Revitalizing Planting Bed Soil

dfullerMay 30, 2006

I had the front of my house re-landscaped last year, some of it is doing well, other areas, not so well. I am now in the process of re-landscaping some beds in the back, I have pulled out all of the old plants, tilled the beds and removed as much of the old roots and plant material as possible. After planting a few of the new plants over the weekend I realized that the soil itself is in terrible shape, now I realize why many of the plants were dead or dying over the last few years.

Can anyone offer some tips on revitalizing these beds? Any help would be greatly appreciated.


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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The additions of organic matter of almost any kind improves the structure and functionality of soils. When you say 'terrible shape' could you be more specific?

    Bookmark   May 30, 2006 at 4:36PM
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The soil is dry and gray, not moist and brown like the areas of the planting beds that are doing well. I really don't know how do describe it other than it's more like sandy dirt (but it is not sand) than a nice planting soil that I would see in a garden setting.

Hope that helps,


    Bookmark   May 31, 2006 at 1:05PM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

I would till in some orgainic matter as it sounds like it is gray clay that is about as good as red clay for growing stuff.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2006 at 4:57PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I'm not sure what virginian means....gray clay good or bad??? I grow in hard red clay and it is a marvel to grow in, as long as you know how clay soil works! Red clay soils comprise some of the best agricultural land in the country. GRAY soils, especially a clay based soil, may indicate that oxygen is lacking. That is surely a major problem for your plants. BUT organic matter is the Rx!

Don, incorporating organic matter is always the best method to improve any kind of soil. If you've already planted and can't rototill compost, bark fines, and other om ingredients into the can add compost and/or composted bark fines to the top of the soil and let the worms come in and do the tilling for you. Believe me, they will. Compost would be extremely beneficial to your soil.

If you do add a few inches of organic materials to the soil surface, remember to keep moist. It takes a fair amount of water to go though the OM and get to the soil. You may think that the plants are getting a drink, but much of it will be right in the top layer, out of reach of the roots. So WATER deeply.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2006 at 1:33PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

What are you planting? And where are you located?
Most shrubs outgrow the planting area anyway, so the amendments only help to give them a head start.
Perennials are a different story altogether.
But with shrubs, I don't amend the soil at all anymore.
Lots of other factors: light, water, temperature; all those need to be fairly right for the shrubs too.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2006 at 4:45PM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

I meant clay that is compacted and not amended to let air and good drainage in. Red Clay can be just as bad, but the gray stuff seems more compacted when I find a vein of it. Clay is excellent soil if it is managed correctly and beats sandy soil hands down for nutrients.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2006 at 1:32PM
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Amendments: mini pine bark nuggets, lime (not technically an amendment but necessary), sphagnum peat, composted leaves. If you don't have any composted leaves then shred some with the lawnmower, add a gallon of water and two shovels full of soil and put in a garbage bag close to the area where they will be used they should be usable in 3 months, perlite (in bulk), rabbit food which is alfalfa pellets that will attract earthworms and can be bought at Feed & Seed stores, water polmers that are pre-soaked, epsom salts in moderation, till it in and you are off to a good start.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2006 at 5:08PM
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Thanks for the info everyone.

The beds are planted so I will need lots of worms, something I found very few of while tilling and planting originally. I planted the shrubs with a 6-12 inch ring of Miracle Grow soil around and under all of the plants, but I still have plenty of room for tilling in the rest of the beds.


    Bookmark   June 6, 2006 at 4:47PM
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In the area of the plantings sometimes tilling is the only way to go quickly, but it depends on how long you want to wait. When I first moved here and found out the city had free compost I hauled in truck load after truck load. I had hard compacted clay, but by just putting compost (4 to 6 inches thick) on the surface with no tilling, in very large areas. My soil had completely transformed within 2 years into something incredible. Actually I think those areas did better long term than where I tilled the soil. The structure of the soil when a shovel was put into it was entirely different than in areas where I did not surface dress with compost. And this was with no tilling. You might consider this in those areas between plants, and it is a whole lot less work.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Blog

    Bookmark   June 17, 2006 at 3:32PM
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If the organic matter is not mixed with the clay, how does it improve it? Are you saying that earthworms do the mixing? The idea of layering compost on top of clay soils and that it will somehow improve the clay underneath sounds wonderful, but I don't understand how it's possible.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2006 at 11:54PM
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Yes, it will improve the soil, but it takes a couple years to have a dramatic effect. Yes, the earthworms play a part, but there is more. I am not a soil scientist but as I understand it is the humates and other stuff that leach down into the soil from the compost and that they cause the clay soil particles to clump together. I can absolute tell you that it works.

Here is a link that might be useful: New Dawn Garden Blog

    Bookmark   July 10, 2006 at 10:56PM
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