New Gardener Questions

peppermillFebruary 27, 2007

Hi all,

I'm a new gardener--moving to a new house soon--and going to start on my first garden! I've heard that the dirt in northern VA is clay-ey. Will I need to do anything to it in order to grow flowers and vegetables? How much is it, roughly, to get a load of dirt from the nursery or garden store? Also, I want to start composting. How near or far do you recommend putting the compost pile from the back door? Thanks.

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I'm in MD and the soil is the same hard, red clay. We ammend all the beds with top soil, leaf mold/compost and builders sand sometimes I'll add lime depending on what's going in the bed. I honestly don't remember what the cost is to have a truckload dumped. Check the local nurseries. Don't get any from building sites advertising fill dirt because it's just more of the same nasty clay. I keep my compost pile in the far corner of my yard. I don't have it in any type of container, just a big pile on the ground that gets turned. It's not smelly or anything like that, just unsightly and not something that I want to look at when I walk out one of the back doors.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2007 at 7:17AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

It will depend on your house to some degree. I recently moved. My previous house was built in 1970 and the soil was thick, rock-hard-when-dry, stain-your-clothes-red clay. My new place was built in 1993 on land that used to be mostly farm. I suspect that the builder cleared most remaining trees and did a lot of grading. I have been here less than a year and I have not done extensive digging, but I seem to be running into a lot less red clay and a lot more "gray muck".

Compost and organic mulch did wonders for my red clay and I suspect that it will do the same for whatever I have at my new place.

- Brent

    Bookmark   March 1, 2007 at 11:19AM
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leslies(z7 No VA)

Clay isn't all bad, but if your house was recently constructed, you will be undoing the work of the earth-moving equipment for a very long time. If I were in your shoes (and I almost am!) I'd look for someone who would truck over a large quantity of horse manure. 10 yards or so. You may also be able to get a tree-cutting service to drop a load of freash ground tree on your driveway for free. Makes great mulch and, eventually, great soil.

If you live in Loudoun Cty, there's a guy on Route 50 in Lenah who sells decent "compost" which is almost just like a rich, black soil. He sells it by the 6-yard truckload. I got 8 yards last year and had it all spread in my yard (less than a half acre) in a month. If you're close to Leesburg, the county dump has a mulch pile and you can haul as much of it as you can dig.

My compost pile is on the opposite end of the garden from my kitchen door because there was a perfect spot to tuck it into where the neighbors wouldn't be able to see it. It doesn't smell or anything, but I didn't want any arguments.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 1:51PM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

Who is this "guy on Route 50 in Lenah" (I had to search to figure out where Lenah was). I know that there are a handful of nurseries along that stretch of Route 50. I will likely purchase some compost this year for my new house. I am debating about borrowing my Brother's pickup truck and getting a few loads or paying to have 4 to 6 yards delivered.

The place closest to me is Sterling Ground Covers and they have about the cheapest price for bulk compost and pretty low delivery prices with a 4 yard minimum. I am a little hesitant because last year I stopped by to check out their compost and it still had a bit of a barnyard smell. My wife commented every day for a week after I spread dehydrated manure on my yard and I would rather not relive that with some stinky unfinished compost.

- Brent

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 4:04PM
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lkaa(z7 NOVA)

I usually hang out in the VA forum, but it has been slow. Usually just read and post minimally...but I had an answer for the "guy on Route 50 in Lenah" It's the old Windy Hill Plant Farm in Aldie. Although they are closed for plants, they still have lots of that good ol' compost.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 11:49PM
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westhighlandblue(z6 PA)

I grew up in Arizona and Texas (the lands of sand and clay). I am a HUGE believer in the power of cedar mulch. I agree that it is a good idea to work really old manure into your soil. But a great and easy long term solution is to top dress all your plant beds with 3 inches of cedar mulch. Every spring, get a garden fork out, carefull work around your plants, and add another 3 inches of mulch. In a few years you will have really lovely soil in your garden beds, no matter where you live.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 7:13AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

Thanks for the Windy Hill info. Does anybody know if they plan on staying in business selling compost or if they are just selling what they have? I have heard good things about the compost that they sell so maybe I will give them a try...I feel bad that I never got out there when they were still selling plants.

I use a lot of the free county mulch in my yard. I actually pick it up near where I work in Reston (Fairfax County) and they have shredded leaf mulch from late fall through early spring. One year I had a 15 cu yard load delivered for $85.

About the "how close to the back door" question....for me the answer would be as close as my wife will let me! I have two of the plastic bins (one from Costco, one from the Master Gardeners' sale...around $30 each). I actually have them in the back corner of my 1/4 acre property where they are mostly out of site. I am sure I would dump my kitchen scrap pail more often if it was closer to the door. I have not had a problem with my bin smelling...various insects do tend to enjoy a compost pile though.

- Brent

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 12:31PM
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