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"Well drained soil" NOT

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Jun 17, 2013, 11:47 AM
"Well drained soil" NOT
I don't have have well drained soil. How can I make it well drained, so I can plant perennials that recommend it?
Jun 17, 2013, 01:59 PM
Some basic questions and answers first...

What kind of soil do you have? Clay, sandy, loam? Has it ever been improved with compost or other soil amendments?

In what area of the country do you live? Is it subject to heavy rainfall? Are there a lot of trees and shrubbery in the area? Are there slopes in your yard and is the area you want to plant at the base of a slope? What's growing (or not growing) there now?

What perennials do you want to plant? For example, hydrangeas and azaleas require soils with different Ph levels than most garden flowering plants. So what you want to plant influences what you might need to add to the soil.

What's happened thus far when you try to plant in this area?

Generally soil that doesn't drain well is clayey and needs to be broken up and amended with compost and possibly other substances before it will drain well. But sandy soil is also not suitable for gardening.

Worms are good soil aerators and they work for free, or rather, just for coffee grounds. Seriously, they do like coffee grounds, so adding them to the soil will allow the worms to thrive and aerate your soil for you.

But answers to the questions posed will help so we know what your situation is.

Any photos you might want to share of the area would also be welcome.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: GardenSprite,
Jun 18, 2013, 01:12 AM
I dug a hole 1 foot deep / 2 feet wide. 6" inches down it starts turning to clay. I filled the hole with water and it took hours to drain.

I live in Minnesota and the area I'm planting has never been amended with anything. In fact it's newly landscaped where there was only grass. It's a flat area with no slopes. Any trees or shrubbery will come from what we plant (it's a blank canvas)).

So far we've picked out Peonies, Lilac shrub, delphiniums, and Spirea.

Thanks for your help
Jun 18, 2013, 09:11 AM
So it is the clay that's the problem. Sounds typical for a new yard; clay is just used by the builder to fill without improving the soil.

There's quite a bit of discussion on soil improvement on Frodo's New Garden thread:

What you can do now to get started is first amend the areas where you want to plant, then work on the rest of the yard as you can and have the time.

From information on your other post, it sounds as though the whole yard needs to be addressed.

I would dig out planting holes to a depth of about 1', then add purchased compost (if you don't have your own), until the soil is more light and airy and won't compact if you pick up a handful and squeeze it.

I've also added peat moss to my soil.

I would also test, as you've done, by pouring water down and seeing how long it takes to drain. It should drain in quickly, without leaving any standing water.

Once you're satisfied that you have better drainage, you can add some plants. I would plant delphinium first, to see how they fare. Peonies and lilacs definitely do not like to be moved, so you'll want to be sure that their areas are well amended before planting.

Spirea is pretty flexible, from my experience, so that's another you could plant now, although the bloom season is already past.

To give cover to the rest of the yard and improve it, you might consider the suggestions for green manuring in the New Garden post. Or plant some annual vines like morning glory. They'll provide cover for the bare soil parts so you don't lose soil to erosion.

When fall comes, gather whatever leaves you can to use as mulch over the winter, then turn them under next year.
Jun 18, 2013, 09:41 AM
Answering your other question here, a rototiller would definitely help loosen the soil, especially the clay part, but my concern would be that it seems the clay begins about 6" below the surface.

You'd have to make sure that your tiller has tines long enough to penetrate down into the clay layer to break that up.

Another alternative, on a small site by site basis is to put coffee grounds at the base of the sites you dig out for your perennials and let the worms help well below the surface.

There's yet another alternative for small spots, i.e., for planting a few perennials and/or shrubbery now and that's double digging, but it's hard work.

Soil is excavanted to ideally about a foot deep, compost and sometimes peat moss are mixed in at the base of the hole, then excavated soil is returned and mixed with the enhanced soil.

But the disadvantage is that's hard on the back and time consuming. Still that's the way I amended a lot of my garden and it really works well.
Jun 18, 2013, 11:18 AM
could be the guy is living in the spill of the Red River valley, where the clay is out of this world. I had to haul a half dump truck of that heavy, slimy stuff out of an old elevator shaft once, bucket by bucket, and let me tell you, there's a reason they line haz waste landfills with clay. holds water forever, and it doesn't pass through.

a tree will eventually punch through and thrive on the stuff. for everything else, remember the root ball will typically be the length and width of the plant in most species. drought-tolerant plants that don't like wet feet should not be planted there. for the rest, I would dig that big ol' hole and use a mixture of peat and sand to fill half of it, then set the plant and refill with that lovely, rich topsoil.

sig: if this is a new economy, how come they still want my old-fashioned money?
Jun 19, 2013, 12:40 PM
Tpuhl, Something you could do now to make your yard more inviting and create the sensation of progress is to buy some of the perennials you want, plant them in containers, and transfer the whole root ball and plant to the ground in the fall, or after you've amended the soil.

Peonies and delphiniums could be handled this way; they don't produce large root balls as quickly as shrubs would and the roots wouldn't be disturbed if the whole root ball is just transferred from pot to soil.

That would give you some greenery right away. The bloom season is past for these spring beauties though, so you would only have foliage.

It seems that you like the high end of the cottage style plants, what I call the elegant plants. This is a good time to get perennials; the gardening catalogues will be having end of spring sales.