Planting in alkaline, clay soil

jayantiMay 18, 2007

I was out yesterday when my car started to act strange, and drove me into the nursery that we were passing by. Well, since I was there, I looked around and noticed Belinda's dream. I couldn't pass up a rose that was on my list, so I grabbed her along with a Lady Banks white rose. They're now sitting in my backyard while I'm trying to figure out the best way to plant them in our alkaline, clay soil. (I believe my soil pH is about 7.5). It's my first time planting roses, so any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


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I have soil at about that range in most of my garden. I started out with nothing but clay and I have worked it over the years, but the two roses you purchased would probably have no problem growing in that clay soil. These are two great choices, and give each plenty of room.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2007 at 7:16PM
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They'll thrive!

I've grown both just south of you, similar soil (but I think it's higher than 7.5), & both have been just wonderful.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2007 at 7:57PM
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Thank you both for the encouragement!

What is the best way to amend this soil to create the right environment for roses? I've got compost and pinebark mulch. I plan to add the compost, of course. Should I add the pinebark mulch in the hole as well or just on top of the soil (after planting)? Is a hole that's twice the width of the rootball adequate? What else should I be adding when I plant roses?



    Bookmark   May 18, 2007 at 9:09PM
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My soil is very acidic but is clay.
My roses grew in leaps and bounds and I think the trick was the planting hole. I dug a big hole for each rose, almost 2' / 2' and took the soil out and replaced it with compost from our local wastewater plant. That gives lots of room for the roots to grow and thrive.
But if you don't want to go to that much trouble, I think that both of the roses you bought will grow well no matter what. I wouldn't say that about many roses, but those 2 are very healthy.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2007 at 10:02PM
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I'm nowhere near your zone, but when you get down about 1' or less here, there is clay. I'm still in the novice category, and I did not amend the soil so have to deal with it after-the-fact which is not a good thing.

Compost in the spring, mulch, and feeding is about all I can do now, and a little cultivating to loosen the adjacent, baked soil where I am still planting companion plants or I'd have it all mulched. I do dig my holes deeper and wider then fill back in to the level I need. That's to loosen up the clay to give the roots a better chance. I like to dig as big a circle as I am going to mulch anyway.

But the darndest thing. I noticed my new Graham Thomas, planted outside the main bed in a grassy area has been wilting, twice now. Wouldn't think you'd have to water every day, and where I planted it, it drained, but slower than in other spots in my yard.

So I put a chair to block the sun and gave it another watering, before that sticking my finger down the soil felt cool and damp, don't really know what is going on there. Anyway, it perked up by the time I got back from an appt. I hate to overwater, but I guess that one I'm going to have a fight on my hands. Maybe they start leafing out more than they have roots established to support the new growth. Texas grown, and maybe it wasn't ready for the hot afternoon sun. My theory anyway.

My friend loaned me a gardening magazine, and if I could do it over again I would try this for bad soil (or work a bunch of stuff into the whole area which is a lot of hard work if you don't have a tiller). They said for bad or clay soil to plant buckwheat, then follow with a crop of wheat. When that is done, the crops will have conditioned the clay. I wish I had tried that years ago in some of the trouble spots in my yard.

But as the others say, if some roses do well in clay, don't worry about it. I think something is a problem for some of mine, and I blame the clay. I now know why Indians were able to make bricks in the sun for dwellings. My soil bakes like that when we don't get rain and if I don't water some spots two and three times a day. But the grass is lush and green except for a couple bare spots where I haven't seeded it properly.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2007 at 11:31PM
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I have poor alkaline clay soil too, and many roses ADORE it (I have about three hundred roses now). I recommend that you amend it heavily before planting with just about any organic matter you can find: compost, hay, dead leaves are all excellent. I don't know about incorporating pine bark. Dig a big hole (2' in every direction if you can make yourself do it) and mix in your amendments. Afterwards keep a heavy organic mulch on your plants, a good 4"-6". Think about drainage. Our land is steep so that's not a problem I've had to deal with, but clay holds water and you don't want to find that you've planted your roses in a pot, so to speak. If there is a danger of water collecting in the bottom of your planting hole after a lot of rain, you might want to raise your planting area slightly, perhaps 4".

If you prepare your ground like I suggest I think your roses will do really well, and you won't have to fuss over them a lot. Roses that like that kind of soil in my garden include Teas and Chinas, Hybrid Musks, Wichurana climbers, Banksiaes, English roses, once-blooming old roses. And I mean we started with dirt that in places was pure clay, ceramic quality, that even Bermuda grass had trouble getting a foothold in. But the roses are thriving.

Have fun!


    Bookmark   May 19, 2007 at 12:37AM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

Roses don't care what the soil is like deeper than 10" unless it's rock or hardpan. They will gather their nutrients and most of their water from the topsoil. The soil should be loosened over a wide area, say 3', and amended with up to 2" of decayed organic matter (manure or compost). If you added 3" of bark, the soil will shrink 2" in, say, six years. Eventually the soil shrinks by the full volume of organic matter that was dug in.

Alkaline soils in Texas can be sodic (bad) or calcic (good), so it would be useful to find out which you have. Sodic soils can be improved with gypsum, but calcic soils would be thrown farther out of balance.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2007 at 9:35AM
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Don't put nitrogen ("green" such as grass clippings) or carbon ("brown" such as pine bark) materials into the hole or mix them into the planting soil, it messes up the balance;
just put your pine bark on top to insulate from heat & cold.

As Melissa says, drainage is critical;
in our water-retaining soil, plant the roses a bit "high".

& the Teas & Chinas & Austins she mentions do great here, as do the Noisettes & a whole bunch I'm not remembering right now...

aliska, I don't know, but it is possible that Graham Thomas's wilt is due to overwatering?

If he were mine, I think I'd remove him from the planting hole, & check the roots, & make sure the hole hasn't filled up with water, & then I'd rough up the sides of the hole to make it easier for him to get a toehold, put him back in there, & maybe set up a cardboard sunshield for a week or so:
If he was grown in a greenhouse, the sudden exposure to the sun may be a shock.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2007 at 6:57PM
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sylviatexas, yes it could be but I hadn't watered him for 2 or 3 days. It is hard for me to hit stride with all these new roses and keeping seedlings going, etc., and watering in the morning (have many other plants to water as well); sometimes I do it at night, but I know morning is better.

Anyway, I made the hole quite a bit deeper and wider, then backfilled a little bit for that very reason, to give the roots an easier time of it at first.

I was shading him with a chair when he wilted, he was fine today, but I watered again tonight, maybe I shouldn't have done that. Instead I will shade, it seems to be when the direct sun hits him that he has gone limpish twice now.

Another clue though is that in my main beds with all the bare rooted ones lining the sidewalk that had a head start over him by about a month, a couple of those went wilty. A quick watering low to the ground fixed that right up.

All my planning, and my front beds aren't getting as much sun because I didn't factor in the neighbor's tree getting BIGGER, my own birch, & etc. Still some buds have set, but of my 12 roses, only about 4 or 5 are doing what I would say really well. Some are definitely struggling, and I am preparing myself to lose them, keep having to prune off more blackened sections of cane.

Tonight I just scratched Pennington's in the soil for 12, it is tiring, have to push the mulch up then scratch as best I can, then spread it out again, need to finish the rest tomorrow, made a note on a card.

Graham came in a quart pot from ARE IIRC. I think that's how it was, they say (they being some here on the forum) you are supposed to loosen the roots a bit, but easier said than done. They are all packed tight, and I decided to leave well enough alone rather than risk damaging them, but I've planted so many, I don't remember specifically how rootbound he was.

Thanks for the advice. In the end, I don't know if he will get enough sun to bloom like I had hoped.

I'd like to get these going to the point where I only have to water twice a week except in extremely extreme hot days. I need to add more mulch, too, I try to conserve it because it all adds up. I'm leaving bare places for new plants as they are ready, then I hope to mulch all of it, right now I've just mulched around the roses, a bucket each.

You can read, read, and read some more, then when it gets right down to it, you kind of have to synthesize what you have read and wing it.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2007 at 8:31PM
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Jayanti, I live in McKinney (just north of you). Where did you find that Belinda's Dream rose? I've been looking everywhere for some! Can anyone tell me if it's ok to plant this rose in August/September in N. Texas, or should I just want until Spring...although I couldn't find one then either. ::sigh::

    Bookmark   August 22, 2008 at 1:30AM
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