Ask a Question forum: Gardening in WY

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demity51
Jul 16, 2015 2:05 PM CST
I live in Cody, WY - high desert / zone 4. Our town was built on a glacier path, which means there are TONS of rocks just under our clay soil (I know - you would think the soil would be sandy, wouldn't you?) and the rocks are always pushing upward though the soil. The summer weather usually hovers around 80, but it often gets into the 90's; there is usually wind and ALWAYS no humidity. I've tried every kind of mulch for my flower beds I can find and don't like it any of them for one reason or another. I really only like the look of good, loose, black dirt / compost. So how do I find that??? (Even bags of potting soil carry small rocks and twigs.) I have 14 flower beds so I need a lot of top dressing. Any suggestions would be very appreciated.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
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dyzzypyxxy
Jul 16, 2015 2:27 PM CST
You say "I really only like the look of good, loose, black dirt / compost." and that's a really common thing amongst gardeners. We all want that, but in places that lack good soil to begin with, like where you are, it's hard to come by.

First place to try is your County landfill. I helped my daughter and hubby make a garden out of a baked clay wasteland in Salt Lake City (similar dry conditions as you, but a bit warmer) with something like 20 pickup truck loads of compost from the landfill. They would load it for you for $25 per load, but that was back in 2007.

Second thing to do is make some raised beds in the best places for planting in your garden. You could use some of your plentiful rocks to make your bed edges, maybe? The rocks don't actually "push" up to the surface, they show up when the soil over top of them washes down or blows away. Making raised beds over top of that rocky clay will give your plants some depth to get their roots into, and also prevent the erosion that makes more rocks show up.

Groundcover plants, and good wood chip mulch also prevents your soil washing or blowing away, so wherever you have space between plants, cover that soil somehow! A good shredded mulch, not bark nuggets or the like, will sort of mat together and not blow away or shift around.

From what I recall of driving through Wyoming, it's always windy, too? IF you can plant a windbreak of some kind of trees or durable shrubs on the upwind side of your garden that will also help. If not, do most of your gardening on the downwind side of the house. It would be a shame to get your beds nice and full of good soil, and have it blow away day after day.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
[Last edited by dyzzypyxxy - Jul 16, 2015 2:28 PM (+)]
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Jul 16, 2015 5:25 PM CST
Loose black soil, rich in organics is gorgeous.

But without mulch, it dries right out to nearly sterile dust.

(Dust plus weed seeds, that is. Weed seeds eager to germinate and take over as soon as they get a sip of water.)

Then a naked soil surface keeps sucking water out of the soil, since the atmosphere doesn't "fill up" with humidity.

At one time, they tired to conserve soil moisture with a "dust mulch" ... i.e. the Dust Bowl.

You MIGHT be able to keep a bed pretty without mulch by setting up intermittent sprayers or misters every few feet, and run them at least four times per day, to add moisture to the soil as fast as it evaporates. But that might be inches of water per day in a hot windy climate. Expensive and wasteful of a limited resource.

Ain't no substitute for mulch that I know of! Windbreaks and shade? Closely planted crops? Very generous sub-surface drip irrigation?

Maybe a plastic film "mulch" with PICTURES of naked soil on it?

I kind of think that you may have to hide your soil from the drying winds and sun. Only enjoy it when you pull the mulch aside to plant new things.


demity51
Jul 16, 2015 9:06 PM CST
Thanks, guys. I think I'm going to try some ground covers in between my precious plants. Thinking of creeping flox...?
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Jul 16, 2015 9:31 PM CST
Thyme also makes a nice groundcover that isn't too invasive. It's pretty, smells nice and does well in hot, dry conditions too. There are lots of different colors as well. Any of the Mediterranean herbs that are low growing would be good plants for your conditions. Rosemary might be a bit tender but if you mulch it deeply with dead leaves or something for the winter, it should survive. The variety "Arp" is more hardy.

But as Rick says, there really is no substitute for mulch. You just need to find the one that works for you. Also if you have neighbors who set out bags of lawn clippings, (and raked leaves in the fall) start collecting them up if you can. Then once frost kills off your garden, pile all that organic stuff on your flower beds as additional mulch and wet it or weigh it down somehow so it stays put for the winter. (lay branches over it, or chicken wire works great) You will gain inches of new good organic stuff by spring! Free, too.

Btw inorganic mulches like rubber and stones really don't help at all. They heat up and the rubber even smells bad when it gets hot. Wood chips break down and add their precious organic fibers to the soil.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill

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