What would you do with this soil?

bluewillow09(8)July 15, 2013

I want to put in an annual/perennial bed in a narrow strip along a walkway. The soil is sandy and well drained, low in nitrogen and pH is about 6.3. The soil in this area tends to stick together in clods when wet and the clods dry rock hard. I am double digging the area and working in LOTS of compost. Is that enough? Should I also add peat moss, or anything else that would help this area support healthy plants? Since I'm starting from scratch, I want to take the time to make this area the best it can be. All advice is much appreciated!

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Sandy soil and rock-hard clods would seem to be mutually exclusive, perhaps your soil has some sand.

No need to work in peat moss unless you will be planting extremely acid-loving plants such as blueberries.

The soil forum can offer lots of advice.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2013 at 10:50PM
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The clods can come from working the soil when it is too wet.
But agree it must not be very sandy.

Try hoeing the clods up while dry.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2013 at 11:58PM
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Yes, it is strange soil that has me very confused. I expected it was clay but the soil test came back sandy. As I'm working with it, it feels very coarse to me. Yet it wants to stick in clods. How can this be? The clods are really hard to crumble apart. Most crumble into what looks like sand, some do not crumble but remain sticky, I figure those must be clay? It dries out fast. It is almost devoid of organic matter.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 1:16PM
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You're on the right track with the compost. Breaking down all the clods can be tedious.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 12:01AM
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I would add to be sure to cover area with mulch & once the fall rains return it will be much easier to plant. Plus you won't have weeds!

We built a garden along our driveway in poor, rocky soil by layering organic matter right on top. Now after many years it is great soil that is easy to dig with your hands, but not all 60'. The areas where we double dug & added manures regularly are the best soil. Not all perennials like rich, moist soil, so you might want to keep one area less fertile.

In the most visible places of the driveway garden we stockpiled materials, then spread in one day topped by a uniform mulch. In recent years I learned to layer thick cardboard, newspapers, or scrap office paper over soil before adding organic matter to smother weeds & grass.

In another area we used burlap as the top layer to keep the soil moist & hide the raw organic matter. It also prevented it from blowing away. We used a variety of compost ingredients in that bed. Sometimes we lightly raked it before adding more ingredients since it was rather chunky at first especially. Our kids raised chickens, rabbits, & ducks so we had animal bedding plus manures. It wasn't enough to build the large bed, so I added any weed free compost ingredients I could easily gather: hay sweepings from the feed store, shredded garden clippings, shredded papers, St*rbucks coffee grounds, etc. to build it up about 12" higher. Over time as it composted it shrunk down, so no longer a mounded bed.

Old carpeting upside down, old sheets or towels, vinyl tablecloth or plastic tarp weighed down in corners or staked down will also preserve moisture & keep the materials in place to decompose. Use what fits your setting & is allowed in such a visible location. You don't want to stir up trouble with your neighbors.

If the plants you'd like to grow like rich, moist soil you may need to top dress with compost regularly. In my sun beds twice a year keeps it up & in shade beds once a year.

Go to the Pacific Northwest Garden Exchange forum for information about free plant swaps. There is usually one in September south of Seattle & in November east in Redmond called the Green Elephant. They're a great way to start your new garden in the fall. Plants will do just fine planted then unless the ground is frozen. It's us gardeners who suffer in the cool, wet weather. I love summer, but am eager for the rains to return because I've moved & have a whole new landscape to get planted!


    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 11:29PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Keep adding compost. Most people don't realize how much compost is needed for decent soil for growing garden plants. Clogs are the first sign of not enough compost. Weeds that are hard to pull up when the soil is dry is another sign.
You may have to remove some soil to accommodate the organic matter in the narrow strip you have chosen to plant in.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2013 at 8:56PM
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Thanks so much for the replies, everyone! I really appreciate the input. It's good to know I'm on the right track with the compost and double digging. It is a lot of work to break up those clods, they are like concrete and pretty much I have to go through by hand and make sure they are broken up after digging through over and over with the spading fork. A lot of work, for sure! But if I see some pretty flowers in there next year it will all be worth it. :-)

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 12:26AM
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Mass destruction of clods is best done by isolating them from the other soil and getting them on a hard surface, whack on them with a hoe blade from above or with a small shovel at a low angle. A wheelbarrow or a pickup bed can be a good container for doing this.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 12:55AM
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