Moving back to WI-clay soil

jacaranda_laFebruary 25, 2009


I'm moving back to Milwaukee,Wisconsin and am anticipating the heavy Lake Michigan clay soil. This is the one thing about the move I'm not looking forward to. Wherever and whenever I'm able to start a garden, I intend on going the easiest route this time. I plan on a regime of adding organic matter, leaf mould from the leaf litter, and adding this by aerating with a pitchfork only so as not to destroy the soils orignial texture and mulching of course. And I plan on sticking to only clay-tolerant perennials, trees, and shrubs. Would this be good enough? I don't wish to do anymore work than this, such as berms or raised beds, but I'll reconsider if I need to. Any advice would be really appreciated, especially because of the gardening transition I'll be making. Thank you.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I'm in the Milwaukee area and have so many varieties of plants. I think the only plant so far that has passed on me is a double flowering plum. Everything else is thriving. I just made sure I dug the hole twice the size of the ball going in the hole to loosen up the soil. Typically its NOT a good idea to ammend the soil (unless its a perrenial). What happens when the roots get outside the ammended soil?

Here is a link for clay tolerant plants:

But don't feel like you need to stick to these varieties. I'd say only 25% of my perrenials and shrubs are on this list. I stuck with clay tolerant trees though...maple, ginkgo, hawthorn, lilac, pear, crapapple etc. The serviceberry, river birch, magnolias I planted just a little bit higher...root flare just a couple inches above finished grade.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 9:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

and thanks for the reply. So is ammending the soil with compost, leaf mould, well-rotted composted manure a good idea? Thanks for the link! What sort of plants do you have in your garden, I mean perennials? I really appreciate the list of recommended trees and shrubs. It'll be a big gardening refresher to go back to WI and actually see gardens and people's front yards and what's growing back there as opposed to just trying to go by memory alone. But in the meantime, I just thought I'd do my homework on the subject. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 11:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Unless your growing land is in a low lying area where it would flood or is heavily compacted I can't imagine you having much trouble growing whatever you like. The winter climate is more limiting than the soil.

To an extent low lying areas can be raised and compacted soil can be loosened and amended to keep it loose.

I have never found the clay soil to be particularly limiting. I do grow veggies in raised beds, but that isn't because of the clay, it's because the raised beds warm faster so the plants grow earlier.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 11:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

justaguy2 is correct...don't limit yourself. I've dealt with that clay for 20+ years, mostly the same way as what you are planning to do, with compost. Early on I did work compost into the soil but have only top dressed for the last 10-15 years. Other than some sensitive conifers, I don't recall clay killing anything else I had.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 1:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I just remember the WI garden palate as being so limited...Stella D'Oros,spireas, coneflowers and hostas. Well I'll take all this into consideration as I would really like more to my garden than just those I mentioned. Thanks so much for the input.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 2:09AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I used to live in Eastern WI & one other factor that you will want to pay attention to is the pH requirement of your plants. The main rock formation under E. WI from the tip of Door Co. to the IL border is Niagara Dolomite Limestone (the stuff they dig up & sell as "Lannon Stone" in Waukesha Co. is this limestone). Because of this, your soil pH is going to be in the high 7's & you will not be able to significantly lower the pH. As a result you will not have good results with "acid lover" plants because you just can't lower the pH enough to their liking.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 11:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I'm not really a perrenial fan unless I need a low growing plant with a color pop, I usually push the limits with shrubs since they have more multi-seasonal interest...I'm a sucker for fall color.

List of Perrenials I have planted:
Strawberry Candy Daylilly
Lil Wine Cup Daylilly
Knee High Purple Coneflower
Purple Coneflower
Coreposis Zagreb
Shasta Daisy
Plum Pudding Coral Bells
Purpleicious Speedwell

I'd say Coreposis Zagreb and Speedwell are my favorites. The Speedwell attracted a lot of bumblebees though. Both bloomed from June to October...not sure if that is typical. I did prune the spent spikes of the speedwell.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 10:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

When I first started gardening here about 45 years ago, I dug up one corner of the back yard to put in some raspberry bushes and planted 10 tiny blue spruce trees. Now, 45 years later the yard is full of blue spruce, the raspberry patch didn't survive the rabbits over the winters, but the garden is over a foot higher than the rest of the yard, because every year I would dig a trench, fill it with leaves and debris, dig another trench, filling the first one with the soil, filling the second trench with leaves and debris, and so on until I had about a six foot patch which I raked smooth and planted. I did that through out the garden which ended up being at least 25 feet by 30 feet. Some years I made raised beds the same way with pressure treated lumber, other years I made a design with a large bird bath in the center and paths criss crossing. Eventually I added wide flower beds on both sides of the yard and one whole shady area under two large trees. I never worried about the Ph of the soil. Everything I planted grew. When I planted my rhodendrons, I filled the hole around them with peat moss instead of the soil I dug out and every year I pile pine needles around the plants and pour out my used coffee grounds on them, too. I use a water soluble fertlizer especially for acid loving plants occasionally on them. I listed most of the plants I have on my yard in the previous letter asking about recommended perennials for Wisconsin. The last few years I plant just tomato plants in my garden and last year I decided I couldn't spade the whole garden as I always had been doing, so I just set the plants out and mulched them with all the leaves I had previously alway dug into the soil. By fall, my garden looked like a tropical jungle again with tomato plants over 6 feet tall and so thick I could barely get between them to pick the ripe tomatoes. I didn't have to water nearly as much in spite of the dry weather with all the leaves as mulch. So using leaves and other debris in the garden is a good thing, as Martha would say. Good luck on your plantings. If you plan to come north over the summer, drop me an email and I'll tell you where to find me and you can see how my gardens are doing.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 12:23AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
I am writing for my cousin who is not on Garden Web,...
Trout Lily.. dig up or keep?
We moved into our first home in August 2013, so all...
buckthorn brush
Hi, I'm new here and new to Wisconsin. I recently noticed...
Gardening Help For Wedding
Hello, I am looking for some help with choosing plants...
Garlic questions
Second post today. :) What are your favorite softneck...
Sponsored Products
George's Reading Room P101 Swingarm Table Lamp by George Kovacs
$136.00 | Lumens
Spider-Man Pull-Top 18-Oz. Water Bottle
$4.99 | zulily
Tanner Fire Truck Inspired Twin Loft Bed with Red Tent - IDF-BK1039R
$449.99 | Hayneedle
Tru-Fit Smart Harness with Seat Belt Loop
$29.50 | FRONTGATE
Carrom Balance Board - Blue/Black - 510.61
$48.58 | Hayneedle
Campania International Medium Saguaro Cast Stone Planter - P-422B-AL
$529.99 | Hayneedle
Furniture of America Raven File Cabinet - IDI-12496
$138.99 | Hayneedle
Varaluz | Wright Stuff 1 Light Pendant Light
$199.00 | YLighting
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™