Novice learning more about soil, hoping for some advice.
I've very much appreciated the advice I've gleaned from reading all of these posts. I've read many of them, so thanks to everyone for sharing your knowledge and advice. It's especially helpful to those of us who are novices.
A few years ago our family moved from an inner-city apartment to a brand new home in the suburbs of Minneapolis/St.Paul, MN. I didn't know anything about gardening, plants or soil. As we finished our home, we hired a landscape designer to develop a "plan". New neighbors recommended the designer, and I'd seen examples of her work. We were confident of the choice. To give you a sense of my ignorance at the time, she asked which style of landscaping we preferred. To be honest, I really had never considered there were different styles. I didn't know. Our designer was helpful, but I think the plan and subsequent installation suffered from the all-to-common "typical" plant choices and shortcuts to installing plants.
A few years later, I've surprisingly found that I'm more interested in what the landscaping looks like outside my home. More so I think than most of my (very nice) neighbors. This led me to read up a bit more on the subject. I now know that our soil is very clay-ey (is that a word?). It retains moisture like crazy, and doesn't drain well at all. The landscape installers spread a few inches of black dirt over the top of the clay in the landscape beds, dug holes in the clay, and plugged in the plants according to the designer's plan. They backfilled and added a few inches of mulch on top. I suspect that this is common industry practice, but the plants have not done well.
Since then I've read "The Well Tended Perennial Garden" by Tracy D'Sabato Aust and learned a lot more about building better soil. After reading this and other books, I decided I knew enough to make changes to the designer's plan, and began work on my own. I enlarged some of the beds, transplanted perennials and shrubs to area where they'd hopefully do better (with better sun, soil, moisture, etc. conditions), double-dug nearly everything, mixed in a lot of municipal (leaves) compost, bagged composted cow manure, black dirt and sphagnum peat moss.
Recent cold and wet weather limited my progress, and I had to rush to get as much done as possible in the time I had. One thing I didn't get to was sampling the soil in the various beds. I'm afraid they'll all be a little different from each other depending on how much I amended. Now I have to wait until spring to begin again, as I think I've run out of time this fall to plant new stuff. I transplanted a bunch of shrubs and perennials, but that's as far as I got. I'm planning to re-mulch next spring with D'Sabato Aust's recommended pine bark mulch, plant some "new" plants, and continue building better soil conditions and drainage.
I'm sorry about the long explanation, but at this point I'm looking for advice on how to proceed next spring and into the future. I know that gardening takes patience, but I'm a restless "do-it-yourselfer." I'm impatient, and want to see progress as soon as possible.
I never consciously intended to become an organic gardener. With all the soil amendments and digging I did though, I want to build on that progress. The last thing I want to do is to spray chemicals over everything, and kill the good stuff in the soil.
I have a question or two if you're willing to respond: Do most of you do soil samples every year to determine what the soil "needs"? Should I stick with an "organic-only" approach, or is there a hybrid approach that takes advantage of the best of the organic and synthetic methods. I don't want to over-think this but I don't want to undo the progress I've made either.
Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated. Thanks!