The Q&A Archives: Drought Tolerant Garden Cover For My City

Question: I'm new to Beaumont; the soil is hard clay, and I believe alkaline. Before planting, what should I do to the soil to grow ground cover, fruit trees and other plants? Are drought tolerant plants the best to grow in this area?

Answer: Clay soils are usually so compacted that plant roots have a difficult time penetrating. The best way to improve clay type soil is to amend it. This will help break up the clay particles so water can trickle through and delicate roots can grow in the air pockets. To separate these particles, you'll need to integrate coarser or larger particles such as sand and humus. Humus is any decayed organic material like leaf mold, old ground up pine bark or compost. If you do not have a compost bin you can purchase it bagged or even have it delivered by the cubic yard.

Begin by loosening the clay in the area where you want to create a bed. Dig down about 12 inches. Once the ground is broken up add 3 inches of sand, 3 inches of compost and 3 inches of ground, decomposed pine bark. Next, till the ground until all the ingredients are well incorporated. If you do not have access to a tiller you can do this by hand with a garden fork or shovel. It just takes more effort.

You will know that you have the texture right if you can squeeze a moist handful of soil in your fist and it easily falls apart when you open your hand.

Now to further improve your soil, add some well rotted manure. Not only does it help the composition of the soil but it brings nutrients as well.

Once the soil is amended, it's ready to plant. In your hot summer climate, drought tolerant plants will succeed, but you don't have to limit yourself to these types of plants, especially after you've added organic matter to the soil. Organic matter will help the soil drain well but will hold enough moisture to make the roots happy. Just be sure to deeply soak your trees and shrubs once (or twice) each week during the growing season.

Best wishes with your landscape!

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