Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Breath of Fresh Air

This is the time of year you can really find out if you have drainage problems in your yard and garden.  Our rainy season is upon us.   The next time there is a couple of hours when the liquid sunshine has taken a rest is the time to check how well your soil is draining or NOT DRAINING.  It's really not too hard to do.  Just look out your kitchen window and if you see mud puddles gathering next to your hydrangeas or your rhododendron or perhaps even worse-in your grass.  This is a pretty good indication that you may have some poor draining soil.  

Sometimes poor drainage can be caused by external factors.  Such as a sloping grade or sinking elevations.  These problems can be caused by where your house is located in respect to another house or maybe just erosion from a nearby hill running relentlessly into your yard.  These issues can be huge and sometimes impossible to fix alone.  But it's important to see what is going on under those shrubs, trees, and PUDDLES.

The Pacific Northwest gets a lot of rain each year.  Coupled with the clay soil that is so abundant, we have poor drainage throughout the area in which I live and probably you do too.  The clay can be amended and I suggest you do so.  Digging into this slippery and muddy soil isn't ever going to be fun but if you can add the amendment,  chances are your soil will be breathing much easier.   

Some folks want to build french drains on their property in order to DIRECT the water.  In theory, this is a pretty good concept.  It even looks good on paper.  You will want to keep in mind that if the water isn't draining into your soil now, it probably will continue to sit on top of your soil whether you have a french drain in place or not.  A french drain will effectively channel water away from an area affected by runoff water.  It will not make your SOIL drain better.


Monday, February 15, 2016

February  ...   In the Garden

This month's post comes a wee bit late.  It seems the weather may cooperate with me as the trusty Groundhog couldn't even see a glimpse of his shadow this month.  To say the least, I have been busy. I am cleaning this month.  Spring cleaning, so to speak.  I won't really have time when Spring actually arrives.  It's better to roll the sleeves up now and finish all those half started projects from late Fall.

Today the sun is shining and it is supposed to be up to 58 degrees.  I noticed yesterday the little buds on all the trees swelling up.  Spring is soon to follow.  This time of year is when I do most of my pruning and cleaning up what our previous season has left for me. 

Oh my,..its already the 15th of February.  And I keep hearing Mother Nature whispering in my ear.  Bring flowers and they will come.  So last weekend we actually had sunshine and I am hoping the same for this one.  Our phone calls have doubled in the past week and everybody is ready for the Spring to set down her foot and stay until glorious SUMMERtime.

This month in the garden you can prepare your beds and watch your little crocuses and daffodils, hyacinths and tulips start to peek above the dirt.  You can give these a layer of fresh mulch if you like or just let them rear their pretty little heads above ground without so much as an early weeding.  These are bulbs.  They do pretty well on their own.

Your early blooming perennials should be coming out of dormancy as well.  Things like Astilbe, Dicentra, Poppy, Aruncus, Dianthus, and Hemerocallis should just be starting to show some new foliage this time of year.  If it's unusually cold, you may not see them until the first of March.  This year, however, they are already starting to break ground.  If you absolutely CANNOT wait for the first spots of color to come on the scene, there is always primroses and pansies to satisfy cold loving annual planters.

This month you will begin seeing seed potatoes, asparagus, and summer blooming bulbs in stores.  This is the best time to pick up Dahlia, Crocosmia, and other late summer bloomers.   You can also get a jump on your fruit garden by planting strawberries, bare root cane berries, and also fruit trees this time of year.  This gives them ample opportunity to become established and produce same season.   

I guess that is about it for February gardening.  If you still want more outdoor activities, think about making a homemade nesting ground for our most important pollenizers. BEES.  Or put up some winter food for the birds in your neighborhood.  You can even research and put together a plant list to attract hummingbirds or butterflies.  Also great pollenizers!  See which one of your garden buddies can put out the most perfect pollenization plan.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Got Clay?

Here I sit staring at the snow (and/or rain) out my window.  Just like any other avid gardeneer, I am impatiently counting down the next ninety days so I can get out there and DIG.  Unfortunately, for me, it is December 29, 2015 and the only digging getting done is in the snow by excavators.  That doesn't mean I can't dream, though.  Dream of beautiful, enriched, organic dirt that I can dig into with my bare hands.  Where weeds don't grow and water doesn't pool in suffocating puddles throughout my landscape.  

I guess I can call this my first garden blog of the 2016 season.  And, I HAVE CLAY. And lots of it. I'm not alone as nearly 60% of Clark County, Washington has the same orange, slippery, kind of clay that Pueblo Indians would have traveled miles to obtain.  Although this kind of clay is great for making pottery, it is not what you would call "plant-friendly".  As a matter of fact, clay is probably the leading cause of plant decline in the area which we live.

Rhododendron dying with root rot
Healthy Rhododendron
Have you ever bought a shrub from a garden center that looked so healthy and beautiful you couldn't resist buying it?  Then you take it home, dig a nice big hole to plant it in, you might even grab a bag of potting soil at the garden center..  After a couple of months, your shrub looks like it hasn't grown even an inch.  It may have even lost leaves, looks yellow, and is being attacked by fungus.  You are beside 
yourself.  You paid $39.99 for this ugly, half alive shrub.  The problem is probably CLAY.  

I hear it all the time.  You thought you took every precaution.  You even put in the potting soil.  But here is the problem. Potting Soil is exactly what it says it is.  It is a formulation made for POTS & CONTAINER GARDENING. What has essentially happened is this.  Remember the big hole you dug to plant your shrub in?  Congratulations, if you have clay, you have just dug a swimming pool for your plants roots to swim in.  As we all know, roots don't really take to swimming.  Just like us, they need air.   The potting soil you added is not an amendment designed to break up clay.  

In the land of CLAY, you must first amend your clay soil and then plant your landscape plants. There are several products on the market available claiming to break up clay soil.  Many of them are effective.  However, it's not really necessary to go out and buy these products.  If you keep a compost pile, this is the first place to start.  Adding organic matter to your clay soil is the first step to turning your clay back into good dirt.  If you don't have access to good compost (ie. decomposed leaves, lawn clippings, etc), a good product to try is Gardener & Bloome Soil Building Compost.  It is available at most garden centers and is sold in three cu. ft. bales.  The bag goes A LONG WAY so chances are if you are amending a small planting area, you will only need one bag.

I always recommend that for the amount of clay you are amending, you add an equal amount of amendment.  So you essentially end up with a 50/50 mix.  It has always seemed to work for me.  Also, if you really want to get stuff growing, add some organic amendments like jersey green sand, feather meal, bone meal, alfalfa meal, rock phosphate, etc.   These amendments are absent in your clay and will help later in nourishing your garden.  They will provide valuable building blocks for your soil to take in water, nutrients, and they wont harm the mycorrhizae which thrive in healthy soil.

Many of my customers come to me each year with the same question.  Can I just add some sand to my clay soil?  I tell them all the same thing.  Sure, you can add some sand but it isn't really going to solve your problem.  The only thing that will truly improve your soil is organic matter.  Amendment will definitely improve your drainage and soil consistency.   So I recommend both.   If you are in a spot where you can neither obtain organic matter or add amendment, the solution would be to elevate your plantings above grade so that they are never sitting in said swimming pool.   

Above grade planting has some advantages that you may have never thought of.  First, it adds a degree of dimension to a yard that is flat. Second, it improves drainage to the roots of your plant because it is not sitting below grade.  Third, and my favorite, you don't have to dig as big of a hole for your root ball to fit into. My back is feeling better already.  Creating berms and 'raised beds' can change the whole look of your landscape for the better.