UpHome Main Article Index More Red Clay Articles
Mrs. GreenThumb's Article Archive
Gardening in Georgia Clay, Part III
by Daryl Pulis

In my last column, I wrote about good soil preparation for fall planting. To recap, till the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches, then add two to three inches of course organic matter plus a couple of inches of finer material such as mushroom compost. This will give you a nice raised bed for planting your annuals, perennials and shrubs.

But what about peat moss? What about sand? What about adding good stuff to the planting hole, like all the pretty colored tags say to do? I asked that question last week of Dr. Timothy Smalley of the University of Georgia Horticulture Department. Dr. Smalley has done extensive tests on many planting methods. It was he that did the initial study that showed that there is no gain in adding "good stuff" to the hole when planting trees. His studies also indicate no improvement with adding up to 10 percent sand to the planting bed. He said he hadn't tested plain peat moss yet, but I can tell you of my experience when I first moved to Georgia.

After the moving van had left, and I was saying goodbye to my mother-in-law, she let me know that she'd dug a sackfull of bulbs for me to plant at my new home, and had put them under the front seat of my car. She cautioned me to get them in the ground right away so that I'd have something to look forward to in the spring. As moves often go, I arrived at my new home long before the moving van, so decided to tackle the job right away.

I borrowed a shovel from my father, who had moved here several years before. I chose a couple of likely spots right by the front door, and tried to dig. Nothing! The shovel didn't make a dent. Dad said that it had been a dry summer, and that he'd bring his pickaxe the next day.

Early the next morning, I took aim at my soon-to-be flowerbed and with a mighty swing, bounced the pickaxe off the stone-like soil! This was nothing I had encountered before, but having read all of the books, I knew that Peat Moss was to be my savior. I soaked the soil overnight so that I could get a shovel into it, then added an entire bale of peatmoss to the two small beds near the front door. At last it looked like a garden, and I dutifully planted my mother-in-law's choice bulbs.

The next spring, the bulbs gave a glorious show, and I was pleased by how clever I had been. Over the summer, I found other places that needed some color, and when fall came, I decided to move some of the bulbs to a new home.

"The front door beds look a bit odd," I thought as I approached them; sort of sunken, like the caldera of a volcano. I dug into the bed and realized that all there was left of the peat moss was a brown stain. That's why the beds had sunk! All of the peat had decomposed over the summer. Since then, I've learned that coarse organic matter is needed in Georgia since our hot, humid climate breaks down the finer stuff at a great rate. The fine stuff is great for loosening up our soil for a bit, but over the long haul, some bigger chunks are needed, too.

And then there's the dreaded "Bathtub Effect" which often occurs when we dig a hole in our hard clay soil. I asked Dr. Smalley why the hangtags on the plants we purchased told us to dig a deep hole and add organic matter to the planting hole. He said, "They don't read the literature".

To be fair, in cooler parts of the country that have better soil, those planting directions work. Dr. Smalley has found no benefit to that treatment here in Georgia. Further, by adding organic matter to the planting hole several things can happen. One is that the clay traps the water, and the organic matter creates a sponge effect, and our plants can drown if we have a wet spell. Another is that in moderate rainfall conditions, roots will tend to stay in the planting hole instead of colonizing the surrounding soil, and the third is, as I mentioned, that the soil in the hole will sink down, leaving your tree or shrub planted too deep.

So what to do? For planting in beds, follow the added organics method. I'll discuss planting single trees and shrubs in my next column.

UpHome Main Article Index More Red Clay Articles

Copyright© 1992-2002 Daryl Pulis. All rights reserved. No portions of this Web site or its contents may be copied without the express written consent of the owner.
Website design & development by SpotOn Marketing.