Living On the Ledge

Long time readers of this blog (and there are some since I’m approaching my 1,000th post!) will know that I always talk about my horrible clay soil.

Readers that are newer will often tell me that I need to amend my soil. While I am always grateful that I have readers and especially those that are willing to be helpful, I would not be writing a garden blog if I didn’t know a few things about gardening (I hope!). And in fact, isn’t that how we all learn–from a combination of those who know more than we do, plus that best teacher of all, experience?

When I first moved to my property 21 years ago, I did in fact try to amend my soil. I tried for several years. It was quite frustrating to me that nothing good ever came of it (except perhaps for the retailers who benefited from my largess because there’s no way I could make enough compost to amend over a half-acre of gardens on my own–at least not quickly enough for my tastes!)

The more I gardened, the more I discovered–and here’s where the “experience” being a great teacher comes in part. I live on rock ledge. I know that. I can see that. At various points in my yard, the ledge juts out about 4 feet high. There’s no mystery about this. That’s what causes the soil to be such heavy clay.

Here’s a photo of the most dramatic piece of ledge.


And here’s a place where it just provides a nice place for the chipmunks to hide.

more ledge

But here’s what most folks don’t realize. This is what my trees have to grow in. Most of them can’t get roots any deeper than about 4″ or so–and that’s where the soil is good!. So look what happens to the roots.

Magnolia roots

Those are magnolia roots. The tree is over two stories tall.

Japanese maple roots

These roots are on a Japanese maple–an upright type so it’s probably at least 10′ tall. Notice the way the root snakes through an opening in the edging and out into the lawn.

weeping cherry roots

And this is my weeping cherry–a baby at about 5′ tall. But still, check out the above ground roots.

Notice the different situations these trees are in too–some are in beds, including partially raised beds, some are just by themselves but all have had to fend for themselves by sending roots up where there was no soil.

So all this lovely advice about “adding compost,” “double digging,” “incorporating amendments,” and other words to that effect are simply just that: words. You can’t incorporate, add or dig when your soil is only 4″ deep!

Now I could make everything a raised bed, but particularly around the trees that might compromise the roots. Aside from that, the Spoiler hates raised beds–they interfere with the almighty lawn mower, you know. So that’s pretty much out.

So rather than trying to fight nature I decided a long time ago that I would learn to work with it. For the most part, it’s okay and in drought years it actually works to my advantage.

But there are just some times when I look at those tree roots and wonder how the trees stand up at all!

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