Da Kitty Code
I’ve been adopted by a cat. Her name is Acorn. She’s the neighbor’s kitty. The garden has always been overrun with neighboring cats to some degree. There was one I remember in particular that my daughter named George though it should have been Georgette. George was always over in the garden the moment I came out. George was so affectionate that she apparently forgot she was a...
Ever since a small boy, I have loved just to look at the mountains, to see them...– Wilfrid Noyce
Monthly Garden Report for September
Is September over already? I haven’t even started canning the peaches. September is always so short and so full of digressions. Scraping and painting the porch railings, waxing the wood floors, getting the rain gutter replaced before the rain comes, cleaning the carpets, cleaning out the HVAC, and canning, and canning, and canning. I hate September. I hate being the proverbial ant busily...
The south border summer perennial performance was a disappointment. The new border by the fence in the back was a disappointment. The anorexic strip on the north of the playhouse has always been a disappointment and now it’s getting on my nerves as has the strip of grass to the north of the driveway that is slowly being taken over by crabgrass and bindweed. With the new lines cut for the...
Do not burn yourselves out…Save the other half of yourselves and your...– Edward Abbey
Let's Get Political
Addendum: Di did get around to posting my original comments and a follow-up comment, here. In all fairness, here’s a thanks to Di for putting up my comments and I extend apologies on any accusation of censorship. Our opinions may different, but you put up the comments and replied to them. And your garden inspires no small degree of covetousness here. As to a rejoinder, I think this post...
When you know that your local IGC needs to give its employees a refresher course on native plants and some customer service tips:
I&P: Do you have any fernbush?
Local IGC employee: Hmm...fernbush...no, sorry. But I do have some ferns. We're running low on everything because of our fall sale.
On the way to the car, I&P spots 3 Chamaebatiaria millefolium bushes in 5 gallon containers from the parking lot by chance and goes back to purchase one. Later on at checkout:
Local IGC employee: Will that be everything today? What a lovely plant! It's too bad we didn't have that fernbush for you. That'll be $36. I just need your credit card and your "autograph." «rings up order»
I&P: Uhh...wasn't this marked off 40%?
Local IGC employee: Oh! Whoops! You're right. I'll just have to ring this up as a return. «rings up return» Now I'll need your autograph twice!
Once upon a time, May to be exact, I pooh-poohed hybrids as unworthy. I’m coming around on that one. When heirlooms got traction a little over a decade ago, the fervor seemed to focus on tomatoes. The popular ones like Brandywine and Green Zebra got such a PR boost you can easily find them growing in nurseries along Early Girls and Beefsteaks. From tomatoes it spread to just about...
The comments over at GardenRant about my post reminded me that I have an issue with flair. I put this up in honor of whimsy: how many pieces of flair do you have in your garden?
My GardenRant post for Guest Week →
This post has become as I called it in my Twitter feed, something of a small incendiary device lobbed into the blogosphere. I should have left out the second to last paragraph, as it’s the only aspect of my post that I’m on the fence about. Dan Hinkley uses ornament because it’s fun. But, it’s very subtly used and I don’t think you could go buy the same thing for your...
Coach/Landscaper? Never Again!
A neighbor down the street asked me to spiff up a barren weed patch of a bed under her aspens. She gave the caveat that she was no “garden girl” and that she wanted something that would look nice but be low maintenance. I figured “woodland groundcover” and I filled it out accordingly and added some shrubs to fill in the understory. And, as they were on sale for a steal, I...
I won’t apologize too profusely for having written so little this summer. ...– Dan Hinkley smackdown from his most recent blog post “Autumnal Redress.”
Really Know Your Soil, People pt. 2
This is the second half of my conversation with Dr. Cardon about our dirt. In the first half, we talked about the actual make-up of our soil, and in this session we talk about the best ways to go about amending it. Again, thanks to Dr. Cardon for his willingness to participate right at the beginning of the school year, and I hope that this is helpful to not only my fellow native Utahns, but everyone else, too.
I&P: Are soil amendments like compost and other organic matter really a one-size-fits-all solution for attacking sandy/clayey/silty soils or should you apply specific fixes depending on what soil you have?
GC: Additions of organic matter and good soil management—e.g., reducing compaction incidence, minimizing heavy tillage, good fertility management, avoiding the overuse of pesticides, etc.—will promote the development of soil structure and aggregation which enhance soil tilth and function regardless of the sand, silt or clay proportions in the soil.
I&P: It seems like you are more concerned about people over-tilling their soil and compacting it rather than what kind of soil it is or what they are adding to it. That's interesting because there is some question about what is the best method for incorporating organic materials in your soil. The traditional approach is to dig it in, but many are beginning to advocate that one should just spread her compost/peat moss/leaf mold over the surface of the soil rather than dig it in and unwittingly destroy the soil structure.
GC: Surface application can work well, and is often the only way to apply organic materials in perennial plantings where one cannot till without damaging the plants. Soil insects and other fauna can incorporate surface applied organic matter down to a depth of 6 to 8 inches, even deeper in some cases. Digging or tilling are still great ways to incorporate organic materials, and can be protective of soil structure if done properly. One needs to avoid tilling if the soil is too dry or too wet. If the soil is too dry the tiller does not bite to its full depth and bounces on the surface causing compaction and pulverization of surface structure. If the soil is too wet, the tiller smears aggregates and larger pores below the surface and causes a sealed, compacted layer at the depth of the tillers. One can tell if the soil is OK for tillage if the tiller gets a complete bite without creating large muddy clods at the surface.
I&P: So, to make your soil a friendlier environment for growing plants, you recommend to amend your soil with organic material, reduce the use of pesticides, avoid tilling it or compacting it under certain conditions, rotate crops. That's great for a traditional flower garden or a crop of corn, but what about the move towards using native plants in the gardens? Many of these plants like Penstemons, do not grow well in improved soils so how should a person wanting to grow these plants approach their reports? Should they even bother?
GC: Using organic materials to promote soil structure is not the problem with native plants; the problem is the coincidental application of highly soluble nutrients often found in the materials one adds. The addition of high nutrient content organic matter (especially composts from home and yard wastes, and animal manures) will promote the growth of weeds and this causes a competition that reduces the likelihood of native plant establishment and vigor. If one does add organic material under a native planting, be sure that it is a well-composted plant-based material like a natural peat or woody waste material, AND that it has not had any fertilizer added to the mix.
I&P: But I've also heard that the problem with soil amendments and native plants is not just the nutrients in the organic matter, as organic matter also has the property to retain water and that can wreak havoc on plants, especially those adapted to arid climates with soils that are extremely low in organic matter. I have a hard time believing my cacti would thrive in a bed amended with natural peat.
GC: One can promote soil structure development/maintenance with small applications of organic matter without large increases in water retention. Be sure to add only the amount of material that is cycled in a given year by the microbes in the soil. In Utah this is typically on the order of an inch (or less in some drier areas) of material incorporated 4 to 6 inches deep. If not replenished in some fashion, existing organic matter holding aggregates together, will decompose and be lost, thereby reducing soil structure rapidly over time. There is another aspect of all this for native plants, namely water management, that cannot be separated from good soil management. In native plantings one must carefully control water application, or think of it as managed water withholding, actually. So, promote (at least maintain) good soil structure and then restrict water input as recommended for optimum performance of a given planting. That way, what water you do add is an appropriate amount, penetrates the soil freely, and is held in the root zone for metered use by the plant without being in excess.
Really Know Your Soil, People pt. 1
To settle the dirt debate between myself and my fellow Utah bloggers, I called in a professional. Dr. Grant Cardon is an Associate Professor and an Extension Soils Specialist at Utah State University. He makes a profession of studying environmental soil and water impacts and soil science, and is especially interested in soil fertility testing, and soil management and sustainability. I thought he was especially well qualified to settle the matter and to help us all get a better understanding of our dirt before we start lobbing it at each other. The Q & A is a bit long for one post so I broke it into two parts. This is great stuff, and thanks so much to Dr. Cardon for taking time to share his expertise.
I&P: So, Dr. Cardon, if you are living in along the Wasatch front, what kind of soil do you have? There's some debate as to whether it's clay or sand around here.
GC: Great question and I can see why you have had some significant discussion about it. If you look at the bulk landforms and geology alone, the immediate "categorical" summary is that soils go from clayey in the lower foot-slopes and valleys, to increasingly sandy and gravely (even rocky) as you move higher up on the benches.
I&P: So it's both. But shouldn't you be able to tell what kind of soil you are going to have in your neighborhood just by your location? If you're living in the foothills your soil will be rocky and sandy and if you live on the valley floor, it's going to have more clay?
GC: The majority of soils follow the bulk categorical distribution, but individual property owners may have GREATLY different conditions depending on the history of that location. Soil mapping really only takes the bulk categorical landforms and geology into account. I, for instance, live on a mid-slope area along the bench in North Logan. You would expect my soil to be pretty coarse textured (more sandy and rocky) and that is indeed the case. Three houses further up the slope, however, the soil is very clayey due to an old stream cross cut that left a clayey deposit in an old meander across my neighbor's property. His soil is very much less rocky until you get a foot down in the profile. At depth, his subsoil is very much like mine and adheres to the categorical soil description.
I&P: So it sounds like the only way to know for sure what kind of soil you have on any given quarter acre is to get it tested. But if the substrate is sandy or rocky under the clay soil, won't it eventually revert back through working your land and through erosion? In other words, should you consider your backyard soil as static or should you continually plan on rechecking it to see how it changes?
GC: For all intents and purposes, your backyard soil should be considered static in its basic physical properties. Normal tilling and seedbed preparation will not mix soils to a large enough extent to alter the basic soil physical properties, but it can have an adverse effect on soil structure.
I&P: What about these do-it-yourself soil tests in a jar where you shake up the dirt in water and let it stratify? If it doesn't really matter what type of soil you have if you amend it and practice good soil management, then why bother with a professional extension soil test when you can find out what type of soil you have from the jar test?
GC: Wow, that could be a whole Q&A session on its own. Let me just say that the jar test is an excellent approximation of soil particle distribution and is sufficient to categorize your soil according to its texture. With soil texture, you can learn a lot about your soil’s properties from existing tables of standard information. You can determine, for instance, the relative difficulty you will have getting water and air into and out of the soil, the compaction and erosion potential, the need for remedial soil structure enhancement, etc.—all from bulk soil texture. The basic soil test at USU only gives you an estimate of soil texture by feel which is also designed to categorize the soil, not to provide highly precise sand, silt or clay percentages. So, the jar method is just as good. One really need not have precise sand, silt and clay percentages unless they are doing detailed soil studies, or evaluating the engineering properties of the soil. It really doesn’t matter where you test the soil for texture, only that you do. The advantage of a routine Extension soil test, however, is that it includes texture, soil pH, soil salinity, and Phosphorus and Potassium nutrient levels all in one.