The Q&A Archives: Flower Beds in the Pine Barrens

Question: I have planted a lily and tulip bed as well as bishops weed and a large red leaf small plant that blooms like a hosta under the drip line of severely pruned pine trees. I cut off the lower 10 feet of branches of the pine trees and completely excavated and replaced the soil in all the beds down to 18 inches. So far this year everythinh is thriving except the ferns that I planted last year. I understand that even so I will lose all plants that are not acid based due to the pine needles filtering into the soil. Can I save my plantings without killing my 30' Pine trees? Am I doomed to azaleas, rhododendrons and junipers? How and when can I move all this stuff!!!!Just this week I planted a Japaneses Maple tree and 3 red maple trees to the left edge of the lily bed hoping that the trees would help to fill in some of the space- must I move this also? Can I test the soil and try to make this work? Are there any local resources or novice soil tester kits to help me figure out what is happening? What diameter will the tree cause to be acid?

Answer: You have a challenging site indeed! Don't worry, there is hope for your plantings. If you replaced the excavated soil with topsoil, it probably is pH adjusted already. Though most perennials prefer a pH close to neutral, the ones you've chosen may be somewhat acid-tolerant. I am a little concerned about the excavation you did and how it may affect your pine trees. If you had to cut a lot of roots out of the soil this might affect the health of the pine trees over time. That, or the trees will grow roots into the new soil very soon and within a few years, compete with your plantings for moisture and nutrients. Unfortunately, they are very competitive, but you sound like you're committed to keeping your flower beds going, so I'm sure your plants will get plenty of moisture and rich nutrients.

You can call your state agricultural extension office (ph# 860-486-2739) to obtain a soil sample kit that you can send in for testing for a small fee, or you can buy simple soil pH test kits at most garden centers. The nice part about having a lab test the soil is that they provide specific recommendations about how to correct any nutrient and pH imbalances. Annual applications of garden limestone may be in order to maintain you soil's pH level.

If you find you need to make a relatively quick pH adjustment, see if you can find a source of Agrand Brand liquid lime (here's one: I hope this helps!

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