Should I Amend My Soil?

This is a tricky question. On Friday, you heard me talk about my heavy wet clay. Countless times, I have had people ask why I don’t amend it?

Probably the first 10 years that I lived there, I tried. I used compost. I used bark mulch. And nothing seemed to make a difference. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening.

The Spoiler was happening, I think. Long time readers have seen the photos I post every fall of soil all over my porch from his leaf blowing. The amended soil, which was mostly in the top layer because I don’t till or turn my soil (more about that on Friday) was getting blown away when he blows leaves. And even though we now try to retain as many leaves as possible on the property an in the gardens, some do have to go down to the curb for town-wide recycling.

So that’s my new version of garden bed amending–leaving the leaves where they fall to decompose in the beds. If it works for nature, it’s good enough for me.

But a more important part of this is about planting holes. Remember several years. Back? The adage was to dig a $5 whole for 50 cent plant. That’s no longer true.

The reason you were supposed to dig the huge hole in the “old days” was so that you could mix all the soil you took out of it with all sorts of “good stuff:” compose and good planting soil and maybe even some fertilizer. They you partially back-filled the hole, set your new plant in, and filled around it.

Please, no more! What gardeners and soil scientist have discovered is that we were creating giant planting containers int he ground and our trees’ and shrubs’ roots had no incentive to leave the nice “$5 hole” that we made for them to go out into the rest of our regular garden soil (really, if you heard the description of my soil on Monday, and then this lovely soil, and you wee a plant root, what would you do?!)

So now, the idea is to just dig the hole that you need, no deeper and just wide enough to get your plant in. Do not amend the soil because then the plant will have no reason to grow out into your own garden soil. Interesting.

Of course, with my soil, there was never any $5 hole digging anyway, so I can tell you that I have never done any of that nonsense.  I was always lucky if I could pry a spot open large enough to get  a tree into. Luckily, we are already heavily wooded so I don’t have to plant too many trees.

But it’s always nice when you find that what you have been doing all along is suddenly the “new” correct thing. Wow.


4 thoughts on “Should I Amend My Soil?

  1. tonytomeo March 12, 2018 / 2:26 pm

    BINGO! That makes sense. We happen to have good soil, but no one believes it. I do like to add a bit of amendment to hold moisture for bare root plants, but just a bit. There are so many theories about how to plant, and so many products that those who produce want to sell! No one thinks like the plants!

  2. gardendaze March 12, 2018 / 3:53 pm

    Wow, you have good soil and no one believes it? That’s almost as bad as everyone saying that he or she has horrible wet clay when it’s really not. I guess for gardeners the soil really is better elsewhere.

    But I think you also hit on an important point, Tony. Everyone is trying to sell something. People have products to improve the soil and products to kill bugs and weeds, etc. When I worked in commercial horticulture, perish the thought if I mentioned milk and water as a fungicide. No, we had to sell chemicals for that. It was very depressing.


  3. The Chatsworth Lady March 17, 2018 / 7:11 pm

    I know exactly what you mean! I’d read all those precepts about amending and planting hole sizes and then when I got out there with the shovel I’d say “Ya know what? Sink or swim, kiddo, you’re not going to be in a pot anymore” and then dig just a bit wider than the size of the rootball. Then afterward I’d feel guilty about not doing the best by the plant (especially if it was an expensive one.) Nice to know that I wasn’t being “lazy” after all. 🙂

  4. gardendaze March 17, 2018 / 7:26 pm

    We gardeners are a guilty bunch, aren’t we? We always worry that we should be doing something different–your little peonies in the garage are the prime example (and honestly, I am not quite sure what the heck to do about that problem!) But at least when you do get them out, you won’t have to worry about digging them an elaborate and amended spot in the garden.


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