The Q&A Archives: Garden Suggestions for a Recently Built Home

Question: We moved into our new house in August 1996. The yard was in terrible shape. There were more weeds than grass. The house was built in 1990 and there is still alot of new constuction soil on the surface (clay), and probably only an inch or so of top soil. I will be taking a soil sample for fertility and pH, but I am wondering what else I need to consider to get flowers and shrubs, not vegetables, to grow in this heavy soil with a very low amount of organic matter. What would you reccommend I grow thisfirst year, not only for landscapeing, but also to feed the birds and the butterflies? A few of shrubs I am looking at are few ornamental and the rest are for erosion control and wind break around the fondation of my house on the south side. Thank youfor any information you can give me. Troy Font Lansing, MI

Answer: The best thing you can do for clay soil is to add lots and lots of organic matter. If possible, till in grass clippings, shredded leaves, compost, and/or rotted manure before you begin your planting. Then each year, try to work in some more organic matter where you can. Mulch plants with organic mulches like pine bark, rather than stone, because the mulch will enrich the soil as it decomposes. One idea for this first year is to plant a few shrubs, a few hardy perennials, and some annuals to give you color this year. You might try some shrub dogwoods, cotoneaster, juniper, or bayberry for shrubs. Good perennial choices include: coreopsis, rudbeckia, asters, and daylilies. And you can get a wide variety of annual transplants at your local garden center. Carroll Gardens, a mail-order nursery in Maryland, carries a wide variety of plants and has a very informative catalog. Their number is 1-800-638-6334.

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