Bad soil? Time to start over | VailDaily.com

Bad soil? Time to start over

Tom Glass
Vail CO Colorado

Within the past week I have I dug, cleared, and replanted 2 gardens. In getting up close and personal to someone else’s soil, I suddenly realized that almost everyone makes the same mistakes when gardening. Why it took me this long to put my finger on the following facts is only testament to my dull-witted powers of observation.

In both gardens in which I toiled this week, the soil was composed primarily of clay best suited to creating earthenware coffee mugs for firing and then offered for sale at a swap meet in Arvada. Both gardens also showed evidence of previous attempts at improving the soil, but, due to the cost or the time or the lack of savvy, it was evident no real improvements had been made.

Let me tell you something that will save you some money and years of frustration. You can’t grow plants in clay. I know, maybe you know somebody who has a thriving garden that is planted into clay. That’s great. They are truly a wizard with plants. My hat is tipped in their direction.

It’s more likely, though, that they can only grow weeds, or happen to love weeds, and are persuasive enough to convince you that their weeds are ornamental rarities seldom seen, or their particularly clay tolerant plants are used only in the bleeding-edge gardens of the snottiest, esoteric plant circles in America.

Still, I’m telling you, my point is YOU can’t grow plants in clay. And neither can I.

This spring take the time to dig up your failing flower beds and toss the greasiest, nastiest, plant stifling, not-to-be-crumbled chunks of clay into a trash can – preferably one of your own. Then bring in some great, new topsoil, if you can find it somewhere up here, or replace the disposed of clay with manure. I’m writing here about heading almost all the way back to scratch, using only the best of what’s left in a bed after you dig out the worthless, and then adding back only organic matter or great soil. .

For some reason we all believe we can rehabilitate a clay-filled garden bed with a light scattering of peat moss into planting holes along with a handful of some kind of large animal poop. Nope. Not going to work. Sometimes one has to begin afresh. Sometimes one has to take the time to let the rotting of big quantities of plant material, mounds even, work its mojo in the soil. And since most of us lack time, or mojo, or both, I suggest you start over with a new batch of dirt.

Since we’re starting over with the soil, I also suggest we figure out what’s wrong with our flower beds. Face it. Some flower beds, for the sake of brevity let’s say yours, are just plain ugly, imbalanced displays of unrelated, unmatched, evidence of whatever happened to be appealing at the garden mart the last ten times you, or somebody empowered to buy for you, went plant shopping.

Or, some gardens consist of the two surviving plants among twenty planted ten years ago. Typically, one of the two survivors is a sickly branch of a once thriving shrub. The other survivor has succeeded in driving everything else from the bed, disproportionately dominating the plot.

Mention euthanizing the lot, and one might be considered a heathen. I want to know why? Plants serve a purpose. One of them is to beautify. If a plant fails at that, I strongly believe it should be allowed to die with dignity on a mulch heap somewhere.

Step outside. Take a look at your gardening efforts with a critical eye. If they meet don’t meet specs, make another attempt. But start with the soil this time.