Soil and Compost forum: well drained soil?

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Name: Gary
Cincinnati Ohio (Zone 6a)
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Gschnettler
Jul 29, 2016 4:30 PM CST
hello. I see mention of well drained soil in planting instructions frequently, but I have to admit I don't really understand it. it seems to me that a lot of people have bushes in front of their house and flowers in front of the bushes. The flowers are just in dirt. in Cincinnati, nearly all of the dirt is clay. The flowers seem to grow fine.

How do you differentiate between well drained soil and not-well drained soil?
Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
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porkpal
Jul 29, 2016 4:37 PM CST
An indication of how well your soil drains is how long it takes a hole you dig and fill with water takes to empty. Some clay soils can actually drain adequately for most plants.
Porkpal
Name: Daniel Erdy
Catawba SC (Zone 7b)
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ediblelandscapingsc
Jul 29, 2016 9:39 PM CST
If you soil drains slowly you can amend it with a little sand and compost or plant in raised beds. Thumbs up
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Name: Dana
Canton, OH (Zone 6a)
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bloominholes2fill
Jul 30, 2016 4:13 AM CST
I agree
I agree with porkpal and Daniel.

Additionally, in my experience with our "lovely", nutrient-starved, Ohio clay soil, amending with peat moss loosens the clay to a loamy texture while retaining a good, even moisture level. And depending on the consistency of the clay, it could take *a lot* of peat!! By "loamy" I mean that the soil is light and workable while retaining a consistent level of moisture, so that it will compact in your hand, and hold its shape, without compacting into a near solid rock, but yet loosens up with ease. Think of the texture of typical garden soil that is sold in bags.

My raised beds begin by amending with peat and home made compost, if I have any, to loosen the clay. Then In the Fall, I add a thick layer of shredded leaves as mulch (watered down in hopes to keep *some* in place during high winds). In the Spring, any leaf mulch left in the garden is turned in to the soil along with compost, if I have any. The leaves aerate the soil nicely and add nutrients, as does compost.

Well drained soil allows the plants to stretch out their roots with relative ease, creating a good healthy root system. Even plants that thrive in heavy clay soil, such as daylilies, etc. perform that much better in well drained, loamy soil!

Hope this helps! Good luck with your gardening, my friend! Smiling
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[Last edited by bloominholes2fill - Jul 30, 2016 4:18 AM (+)]
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Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Jul 30, 2016 4:30 AM CST
Generally, you can assess the drainage of your soil with what is called a perk test. OK .. what in the world is that ?

Let's say you dig a planting hole in your bed about 2' x 2' for a large specimen plant. Fill it with water and wait and see how long it takes to drain. If it doesn't drain at all ... you have lousy drainage because it is draining far too slow. If it drains in about 15 minutes, you have lousy drainage because the soil is draining so fast the plants will not have time to take up moisture.

In both cases you will have to take corrective action.

Your basic premise about your garden should be that it primarily an artificial environment. You do want to take your clues from nature's environment to increase your efficiency and your success ratio and you are starting at the right point in starting your garden. You are assessing your soil. Determining which plants will do best in the kind of soil you have in your garden and trying to figure out what you need to do to make your soil work better for your plants in the long run.

Adding compost and organic material to correct drainage is only part of the answer of what it takes to build good soil. I found that out the hard way. I have spent 10 years building the soil in my garden following that technique. I did build live soil, but when drought hit my area of the country, I lost much of the beautiful soil I had built because I had missed a few steps in the process of building good top soil.

I am going to invite a few other NGA members to join this discussion that have greater knowledge of soil issues to join this discussion to help you understand that there are more questions to be asked and answered about building soil beyond just drainage. I think the discussion will not only help you, but will help all of us.

@sooby, @RickCorey, @hampartsum can you help us out here ?
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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Jul 30, 2016 5:30 AM CST
Basically what well-drained means is that the soil doesn't stay saturated for extended periods of time but rainfall and irrigation water drains away quickly enough that the plants don't "suffocate". When the pores in the soil are full of water the plant is deprived of oxygen (roots need oxygen), some plants will tolerate this for longer periods than others, and some become unhappy much more quickly. So you don't want to plant anything that needs well-drained soil where excess water takes a long time to drain away.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Jul 30, 2016 10:53 AM CST
bloominholes2fill said: I agree
I agree with porkpal and Daniel.

Additionally, in my experience with our "lovely", nutrient-starved, Ohio clay soil, amending with peat moss loosens the clay to a loamy texture while retaining a good, even moisture level. And depending on the consistency of the clay, it could take *a lot* of peat!! By "loamy" I mean that the soil is light and workable while retaining a consistent level of moisture, so that it will compact in your hand, and hold its shape, without compacting into a near solid rock, but yet loosens up with ease. Think of the texture of typical garden soil that is sold in bags.

My raised beds begin by amending with peat and home made compost, if I have any, to loosen the clay. Then In the Fall, I add a thick layer of shredded leaves as mulch (watered down in hopes to keep *some* in place during high winds). In the Spring, any leaf mulch left in the garden is turned in to the soil along with compost, if I have any. The leaves aerate the soil nicely and add nutrients, as does compost.

Well drained soil allows the plants to stretch out their roots with relative ease, creating a good healthy root system. Even plants that thrive in heavy clay soil, such as daylilies, etc. perform that much better in well drained, loamy soil!

Hope this helps! Good luck with your gardening, my friend! Smiling


Dana ... since this is a public forum, I am going to throw in some information so that others won't think the information you are providing is universal, but rather "it depends". Any soil amendment that has too much peat in it that is used in my hot dry climate is the kiss of death if it is allowed to dry out for even one day for plants because dry peat repels water when it is used in a full sun site. I actually use that kind of "compost" for a weed barrier and it is quite effective. It works better than concrete !

I am not saying your suggestion is not a good one, because I can use that information in shady areas even in my dry climate, but in full sun areas, it can be very much of a problem.

I agree that building a good root system is the key to growing healthy plants. Anything you can do to help your plants grow good solid root systems helps them handle anything nature throws at them so that they can become vigorous garden plants.

I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Daniel Erdy
Catawba SC (Zone 7b)
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ediblelandscapingsc
Jul 30, 2016 2:14 PM CST
RoseBlush1 said:

Dana ... since this is a public forum, I am going to throw in some information so that others won't think the information you are providing is universal, but rather "it depends". Any soil amendment that has too much peat in it that is used in my hot dry climate is the kiss of death if it is allowed to dry out for even one day for plants because dry peat repels water when it is used in a full sun site. I actually use that kind of "compost" for a weed barrier and it is quite effective. It works better than concrete !


I think it depends on how well you mix the peat with the clay soil and also how much you use. I think it works very well in conjunction with compost and other soil amendments and I live in a hot and dry area of the world. We haven't had rain but twice in the past 2 months and my ground cracks open like an earth quake has hit it's so dry but peat moss has incredible water holding capabilities and tends to not only loosen the soil but help hold moisture as well. granted in large concentrations or not mixed thoroughly with the soil it acts like a wick and if exposed to the surface will dry the whole planting hole out fast. The only real bad thing about peat 1 it's not a renewable resource, and 2 it will change your soil's PH making it more acidic but so will compost just not as bad. For blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, and other low PH loving plants it's great but for fig trees and many other plants I personally grow they tend to like a little higher soil PH so I always toss in a little lime for good measure when using peat moss.
typical the more goodies like peat, compost, azomite, lime, sulfur, blood meal, bone meal, kelp, ect you can mix in the planting hole the better the plant usually responds, unless you are growing plants that only grow in certain soil type like desert plants, wetland plants, or woodland plants then it's best to try and replicate those condition as best as possible to achieve the best growth from your plants. good drainage when wrote on a label is such a broad term it's better to research each plant and learn about where it grows in the wild then you'll know how to best amend your soil for that plant.
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Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Jul 30, 2016 2:55 PM CST
Daniel ...

You are right. It depends. You are gardening on the east coast. I am gardening in the mountains of the west coast. The general description of our climates may be hot and dry, but they are very, very different with different weather cycles. Our native plants and soils are different.

What works for you, may not work for me. What I was trying to share, which you just confirmed, is that there is no one universal answer. However, there are good sound principles to guide us which you have articulated quite well in your post.
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Jul 31, 2016 7:01 AM CST
It used to be that we were advised to amend the native soil when refilling a planting hole but this is no longer recommended, unless the native soil is really terrible. If amendments are needed it is better to amend the whole bed when you initially prepare it rather than just individual planting holes, and then topdress with organic material in future if needed. For more info on this topic see The Myth of Soil Amendments by Dr. Linda-Chalker Scott.
https://puyallup.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/403/2015/0...

Also:
http://joa.isa-arbor.com/request.asp?JournalID=1&ArticleID=2...

Daniel, I'm wondering why you are listing both sulfur and lime - do you actually mean whichever is appropriate for the particular situation? Usually we use lime to raise the pH and sulfur to lower it so I'm thinking you aren't suggesting people do both?


[Last edited by sooby - Jul 31, 2016 7:09 AM (+)]
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Name: Arturo Tarak
Bariloche, Rio Negro, Argentin
hampartsum
Jul 31, 2016 9:43 AM CST
I was wondering about a concurrent idea involved: How well aireated is your soil?. Actually more important than drainage is soil aireation. What kills a plant in a flood is not the Excess Water but the lack of AIR for long time that simply drowns/suffocates the roots. Understanding about maintaining amounts of air pockets in the soil is even more important than having the soil permanently wet. Damp soils are far more productive than wet soils. Some plants have evolved in having special breathing organs for their roots: They are the "knees" of American Bald Cypresses that wouldn't survive if they handn't "knees" protruding above the bayous. When one gardens for fresh produce as we do in our farm, the soil is amended and prepared to a)improve aireation b) to improve water retention c) to provide and improve nutrient retention d) to improve physical properties of the soil such that will allow carrots to grow their possible length. e) to improve drainage by adding sand or grit f) to correct the ph liming for neutral to plus for peas/cabbages and their relatives...here our soil if left to nature reverts to 5,5/6. Finally there's companion planting, which improves the overall performance of a site because different plants have differing water/nutrient /air needs underground including the unseen mycorrhiza fungi that seem to behave better when the hosting roots are diverse. Shrubs ( ie, rosebushes) and trees are good hosts for mycorrhiza which in return help the uptake of usually difficult to find but much needed available nitrogen and phosphorus.
However the set of vegetables normally grown commercially in any farm is a minimal proportion of garden plants commonly found in temperate regions, so we here keep modifying our soil again in my gardens to meet the specific requirements for ornamentals grouping them in beds those with the similiar needs.
Retentive properties can be improved with buried materials like films, and drainage over large areas can be improved by changing the subsoil drainage patterns with underground drains made with river stones. We have to do all mentioned as well.
So as I understand it,soil management critical in agriculture or ornamental horticulture implies in artificially changing variables while keeping a sustainable/environmental awareness with a systemic approach. Thinking with all variables at the same time not linearly just one ( ie. drainage). The rest is always site specific.
Name: Daniel Erdy
Catawba SC (Zone 7b)
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ediblelandscapingsc
Jul 31, 2016 9:55 AM CST
Sue they are just examples, but with some plants like peppers I add both Thumbs up
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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Jul 31, 2016 9:59 AM CST
ediblelandscapingsc said:Sue they are just examples, but with some plants like peppers I add both Thumbs up


Glad you clarified that Daniel. Why do you add both to peppers?

Name: Daniel Erdy
Catawba SC (Zone 7b)
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ediblelandscapingsc
Jul 31, 2016 1:50 PM CST
in my experience peppers benefit from both calcium and a little bit of sulfur. I always knew they liked calcium but an old farmer once told me to put 6 match heads around each of my pepper plants one year so I did and they grew a lot better that year than in previous years. since then I just used a little sulfur instead of the match heads and they seem love it. Before I used the sulfur I was lucky to get 7 or 8 large bell peppers per plant but now when I do plant peppers which it's been over 2 years since I've last grown them but I get 10-12 large bells per plant with the added sulfur. There are a few articles on the effects of sulfur on pepper plants but not many. The trick is not too add to much maybe a tablespoon per plant though I never measured it, I just used what I thought would be the equivalent to the 6 match heads Thumbs up

Did you know that you can also overwinter your bell pepper plants in a greenhouse and the following year you'll have 7ft tall plants and easily get 30-40 large bells per plant. I did this also one year but keeping the plants alive in my unheated greenhouse was a chore so I'm not sure it's worth the headache for me to do it again but if you already are using a heated greenhouse for other plants you could tuck a potted pepper plant in a corner somewhere until next spring and I promise you'll be amazed at how much better a 2 year old plant preforms. just thought I'd throw that out there for any peeper fans reading this thread.
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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Jul 31, 2016 2:03 PM CST
As an alternative to peat for various purposes, coir (coconut fiber) is both better ecologically (it's essentially a waste product from coconut production) and less susceptible to the objectionable water repellent behavior of bone dry peat. It is available in larger chunks as a long-lived mulch (for use as insulation above the soil, not to break down and provide nutrients), or ground more finely for use in soil mixes and soil amendment. Choose the ground up kind for mixing into soil. I use about 25% for my potted plants and maybe half or a quarter that much when I amend soil from holes in the ground. Coir has a much longer lifespan compared to normal compost and can absorb about 5 times its weight in water, which is a useful thing in our dry climate.
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Jul 31, 2016 2:12 PM CST
porkpal said:An indication of how well your soil drains is how long it takes a hole you dig and fill with water takes to empty. Some clay soils can actually drain adequately for most plants.


Here is a link to show how to do a perk test.
http://www.todayshomeowner.com/diy-soil-drainage-perk-test-f...

Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Daniel Erdy
Catawba SC (Zone 7b)
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ediblelandscapingsc
Jul 31, 2016 2:26 PM CST
Baja you just need to be picky with which brand of cocopeat you use especialy if using as a peat moss substitute in potting mixes because some have high salt contents. It's best to use what's called buffered or exchanged cocopeat as it tends to be more stable but in small amounts any cocopeat brand will work well for moisture retention and like you said is a renewable resource. I use it sometimes in conjunction with peat moss. I've also used rice hulls as a sub for perlite in the past but both have a little further to come along before it's a cost effective alternative to the more common soil amendments.
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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Jul 31, 2016 3:27 PM CST
I have been warned of the dreaded salty coir, Thank You! but the nursery that I trust has provided three different brands "for horticultural use" or similar over the years, and I have had no problems with any mulch or ground product. I wet the coir with tap water but do not wash it.

Presumably the packaging would stress washing if salt was in there, but in my mind I would lay the responsibility for a safe product in the hands of the people at the nursery you trust. Should they provide salty coir, they are not choosing the supplier or product right. When in doubt wash away, by all means... but that has not been necessary in my experience.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Jul 31, 2016 3:36 PM (+)]
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Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
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stone
Aug 1, 2016 6:17 AM CST
In Ohio, you should be able to grow most anything.... Without worrying overmuch about drainage.

I'd like to know what specific plants your question concerns.

There are some plants like lavender and rosemary that can not be grown in clay.... But for most gardening, clay is tough to beat.

Clay retains moisture and nutrients, and even played out soils are easily brought back into production.
Name: Deborah Pryor
Orangeburg, SC Zone 8a (Zone 8a)
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Deebie
Aug 1, 2016 7:10 AM CST
Stone, I have to agree with you. I have a little over 2 acres and my backyard neighbor has about 3 1/2. His plants, especially daylilies grow amazingly well compared to mine. So I went over to investigate (and to beg for some of his divisions). It turns out that his property is close to the highway and his soil is mostly clay on top. I have loamy soil with clay almost a foot down. His clay soil retains more moisture and he does not need to fertilize or water as much as I do. I have to say that although I love my loamy soil, in the heat of the summer, I'd rather have his clay mixed soil. nodding By the way, I can grow rosemary, but he can't. Whistling

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