yet another mending the soil question

steeltowninwvJune 22, 2014

I have did many holes already..i go way bigger than needed...about to do some more..the last few I did I basically removed the clay soil...then filled the hole in with leaf gro...and some potting mix....I also have garden soil peat moss, and mini pine bark nuggets ..should I mix in some of this as well?

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funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

You have to be careful with clay soil. If you dig a hole in clay and amend the hole, you can very easily just make a big clay bowl that doesn't drain and that's bad. Also, roots of plants will grow in the bowl and won't reach into the harder to grow clay soil, so they will start to circle in the "bowl" and the plant will suffer. The best thing for clay soil is to heavily amend the whole bed (I know, I know, but I have A LOT of experience with clay) by digging in several inches of compost or aged manure and then planting in the bed. If you have to, you can do a section at a time until you get it all done. If it were me, I would till in the compost/manure. This will give you the best results with clay. Then, each year, top dress with compost/manure at least in the Spring, but Spring and early Fall is the best.

Take it from me, I've been dealing with clay for 15 years and have tried it all. This is the fastest results and the best results, unless you want to think about raised beds.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 9:54PM
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he last few I did I basically removed the clay soil...then filled the hole in with leaf gro...and some potting mix....I also have garden soil peat moss, and mini pine bark nuggets ..should I mix in some of this as well?

Absolutely NOT ... what you have done is create a "flowerpot" or "bathtub" of artificial soil high in organic matter. The plant's roots will not leave that area, and the growth will be stunted. If it's a tree, it will have a weak root system and tend to fall over in wind storms.

Dig it up and start over: For ANY soil, the recommended method is to dig a hole as deep as the rootball and 2 to 4 times wider ... place the shrub or tree in the hole and backfill with native soil, or at most native soil with 20% organic material mixed in.

Water thoroughly

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 10:06PM
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oh boy....I was under the impression I was doing it right...well guess not...there will be no tilling in my rocky ground...for now on I guess I will mix all the orgnic stuff with the native soil then

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 10:20PM
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hosta_freak(z6 NC)

I don't know what kind of soil you have there in WV,but I have nothing but clay soil here,and I never amend it. It just makes it easier for voles to dig down to your plant roots! My soil,maybe I should add,is amended by falling leaves every year,and is nothing like you would find out in the open sun areas,which is like rock! If you have trees,then you shouldn't have to amend the soil,unless you are just a glutton for punishment! Phil

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 1:50PM
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mary4b(4b WI)

Peeps are right about the "bathtubs" in clay soil, but every garden is different and your clay may not be THAT bad. From the clay you dug out, you should have an idea of whether or not it's solid clay, or if there are pockets of soil that would allow for some drainage.
If you want to do things more easily and gradual like...instead of digging it all up and redoing the bed, another option might be to lasagne garden now on top of and in the top 8 inches or so of soil. In between your plants, start improving the soil by digging connections between your plants and amending the soil...use kitchen produce waste, coffee grounds, leaves, etc...just start adding and adding over the next few years. Check the composting threads to learn every possible thing you could dig into your soil, even one little bit at a time. If you're in a hurry, top dress with it, if you've got a moment, dig it in. It will probably work out just the same. Honestly, I'd recommend you do this step ANYWAY, even if you had dug the whole garden out. If you continue to add kitchen waste/compost/humus/dry leaves/mulch etc every year, your garden will improve. Plus, hostas can take a lot of clay and if you break down those spots between your hostas, the roots will move into those areas. You planted new hostas, right? They will take a year or two to get to those edges, so if you start the work this season, you'll be fine.

Do an imperfect test. Take a hose, water your hostas heavily at the hosta holes only. If you have water sitting in the holes, you have a bathtub situation. If you have pretty good drainage, than the water is finding its way through.

Also, remember, Rome was not built in a day. If you've done what you can for right now and with the heat upon us, just leave your garden as is for the fall with leaves all over, you'll have another great opportunity for soil improvement...for free. Mow over and over the fallen leaves and work them into your beds, then top dress with more. Just don't do that right up around the hostas themselves, as you don't want them to rot next spring....

Finally, the fall is an excellent time to stockpile soil amendments on the cheap. They are usually on clearance then for often $1 per bag at box stores like Walmart. Humus / Compost / Fine Pine Bark /Soil Pep, etc...get to know the products at your stores now, and then watch for the close outs in the fall. I often keep bags of that stuff over the winter with no special protection and then I have what I need when I am planting in the spring. Gypsum and Milorganite can also be considered.

Bottom heavy soil amending, and don't sweat about doing it all "perfectly" all the time. Nature will take care of it if you add the right stuff.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 2:58PM
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Some good advice here, and I always say amend the soil the right way the first time and you will be rewarded for it in the long run.

There have been studies that showed trees and shrubs performed better when planted in native soil vs being planted in an amended planting hole, however when the same group who did that study looked at planting annuals and perennials, which is what hostas would fall under, they found that amending over the entire surface resulted in by far the best plants vs no amendments or just amending the planting hole. Unfortunately a lot of people failed to read or understand the entire study and quote the study by saying that you should never amend and just use the native soil conditions for all plants.

When I did landscaping years ago we did many new construction projects where the surface was orange sticky clay, basically what was dug deep down for the basement, so we did lots of raised beds. When we didn't do raised beds we still added at least 6 to 8" of good garden soil above the clay and then worked it in a little each time we dug a hole. Those perennial and hosta beds were always the best in the neighborhood but the landscapers who just stuck things into the clay were constantly replacing things or others in the neighborhood would hire us to come in and fix things.

So get yourself some good soil amendments and build it up evenly over your garden area. Over time the organics will percolate down into the clay and improve it down below so you don't have to really till it in all that deep. Then each time you plant you can add more amendments if you want and mulch when you are done.

And don't ever use that horrible landscape fabric as the soil will just stay dead under that.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 3:17PM
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hosta freak...the clay I have where im planting is under worry is not it getting hard and cracking...its the drainage issue for me...

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 9:08PM
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I don't think I've ever really dug a flower bed. I always put the leaves and other mulching over a spot and then left it alone. In a while, whether a year or maybe just six months, with repeated application of the organic material, the worms dug the bed for me. That's how I've done things for many years. The front half-moon flower bed at this house was not dug. I outlined it and put material from a derelict old garage with no roof on it, on top of the space, and left it alone. Where I could not put a shovel into the ground before, it became quite easy to dig. Of course I buy multiple bags of Black Kow and Mushroom Compost and such as that. (I consider it increasing the amount of property I OWN.) Basically what I have done is an informal version of "lasagna" bed-making.

But over time, it sure does get rich and I do not have to worry about drainage. There is a slight slope between our front yard at the street and the long edge of this bed. So it has a natural way to drain.

True enough some spots in this part of town have percolation issues. The holes you dig do not drain properly. You can test it yourself by digging a hole, filling it with water, and timing how long it takes to drain. I give you a link to properly checking it for yourself. See below.

Hope you solve your drainage issues so you can enjoy growing your hosta.

Here is a link that might be useful: Do a percolation test

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 12:03AM
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well ive been dodging this for sometime now...but what im gonna do is keep all my new hostas in pots for the time being..until I get this problem fixed....I have several in the ground on a slope where drainage is a lot better....I am gonna start putting the organic matter to the rest of it will be a process im sure..but I gotta start somewhere...and this fall I can put mulched leaves on the whole bed..i have enuf leaves for the entire county I beleive

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 12:37AM
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What Moccasin said. This is pretty much what I do also.

I would just add the comment the speed of the process is zone and moisture dependent. The breakdown/soil enrichment/earthworm process is much faster in the southeast. When I lived in Louisiana (zone 8a) I could not believe how quickly this all happened. Coming home after a business trip, stepping off the airplane I was always overwhelmed all over again with the way it smelled - like mushrooms and wet earth. The sheer aliveness of it all was astonishing. When I lived in Montana (annual rainfall 12 inches, zone 5) it was pretty slow, required more stewardship.

Anyway, just about everything I grow in my yard, including the hostas,like this treatment. When planting smallish things, not even a shovel is required - just a trowel. Thank you earthworms.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 3:20AM
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funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

Annie said it and I'm backing it up! Location, location, location! It makes a HUGE difference. My clay is not the orange clay, it's a nicer, more enriched gray clay that doesn't crack too much. I had worms all in my clay, tons of them, and my plants were still swimming in bad drainage, back in the day, believe it or not. I would bet that Steeltown has orange clay, if I was a betting woman. It starts in northern NC and goes up through VA, so I am betting that it continues up into WV. That stuff is solid orange, it's fascinating. You can't just top-dress that, it would take eons (I top-dressed for years here and it only fixed the top couple of inches, clay was still hampering drainage up under.) Around here, you gotta dig it in!

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 9:13AM
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hosta_freak(z6 NC)

Well,I'll say it once more. All we have here in western Carolina mountains is red clay. Period! I have no problem with drainage,and many of my hostas are on the side on my 'mountain'. Many earthworms are in there,and you can't dig a hole without finding some. That said,you do what whatever you like. It's your back;I hope you are a young man! Phil

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 9:41AM
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Funthsun not orange clay at all. I will start a new thread tonight posting pics of my soil.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 10:34AM
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funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

Yes, would love to see it! Maybe you, in fact, have the same as me.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 11:05AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


then amend a 'bed' ...

do NOT amend planting 'holes' ...

if you start now.. you ought to have a new bed already to go ... by fall ....

then move these to that bed..

redo this bed ... and have it prepped for spring planting ...


    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 12:40PM
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hosta_freak(z6 NC)

One last demo,then I will be quiet. In this portion of my garden,all hostas were put in with a hand trowel,into natural soil,just as nature made it. I rest my case,and see ya! Phil

    Bookmark   June 24, 2014 at 2:27PM
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