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Soil amendment options in Reno

Posted by korerko Reno, NV (My Page) on
Fri, Sep 29, 06 at 20:23

Hello, we just moved from the midwest, and when we purchased a newly constructed home here in Reno, it was shocking to see what kind of soil we got to deal with...

Well first thing I guess is to amend the soil, and I was wondering what was the cheapest and most efficient way to accomplish this using our local resource... Any free, or cheaper, source of compost or manure than those $40+/cu.yd at the nurseries? Should we moisten the soil a little before we mixed these in?

Also, how much compost (or aged manure) would we need to make this bare soil to something that can be grown in? The soil we got is bare... I mean, bare and dry. And a lot of rocks! I'm thinking the ordinary 2 inches of compost is not going to be enough for our yard? Maybe 4 inches? 6 inches?

Lastly, is there a good cover crop that you can recommend to use here?

Thank you!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Soil amendment options in Reno

As a displaced Iowan, let me extend my sympathies.

What you do depends a lot on where you are and what the soil type is. Certain places will need mineral amendments as well as organic. I tell all newcomers to talk to the county extension office (784-4848 ask for the horticulture desk). They will do basic soil testing and give you loads of information.

Look for a yellow newspaper called the Big Nickle in the stacks of free literature in grocery stores. There are usually a couple of people advertising free manure for the taking. I've heard of people tilling in 6"-12" of manure on new places like yours. You may have to wait until we get some moisture, as the ground is hard as a rock now.

Get a catalog from High Country Gardens. They have a lot of xeric plants and information. Think a little about this before you amend. Many western natives prefer "lean and well drained" soil. I've seen a lot of wildflowers in the Sierra thriving in decomposed granite.

Take wind into account in your planning. It can be bad depending on where you are. If you are out on some land, you also need to consider a fire break.

What kind of cover are you thinking of. Some sort of wheatgrass is often used for large areas. Sow it soon and it will germinate in the spring. It grows in bunches, not turf. Comstock Seed has many native grass and flower mixes you could try. I'm experimenting with buffalo grass, but I think it is a little too cool for it to do really well (i'm at 5700'). Mine has taken 4 years to fill in and it's still not real weed resistant. You might think about grama grass.

You can't really recreate a Midwestern landscape here, (you kind of can with a lot of water) but there are a lot of other neat things you can grow. The winters here are milder than most of the Midwest. The High Country Gardens catalog will show you that xeriscaping doesn't mean a yard full of gravel.


RE: Soil amendment options in Reno

I started gardening here in Reno, moved to the midwest (thanks to the Army) and returned to gardening here. Things are definitely different in this area.

For soil amendment, what seemed to work best was a mix of about 3 parts straw (wheat or oat) to one part alfalfa hay for about 3 years. During those first three years we used the Ruth Stout no-till method, just tossing on more straw and hay. Then we tilled, until we hit the first dozen rocks...end of tilling.

Probably the best cover crop for this area is alfalfa--after all, it's what the farmers grow. It does require watering (everything does, here, even cactus), and you would have to keep it fairly well trimmed to keep the neighbors happy.

If you add enough organic material (straw, hay, manure, etc) to the top of the soil, the worms will come and do your tilling for you. In the mean time, use containers and raised beds. You may even want to continue to use raised beds, because it just takes so much organic material to correct the soil here.

Since you bought a new home, I'm assuming it's either in Spanish Springs, the Northwest, or South Reno. The first two locations you might as well stick with raised beds for at least the first decade or two. The soil is that poor. If you are in South Reno, you are probably in the flood plain. Watch out for a high water table, but the soil is already pretty nice down there other than being heavy clay.

It took about 10 years of continuous dumping of organic material on to our garden in Sparks (near Prater and McCarran) to get the soil into decent shape, and I'm now working on 33 years of continuous amendment at this location.

I highly recommend Jason's suggestion that you get the High Country Gardens catalog--and for local suppliers use Dry Creek Gardens (they carry a lot of xeric plants). Also, check out the Rancho San Rafael Arboretum--they have a display garden with plants suitable for our area. Okay, so right now is NOT the time to be doing that.

If you want a landscaper to put in a garden, I have a friend I can recommend--she and I have been gardening "partners in crime" (we are no longer allowed to go out plant-shopping together because we were eclipsing the national debt...) for 8 years now. She's developing a landscape business, and she knows what she's doing. She is especially familiar with Northwest Reno--that's where she lives and gardens.

Now for the truly GREAT news: You know all the roses you loved but had to spray constantly to keep the blackspot at bay in the Midwest, the hybrid teas you had to prune and cover every Fall? Forget spraying, and forget covering. Roses, as long as they get the water they need, do extremely well here--they are kind of a plant-and-forget it thing in this area.

You know all the Japanese Maples that struggled in the Midwestern summer heat? Given adequate water and shelter from the sun and wind, they do beautifully here.

And the plants that melted out on you from high humidity? Not here!

Replanting tulips every year? Not needed! Most of them will come back for years if sited properly.

I live in a very mild-weather part of Reno-Sparks, I admit, but I grow all kinds of things I could NEVER grow in the Midwest, plus most of what I did grow there. I grow bamboo and figs, grapes and roses, clematis and hostas, lilies and primroses, chrysanthemums and snapdragons (the latter are completely perennial in my garden). I even have a hardy fuchsia, some ferns, coneflowers, a large selection of hardy salvias, cacti, agaves and yuccas...

Don't give up hope in any case. Just keep amending your soil, and remember that what never needed water in the Midwest will need regular watering here.


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