.

I'm trying to gradually get more ground cover plants growing in, too. Yarrow, Santa Barbara daisy and allysum and poppies are starting to selfseed which is nice. :)

Some that have been doing particularly well for me compared to others in my yard (YMMV):

James Galway cl,
Eden cl,
Archduke Charles
Baronne Prevost
Bermuda's Kathleen
The Faun
Lyda Rose
Heavenly Pink
La France CL
La Reine
Larry Daniels
Lavender Lassie
Mme Berard

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 2:17PM
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strawchicago(zone 5a)

My clay soil is hard like Jeri's - we used a heavy-duty rototiller and the rocks in the ground broke it. We trashed the rototiller given by my Mom from her farm.

I tried amending my soil everyway possible: big pile of coarse sand, tons of peatmoss, free mulch and free horse manure. The time and energy spent breaking harden clay wasn't worth it. Finally I ordered a big pile of dirt, less than $114 for 3 cubic yards, or 81 cubic feet. It was alkaline clay but at least it's fluffy, no rocks, and no weeds. Dirt is cheap, and saved me time breaking up hard ground.

This year I ordered Suncast 8-panel Raised Garden Kit, it has 8 panels, dark brown resin. You click them together to make any shape you want: square, rectangle, etc. Each panel is 4 feet long. So you can make 2 raised square boxes with 4 panels, or 1 big raised garden with 8 panels. It's $100 delivered to your door from HomeDepo. It takes 10 minutes to put together. The wooden ones are half the price, but they rot in my rainy weather, so I opted for resin.

The Suncast raised bed kit for $100 would hold 8 roses. If you work with peat moss make sure you wear a mask. Years ago I breath in peat moss, had pneumonia, coughed up blood, tons of X-rays, a Bronchoscopy, and a medical bill of over $4,000 - insurance paid all, but it was a waste of time with countless trips for X-rays. If you work with horse manure, get your tetanus shot updated every 5 years, rather than 10 years, as Prevention Magazine recommended. Getting tetanus shot from the County Health is faster ($24 charge here), versus going through the doctor's office.

In my 12 years of gardening in hard clay, believe me, it's easier to order a pile of dirt, and put in a raised bed. I did the other hard way too: hauling 30 bags of 40 lbs. topsoil from HomeDepo, busted my car's shocks. I don't think the garden was worth the car's repair bill. It was time-consuming to open each bag of soil.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 6:22PM
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aimeekitty(9-10, SW 18)

side note,... I forgot that when I added a front rose bed on the side front of my yard... I just went with a raised bed.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 7:11PM
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Yeah, raised beds has been my solution for almost all of the plantings I have done. I just wondered if I could get away with *not* doing that in just one place.

I think the solution for me will be to simply get a half wine barrel and use a good soil-less container mix. I'll pick a thornless-ish and more compact rose that won't be so difficult to repot every few years as necessary. Because it's in a walkway near the foundation of the house (and I don't want to change the slope or create a basin-type effect, I really don't don't want to do much amending to this particular spot.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 9:01PM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

Kristi -- Let me warn you about wine-barrels.

In California (might not be true elsewhere???) About the time the plant matures, the barrel disintegrates.

We ended by having to make a "raised bed" around the plant with stackables, backfill with planting mix, and then carefully pull the pieces of the barrel out. The part thar remains under the bottom is the hardest part to get rid of. We used to have MANY half-wine-barrels. You could not pay me enough to get me to do that again.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 11:04PM
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It's very interesting with this type of dense clay soil, because with a some effort (or a lot) people usually make roses and most things grow. As you know and already mention in the thread, adding compost and mulches every year makes a bit difference. If you have the chance to grow plants like lupines, flax, alfalfa, clover, buck wheat and grasses in a bed for a few years it will totally change the soil. The trick is to use a combination of plants with deep roots that work the soil, add organic matter, nitrogen and microlife to the soil. It might sound like a lot of work but after the initial planting the green maunure does the rest almost all by it's self. Another clever trick is to plant potatoes; if they will grow in your soil they will loosen it and make it much easier to work with. All you need to do is get them in the ground and its like a team of gardeners have been digging and hacking at it for weeks. The more you cultivate the soil the better it becomes. When you add compost, organic fertilzers and mulches every year, earth worms and microlife do a considerable job working the soil and making it more fertile. With less fertile soils we have to make an effort every year to improve the situation and keep it up. Organic gardening approaches are the best to deal with this kind of situation.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 7:08AM
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aimeekitty(9-10, SW 18)

even in my very limited experience, it seems to me like taoseeker is right... my yard was heavily compacted alkaline clay in a new development. gradually as I've been working it, it's a lot better. now there are a fair amount of earthworms, too!

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 11:44AM
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I am not familiar with adobe clay in particular, and have always heard that it is difficult to work with. However, with some exceptions, clay soils tend to be highly fertile.

I would suggest that amending generously with compost (never, ever with sand), and continuing to do so, has the possibility at least of giving you very decent soil.


    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 1:19PM
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