Soil Additives Renovating Mixed Borders

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by johnnyjumpup, Apr 9, 2010.

  1. johnnyjumpup

    johnnyjumpup Active Member

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    Help, please!

    I have to knuckle down and renovate all my garden beds and borders, a huge job as they are densely planted with small trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, groundcovers, etc. and infested with some hard to get rid of grass. I will have to do one border at a time. I don't mind the hard work but I would like to do it right the first time as I am not getting any younger. Did I also mention I have several mature trees that contribute to the mass of roots in the beds.

    In a perfect world, what would be the best practice? I will have then have to tailor that to what I can afford and lay my hands on.

    I have 4 50 lb bags of Turface, 1 bale of peat, 10 pkgs of compressed coir, lots of chopped leaves (all those trees), a bag of alfalfa pellets (nitrogen), 1/2 a cubic yard of shredded bark and can get more, some compost at various stages of decomposition and sadly loaded with seeds, access to strawy horse manure (piled in a corner of a paddock, partially aged, months, but added to daily), and some used potting soil. I can get more of any of these ingredients. I do not have a source of bulk topsoil or municipal compost. I also have a big of greensand and a bag of granulated phosphate rock. The summers here are hot and dry and there are water restrictions.

    My soil is neutral to slightly acid and the subsoil is fairly close to the surface,2 to 4 inches. There is no standing water. I have a huge biodiversity of plants (aside from a lot of snow crocuses and lilies in pots) and no diseases or problems as I tend to grow mostly what does well in my conditions. The beds usually take care of themselves for the most part and have something blooming from March to November.

    When I started making my beds 30 years ago I dug down into the subsoil, mixed in a layer of horse manure and covered that with wet newspaper and mixed peat and what compost, etc. I had into the rest of the soil and put it on top. That worked quite well but because digging the bed in the first place was such hard work I enlarged them a few inches from year to year. I have added leaves and bagged manure to the top over the years.

    I read that the organic matter is most useful to plants in the top 6 inches of the soil. There is a lot of conflicting info out there. There is no way I can attempt double digging to a depth of 12 to 18 inches. Digging down 8 to 10 is a hard won triumph though I can raise the level of the bed. Should I put Turface (water retention) mixed in under the replanted shrubs like hydrangea or mix it into the top 6 inches? I would be grateful for your suggestions.

    Thank you.
     
  2. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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  3. johnnyjumpup

    johnnyjumpup Active Member

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    Thank you, Ron, for the link to Linda's website. I have been keeping my eye out for the tree mulching truck but haven't seen it yet. I do like the idea of mulching with wood chips in some of my beds but have a concern about the 'suppressing seedlings'.

    We have months of monochromatic snow and then a month or so of drab, grey March so crocuses and all the mini bulbs are really important to me. I want them to go forth and reseed and multiply as much as possible. I have thousands in my lawns but a lot of anenome blanda, crocus and scillas seedlings in my beds that have not yet made bulbs and I don't want to suppress these. I have tried transplanting these over the years with very little success and of course the anemone bulbs are hard to spot even when mature. l usually rake leaves onto the beds in the fall and carefully stir them up of move the matted ones off my crocus, etc in the spring.

    Do you think I could wait til the mini bulb leaves die down and then mulch with wood chips? I'm not worried about the tulips and daffodils too much but there are so many plants in the bed (no bare soil) that would I not be suppressing, or rotting the crown of some perennial that has'nt broken through yet with a 4 to 6 inch layer of wood chips? There is no trouble with the leaves but the wood chips are heavier.

    I do have a vegetable garden. How would you tackle that? What about my alfalfa pellets. There is a challenge for you. I mulch with leaves in the fall. I don't mind Japanese greens and hesperis coming up in my veg or flower beds from my imperfectly made compost. There will never be a chance of me adding too much organic matter as I seem to make the slowest compost in the world.

    I bought the Turface and wood bark for my potted plants (some trees and tender plants but a lot of lilies). I have critters in the garden with a taste for the lilies and this way I get to actually see them bloom.

    I will dig out the grass which seems to have cunningly worked its roots under peonies, Siberian Iris and and everything else and are the Canadian equivalent to bamboo. Then there is another clump forming wiry grass that is so strong and flexible I use it to tie in my clematis.

    After reading the package, I planned to sprinkle the Turface over the surface and work it into the top couple of inches. Some water retention and release is better than none?

    Thank you for all your help.
     
  4. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Crocuses etc. are basically alpines and could be mulched with gravel.
     
  5. johnnyjumpup

    johnnyjumpup Active Member

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    Did I mention that I love crocuses and the mini bulbs? Some have muttered the word 'obsessed'. I do have a few beds of alpines and smaller plants that I originally mulched with pea gravel but have since resorted to leaves which are free. I have added a few dozen here, a few dozen there around the yard every year for years and i am thrilled that they have multiplied in spite of the depredations by mice, voles and moles. Have to choose where to spend my gardening dollars not being pestered by cartloads of cash.

    When I visit nurserys and garden centres in big cities I drool over bins offering all manner of things like pea gravel, composted bark in assorted sizes, top soil, triple mix, etc. They are not available locally.

    Crocus aside, I have built up my beds piecemeal over thirty years, gradually expanding them and doing the best I could with what resources I had. I thought if I had to dig them out, I'd ask what would be the best way to give my plants a good healthy home for the next thirty years. I love the idea of mulch and use it now in the form of leaves. I can see using the wood chippings in some of my other beds.

    I notice that the 6" hydrangeas I planted last year only grew to about 8 to 9 inches. Is this normal growth for one year? My Annabelle took years to grow to three feet. It does compete with tree roots and is in semishade. My neighbour's is in full sun and is about 7 x 7 feet. I want to improve the soil not rely on chemical fertilizers.
     
  6. Grant Gussie

    Grant Gussie Active Member

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    All your soil additives could be used as mulches, spreading over the surface of the soil when the plants are dormant... you can even just spread it over the surface of the winter snow after it starts to melt. Just don't add more than a couple inches total over your dormant plants ore else the emerging plants may fail to reach the surface and be smothered. Once the plants are up, you will have spread the mulch between them, avoiding burying them, which is a much more time consuming task. But still doable. There is no need to incorporate the organic material into the soil. Your earthworms will do that for you.
     
  7. johnnyjumpup

    johnnyjumpup Active Member

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    Thanks, Grant,

    My back loves the idea of adding nutrients via mulch on the top without the digging. I hope I can just dig out the grass and rearrange a few of the perennials, etc. Some of my carefully planned and thoughtful choices have had the nerve to up and die (!!)
     

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