full sun, compacted clay -- help!

mamimo(Sunset 16)May 16, 2006

There's a spot in my compacted, heavy clay backyard that is particularly challenging for me. It gets full sun (no shade at all) and poor drainage. Last year, when I dug a 1-foot deep hole to test the drainage, I gave up waiting for it to drain after 2 days and scooped all the water out. Over the last year, I've amended the area and installed a french drain along the length of the area. Recently I did the drainage test again. This time it took not quite 2 days to drain half-way. I've tried growing lilacs there before I knew better and of course they died.

I've searched the archives of this forum and seen several recommendations for plants for swamps. In particular, itea (Henry's garnet), clethra, swamp rose really appeal to me. My question then is, will these plants be able to take this kind of full sun + heavy compacted clay + poor drainage? And if so, where can I get there plants? I've looked at the garden centers/nurseries near my place and haven't had much luck. If there are any other plants that are more easily available that I've overlooked, I'd love to hear about them too. Many thanks!

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bluesuze75(zone 5 midwest)

I think stella d'oro might fit the bill. If you go to Jackson & Perkins (website or catalog), they have a section that is called "Clay Busters". That should help.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2006 at 7:35PM
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nativenut(z7B GA)

Try native plant nurseries, Henry's garnet Itea should not be that hard to find. Also, Prairie Nursery has a great site and catalog with a list of "clay busters." One other thing to look up is rain gardens. They are great for spots like this.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2006 at 8:01AM
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mamimo(Sunset 16)

Bluesuze and nativenut--thanks! I'll look into dayliles, as well as find out if there's any native plant nurseries around.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2006 at 10:05PM
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Hello: I also have extremly hard compacted clay soil, my back yard floods each and every rain storm and I managed to plant a garden that is growing absolutly wonderfuly now without planting bog type plants. I first layed out my garden plan, I laid a few layers of news papers down and put an inch or two of top soil on top of the newspapers and then I put mulch down on top of that. I did have to put brick around the garden area at first to keep the mulch and top soil from washing away. That was how the garden sat for the rest of the year. The next spring I bought a couple of small hosta's and daylillys . The combination of newspapers, top soil, and mulch loosend the soil some so it wasn't compacted as much. I managed to put in a a couple of hosta's and a handful of daylillys and they grew absolutly wonderfuly the daylilly's and hosta's continue to grow each year which loosened the soil even more as the roots spread out. Eventually the worms came in and helped keep the area softer. In year three I was pretty much able to plant anything I want though I did use to miracle grow in the hole to allow the plants establish some as its roots tackle the clay. My only trouble is I still have trouble planting seeds directly in the garden, but I can keep young plants alive now without too much trouble.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2006 at 3:24PM
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build a pond :)

    Bookmark   June 3, 2006 at 9:53AM
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fernsk(z2 Canada)

wow JK I"m going to use your method on a new perennial bed that I'm creating. Part of the bed was bare ground from where an old sidewalk had been laid and I ammended the soil [very clay] with a blend of peat moss, top soil and compost and also a "soil improver" that has vermiculite in it. I've done that in the past with all of my beds and I also dig a big hole for any plant that I do plant - then I fill the whole with compost before putting the plant in - all of my beds have become very fluffy and all the plants are happy. I'll use JK's method on the rest of the bed - it is compacted grass on clay - thanks for the idea


    Bookmark   June 20, 2006 at 10:52AM
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Leaves - gather as many as you need this fall to make a 2-3" layer. Cut them up into little pieces by putting them in a plastic barrel and cutting them with a string trimmer. You could also just cut them up on the lawn with the lawnmower if you don't have a bagger, then rake up what you can and spread on the beds. By late spring, most of the leaves will have become part of the soil. This will help with your efforts to turn the clay into soil.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2006 at 7:50PM
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mamimo(Sunset 16)

I did finally managed to find virginia sweetspire and they look reasonably happy there.

JK, thanks for the encouragement. I have layered newspaper, mulch, compost, etc in all my beds (not quite lasagna beds), guess I need to be patient.

Janetpetoile, I wish I have leaves!! :) My trees are all too puny to generate much leaves. Though I did volunteer to rake someone's yard last year and I got to keep the leaves. I'll probably volunteer again this year.

Thanks all, for our advice and encouraging words; it's great to know that good soil is only a few years away.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 12:31PM
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I was able to purchase Henry's Garnet Itea at Home Depot a few times. Various types of smart weed don't mind the wet. Don't know if you like or dislike smart weed (tastes vary). I planted native irises in a small area that is intermittently a "pond" and they are doing well. Red osier dogwood can handle the wet, not sure about clay.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 4:09PM
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I agree daylillies are good, recently I discovered dwarf daylillies which are reblooming, they're great, over and over with blooms instead of one time. Another very pretty plant unlike it's name which will do well in clay and wet conditions is a spider wort which has very pretty dark purple flowers.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 8:08PM
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Mamimo, I get my leaves by mowing (I have a bagger attachment) for some of the elderly in the neighborhood. I also have a leaf vac that works just as well, it's loud, but it really pulverized the leaves.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2006 at 4:45PM
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