Best way to retain soil moisture?

vietzeroMay 21, 2010

What is the best way to retain soil moisture? For the last two year I try mixing my red clay soil with top soil and even mulch. But when it stop raining for a week, it will get really dry. I found that dry leave work the best. I have also try wood chip but those attract more bug. So what is the inexpensive way to keep the garden from drying up? and yes pea moss cost a lot.

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vicki7(z7 N.Ga.)

In my experience I've found that a good layer of mulch has been the most helpful in keeping moisture in the soil. There are those moisture retaining 'crystals' that are supposed to be mixed into the soil (not sure what the name of them are), but I've never tried them, so can't say if they work or not.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 8:42AM
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woody_ga(7a GA)

Walter Reeves always recommends soil conditioner. It's ground up pine bark. Home Depot sells it under the brand name Nature's Helper.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 11:38PM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

Moisture crystals are not great to put in the soil.
You need to amend the soil with compost. Top soil and peat moss just get "eaten" by red clay. It needs organic matter such as compost, manures, mushroom compost - and then mulch very well on top. For flower gardens you can use pine bark or pine needles (does not attract so many insects) but insects are not bad, they signify that the mulch will be eventually composted and that goodness brought into the soil.
If you are mulching a vegetable garden, you might choose to use a thick layer of straw. It works great, and gets incorporated into the soil.

Here is a link that might be useful: Atlanta Garden Design: Amending clay soil

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 11:41PM
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I just wanted to say that the link that you shared is !FABULOUS! on so many levels.

Congrats to the person who wrote it.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 8:00AM
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I use Nature's Helper or equivalent. And 2" or more of mulch around open spaces -- I'm finding this harder to maintain as groundcovers are beginning to fill in around the shrubs. The effect of thick mulch is amazing. We went a whole month without rain or watering and the soil still had not dried out. While the plants didn't grow a lot -- they won't without water -- they did not suffer. (Of course, these are drought tolerant plants.)

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 9:30AM
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MULCH. Choose the one you like the best and then use it and replenish it when it starts to go away. And "going away" is not a bad thing, that just means that it broke down and enriched the soil.

Use a nice thick layer to help retain moisture and retard weeds. Around trees and shrubs, do not pile the mulch up against the trunk. Leaves an inch or two of room so that the trunk doesn't touch the mulch.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 7:20PM
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railroadrabbit(7b - Atlanta)

When my neighbors rake leaves in the fall, I get them and dump them on my garden, run the lawn mower over them to shred them, and till them in. My dirt is gradually changing from red clay to a color that has a little more brown. It is also easier to till each year as this addition of organic material is making it more pliable.

I have also tilled in some crushed granite dust. This adds minerals and micro-nutrients to the soil. You can get this from a granite quarry in bulk, or you can get it bagged from the big box stores. I get it from Lowes in 40 lb. bags labeled, "Paver base" (which is sold to be compacted under those patio paving stones).

Lowes also has the crushed ground pine bark sold in bags labeled "soil conditioner".

I also mix in some pine bark mini-nuggets to give a little "air" to the soil. I read that roots will penetrate these and find the air pockets in them. It is supposed to make healthier plants.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2010 at 5:32PM
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buford(7 NE GA)

I've used natures miracle, peat moss, top soil, miracle gro soil, just about anything. But unless you mulch, the clay will dry out and become cement like. So it is really a two step process.

The only time mulching was 'bad' was during the drought. That's when I learned that mulch can also keep what little rain we had from penetrating the soil. In those cases, I had to move the mulch away from the root ball of the plant and hand water. Then recover with mulch which would then keep the moisture in the soil from evaporating.

Also, depending on what you are growing, if it hasn't rained in a week, you may need to water. Keep in mind that the soil may appear dry on the surface, but may still be moist down below, where the roots are.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 9:11AM
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Ditto everyone else. I started to put in the soil conditioner from Lowe's ($2.77 and 50% off if the bag is broken...I grab couple of broken bag each time I see them....ya...I am cheap). Instead of digging in the conditioner into the soil or tilling it in, I put it on top i.e. use it as mulch.

What I noticed after adding the conditioner on the top, as soon as I water, the water gets into the plant like sponge. This is on a hilly terrain. Otherwise it used to run off.

I learnt a lot reading the comments....thx everyone...u all are awesome.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 8:43PM
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woody_ga(7a GA)

Soil conditioner (Nature's Helper) in every hole. And I too mulch with it. Then I put big mulch on top. Mulch makes c-mp-st, and c-mp-st is good for anything.

When you dig and see worms, you know you're going in the right direction.

Another thing we do to improve the soil... and this has helped tremendously... is to bury our compost. In a crock, save your vegetable scraps and c-ffee grounds - even paper towels. When the crock is full, dig a hole a bury it. You will be amazed how much good it does, and it only takes a few weeks. Egg shells take longer, but who cares. It's worth the trouble.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 9:38PM
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I live on a ridge, on top, soil is vey porous gravely, over the years i have tried variations. I build three beds using 6x6 timber, the interior 3' x 12' I removed about eighteen inches of forest (dark) soil and rock,mostly rocks!!! placed plastic on the bottom and filled the bed with top soil mixed in with the indigitious dark soil. I have a mulch bin and mix the mature contents into the soil each year. on a side note the compost is filled with larva which eat plat roots, be careful. also the plastic does not allow (although does allow water to leak though)the water to free fall to the center of the earth, my soil is insanly porous. my soil is almost to airy I am thinking of adding some clay to help retain mosture. So far I have achieved the best results while employing the above.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2011 at 10:08AM
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