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Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
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joannakat
May 31, 2017 12:22 PM CST
Hi everyone. I'm hoping that someone will be able to advise me on this matter.

Last fall, I built some raised beds. I got help because there were so many rocks just beneath the topsoil that I couldn't see how anything but grass could survive. The strong and wonderful guy dug down about a foot, and removed all the rocks. Beneath that level, there were more rocks, but fewer per square foot, and much more soil.

The raised beds are about 10 inches above the original soil line. I filled in the beds using compost and planting mix, and for the most part, mixing it well with the existing soil which has a Ph of 6, and is a bit sandy. The compost I used is made by Coast of Maine. It's cow manure and has sphagnum peat moss in it. I haven't used any since. http://coastofmaine.com/produc...

The mix I used to amend the ground soil is also made by Coast of Maine. It's supposed to be a complete planting mix, but also contains compost and peat: http://coastofmaine.com/produc...

Drainage is good (maybe too good?). Water never pools. When I water, even when I use a full flow, the water soaks through immediately. When I squeeze a bit of the amended soil in my hand after a rain or after watering, it holds its shape, but no water, not even a drop, can be squeezed out. It feels cool and moist to the touch but is not wet. It crumbles very easily and though dark and rich in appearance, it has a somewhat sandy texture to it.

The problem is that most of my plants wilt--it started with just the peonies. They are all young having been planted either last fall (peonies, bare root) or this spring (potted plants). They wilt even in cool weather after a rain. I don't think this is a problem of too much water because they respond by perking up almost immediately after I sprinkle the ground with about a cup of water at their base.

Tulips, narcissus and grape hyacinth did very well, and finished blooming this week. Their remaining greenery appears strong and beautiful. However, almost all my other plants are experiencing the wilting.

I did speak with the wonderful people at Hollingsworth Peonies (highly recommended) and they did state that the immature peonies are obviously having difficulty accessing moisture. It also looks as if my new lilies (planted last fall) and poppies are having the same problem. If anyone has an idea as to why, please speak! One of the things they asked me was whether we have burrowing creatures. We do have ground squirrels (chipmunks?) but I don't think they've tunneled in that particular area.

So the two questions I'm asking are:
1. What is the problem?
2. If it's the soil, what can I do to retain moisture better?

Ask me questions! If we can find the solution, maybe we can prevent someone else from having the same problem. Thanking you all in advance.
AKA Joey.
[Last edited by joannakat - May 31, 2017 2:19 PM (+)]
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Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
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Philipwonel
May 31, 2017 4:22 PM CST
Humm ?😕? Joanna ?😕😕😕?
Sounds like stuff you bought was to porous.
Natural soil is sandy ! Right ?
Maybe ? Peat moss. Vermiculite. Soil amendment.
Were working hear ! Right ! 😘
CLAY !!!??? Shrug!
😎😎😎
Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.
Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
May 31, 2017 4:26 PM CST
The peat is too prominent in the mix. Next time...add some pine fines (tiny pieces of pine bark), home made compost, and maybe some well-composted cow manure. Once peat dries out it is nearly impossible to re-wet the darn stuff. Good luck and take photos! Thumbs up
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~"Leaf of Faith"
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
May 31, 2017 4:37 PM CST
Sounds like your soil drains too quickly which means that the roots of your plants aren't getting enough water and thus dry out.

Conversely, if your soil had drained too slowly, the roots would have been sitting in water too long and probably rot.

Either way means you need to amend your soil. The compost was good but you might have too much peat. I think you'll want to add some rock minerals. Lava sand and greensand are supposed to be good but I'm no expert.

Here's 2 links to our local gardening guru who people either love or hate.
The 1st is brief. He tells you why he doesn't like peat.
The 2nd one has alternatives.

https://www.dirtdoctor.com/gar...

https://www.dirtdoctor.com/gar...
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
May 31, 2017 4:38 PM CST
Thanks @greene. Photos here, but only of the wilting peonies. Today was much worse even though it rained a bit last night--my poppies and lilies were wilting, though yet again, the left-over narcissus and tulip greens are just fine. Seeds are sprouting well too.

I'll have some worm compost soon--I'm sure that'll help.
Thumb of 2017-05-31/joannakat/e54303 Thumb of 2017-05-31/joannakat/15b996

AKA Joey.
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
May 31, 2017 4:49 PM CST
I should mention that I filled a hole with water and counted to see how long it would take before the water seeped through. It was 10 seconds.
AKA Joey.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
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RickCorey
May 31, 2017 4:59 PM CST
>> Drainage is good (maybe too good?).

I thought that mixing it with somewhat sandy soil would provide enough drainage. But maybe not. (I'm a drainage fanatic, since I can't stop over-watering, and have always lived where "soil" means "heavy clay".)

Maybe the peat sucks the water INTO the raised bed, but never lets it drain away into sub-soil.

What does your bed sit on? Sand, clay, gravel, loam, solid rock?

Or is there a layer where the fine-ness of the soil changes abruptly? That can cause "perched water" where a soil column acts as if it had a solid plastic barrier at the point where a fine mix sits on top of a coarse mix.

If that peaty/organic mix stays quite wet in the root zone, it might not allow enough air to enter the soil for the roots to get the oxygen they need. Like a college frat boy in a phone booth FILLED with beer, they get plenty of water, but not enough air. When the roots drown, they can't take up water, and the plant dies of thirst (because its roots drowned). Sounds paradoxical.

You have to let some of the water out of the soil, by increasing drainage with grit (coarser than sand) or Perlite or bark chunks around 0.1 inch to maybe as large as 1/4". (2.5 mm to 5-6 mm). Letting excess water OUT is necessary, so that air can get IN.

Soil, especially a soil mix in a container, needs to have both "macro-pores" and "meso-pores" - air spaces in the mix that CAN fill with water, but that SHOULD drain empty before the root hairs and tiny roots drown. That's why fast drainage is necessary.

If the mix only has meso-pores and micro-pores, there will not be enough "air highways" to allow sufficient diffusion of O2 and CO2 into and out of the soil-less mix.

Hardly any gas at all diffuses through a water-logged mix, or soil.

"Typically, a compound's diffusion coefficient is ~10,000× as great in air as in water."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

https://garden.org/thread/view...
[Last edited by RickCorey - May 31, 2017 5:03 PM (+)]
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Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
May 31, 2017 5:03 PM CST
Thanks so much @RickCorey, but my problem, I believe, is the opposite. Either that, or something else. Regardless, the soil never gets soggy, no matter how much I water it.
AKA Joey.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
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RickCorey
May 31, 2017 5:05 PM CST
OK, then what I've been saying is flat wrong (or rather, does not apply to your problem at all). Sorry!

I don't have any experience with TOO-GOOD drainage!
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
May 31, 2017 5:14 PM CST
RickCorey said:OK, then what I've been saying is flat wrong (or rather, does not apply to your problem at all). Sorry!

I don't have any experience with TOO-GOOD drainage!


I'll go with the latter. Sounds quite right to me, just for another situation.

I put a lot of thought into my plant choices. Every one I chose does well with good watering, but only when coupled with really good drainage. I tested the soil before planting and concluded that, indeed, it had really good drainage. But now I don't know!

Someone suggested that the salt content of the mixture is too high which would also cause wilting. Any thoughts anyone?
AKA Joey.
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
May 31, 2017 5:34 PM CST
joannakat said:I should mention that I filled a hole with water and counted to see how long it would take before the water seeped through. It was 10 seconds.


Yep. You did an abbreviated version of a 'perk test'. The long version is to dig a really deep hole and water it and take measurements, etc. You can find a lot about it on the web. But I've done it the way you did and had the same results. Not surprisingly, nothing was growing in the area where I did my little perk test.

Get some lava sand. It's supposed to be miraculous. But I will refer you back to the previous links I gave you. I did look at some other local organic gardening centers guides and they all recommended the same ingredients.

You really don't need to get too technical. You've got compost. Now you need some type of rock mineral and something else to stimulate the soil - sugar! Well, not table sugar but liquid or dried molasses come to mind. There are many others.
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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tx_flower_child
May 31, 2017 5:38 PM CST
If you really want to know everything about your soil, and I don't think you do, you can spend some money and get a comprehensive soil test. If you want a reference to one, just let me know.

About salt - yes, it's not too good for people or soil. Not sure what would make your soil salty unless it's something in one of the products you used.
[Last edited by tx_flower_child - May 31, 2017 5:51 PM (+)]
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
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RickCorey
May 31, 2017 5:39 PM CST
>> Someone suggested that the salt content of the mixture is too high which would also cause wilting. Any thoughts anyone?

Strong or fresh manure can be salty.
Over-fertilizing would add salt.

But "they say" that people with great drainage can always flush salts away.

Umm ... just guessing wildly now ... besides burrowing critters, might your area be prone to soil diseases or some kind of grub that eats roots? The people at Hollingsworth Peonies might not know your local pests and diseases, but the local ag extension people would.

UMass?
https://ag.umass.edu/

Anyway, if you pick some plant that is clearly giving up, and dig up its root ball, you might learn something. Again, now I'm just guessing.



North Central TX (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
May 31, 2017 6:03 PM CST
Sorry. Can't comment any more for a little bit because I got bit! Some skeeter snuck in my room and I now have 3 bites. Anyway, there's a lot of stuff about the problem of soil salinity on the web.
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
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joannakat
May 31, 2017 6:19 PM CST
tx_flower_child said:Sorry. Can't comment any more for a little bit because I got bit! Some skeeter snuck in my room and I now have 3 bites. Anyway, there's a lot of stuff about the problem of soil salinity on the web.


OH NO! Two words for you: Ice cubes. Okay, three: Now.
AKA Joey.
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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tx_flower_child
May 31, 2017 10:57 PM CST
@joannakat - Thank you. Hadn't heard about using ice before.

And speaking of ice . . .

I know that you live in Massachusetts but I obviously don't know your address. What I'm getting at is that you live somewhere that actually has winter weather. There's an interesting article from UMass (thank you @RickCorey) that describes the impact of salts on plants from winter salt applications. Of course for all I know you might live out in the boonies and never use rock salt or be near a road that has rock salt, etc. So if you think there might have been some de-icing going on, it certainly could have added some unwanted salt to your soil (unbeknownst to you). Here's a link to that article.
https://ag.umass.edu/landscape...

Or else never mind and refer back to the first links I posted regarding amendments.
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
Jun 1, 2017 7:26 AM CST
Thanks @tx_flower_child! I live in a small town, which is sort of the boonies, but not that far from a highway that is salted each time it gets icy or snowy. I'm uphill of the highway so runoff shouldn't be an issue, yet, it is food for thought. I'll definitely read the article. And your input is appreciated.
AKA Joey.
North Central TX (Zone 8a)
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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tx_flower_child
Jun 2, 2017 12:33 PM CST
I've been mulling over the salt issue while I'm busy wasting time. Last night it occurred to me that liquid seaweed and liquid fish emulsion are both widely used with good effects by organic gardeners, myself included. And seaweed, or kelp, surely has a degree of salt in it. So I haven't googled it yet but hope that there are different types of salt, chemically speaking.

As for tunneling critters, I don't think squirrels make tunnels per se. They do a lot of digging and I'd like to ring their little necks. They dig to bury acorns and then they forget where they stashed 'em and do more digging. But that's not the same as tunneling. All I know about chipmunks is that they can scurry very fast and their tails are straight up when they do. No idea if they tunnel. Don't really think tunneling is your problem anyway.

I think I heard this on one of the videos I watched last night, but someone said you can do a quick taste test to determine if your soil is salty. (you're welcome)
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
Jun 2, 2017 6:14 PM CST
@tx_flower_child, extremely good point about the salts. The soil and compost I used is fortified with seaweed, and I used fish emulsion to water them. Hollingworth has advised me as to how to leach the soil so that, if there is an accumulation of salts, they'll be washed away.

Chipmunks do borrow and tunnel, big time. I don't think that's the problem either, but just for the greater knowledge, they build amazing underground homes.
AKA Joey.
Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
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Philipwonel
Jun 2, 2017 6:28 PM CST
Flower ! Alert ! Alert !
What, critter bit you ? Ground squrills carry all sorts of diseases, rabies, etc.
They dont climb trees, they were live in burrows in ground, eat anything on ground, even dead animals. Ugly gray color, scronty hair tails.
Chipmunks dig burrows, love pinecones, have two white stripes from head to tails. Diseases ?
Tree squrills. They live in trees, feed only on nuts, which they bury, there pretty in color and have pretty bushey tails, there the kind people eat, so i dont, BELIVE ! They carry any diseases. So, im concerned that you get checked by Doctor !!!
Please !!!
😎😎😎
Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.

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