Home Gardening and Landscaping – Working With Hard Clay Soil

One of the biggest problems facing gardeners living with indigenous clay soil as they work to beautify their homes’ landscaping and gardens is the soil’s natural characteristics. Definitely a challenge to work but the soil’s obstacles can be conquered.

Clay presents several challenges to good plant growth. Just as a good foundation is the base of a solidly built home, so does soil provide the foundation for the growth, appearance, and health of plants.

Clay soil is heavily burdened by its innate characteristics. Clay soil is hard, sticky,difficult to work, especially vulnerable to water saturation and poor drainage. However, with all its short comings, clay soil has a strong redeeming quality, it is nutrient rich. So the landscaping and garden enthusiasts simply must decide a process to overcome its weaknesses, of which there are many, and accent its positive, a naturally nutrient rich composition.

It seems everyone has a theory, a type of “magic bullet” that will solve the soil’s problems and create a workable medium for plants. Oddly enough their unique solution is the practical remedy. A specific chemical additive, a certain time of the year, no offense intended to the farmer’s almanac, or a study that scientifically proves the only viable process. Please allow a slight diversion from the garden and landscaping world for a moment as you will be provided a recent historical analogy. During our nation’s recent economic downturn, experts all over the country were trying to convince the American public that the “old” theory of ” buy and hold quality investments” was outdated and a true dinosaur. The Dow dropped to the 7000 level and these economic evangelists were in their element. “Use my method and you will be assured long-term success. “Act quickly and avoid the inevitable future drop.” Well, the Dow came back and those trumping a miracle cure are relegated to the fringes of acceptable economic practices. But not to worry, they will again surface during the next downturn and be just as enthusiastic as ever. So it is with the clay soil. The good news is you will not invest your life’s savings, a little sweat and labor to be sure but the dividends you will earn will be worth the effort.

A couple of simple tests can determine the necessity to prepare the soil. One thing is for sure, if you live in an area populated with clay soil you can be assured it is compacted,poorly aerated, and has drainage issues. But, if you must, just to convince yourself, by all means perform a test for proper soil drainage. First pick up a hand full of dirt and squeeze firmly. Should it fall apart easily the soil is probably good for planting. Another simple test. Dig a hole 6 inches deep fill with water allowing it to drain. Refill again tracking the drainage time. If more than 8 hours your soil is retaining too much water. The most successful method to determine the need for water is a simple inexpensive, and accurate soil tester which may be purchased from a green house supplier. Soggy soil will produce poor plant growth. The symptoms are very easy to spot. Poor plant appearance, droopy leaves or poor production of blooms or fruit.

Now that your curiosity is satisfied and you have proven to yourself what you really already knew begin preparing the soil for planting. The steps of the process are:

1) Remove existing vegetation.

2) Till the soil to 8 – 12 inch depth.

3) Add 1 – 2 inches of organic matter.

4) Add 1 – 2 inches of sandy loam.

5) Add 20 – 30 pounds of gypsum per 1000 square feet.

6) Add fertilizer.

7) Till the soil between the above steps.

Sure you can hire a professional to do the work but by doing the work yourself you will reap the pride of a job well done and gain confidence that will prepare you for your next gardening project.

Once you see the results of your labor in your garden or landscape you will realize you can do a professional job with just a little planning and preparation. Don’t forget the money you will save.

Create a Garden and Patio Design To Enjoy Year-Round

Retreat to a garden and patio design that’s beautiful year-round, and takes minimum fuss. What makes this possible? Carefree plants with continuous blooms, and a well-planned garden structure.

You don’t need to be a lawn and garden expert or landscape designer to do this. Here are a few tips for creating a super yet simple garden and patio design that will be a knockout!

The first step is to take a birds-eye view of your garden and patio area. Make a rough sketch of your space, and play around with a few designs until you like what you see. As you’re doing this, get some great ideas from existing garden and patio decorations. Pay a visit to other people’s gardens, or public gardens. Look through home landscaping and gardening magazines, find what you like, and develop plans of your own.

Decide what style or theme is right for you… formal, casual, rustic, Southwestern, Japanese… there are enormous possibilities. Then stay with that style and theme so the overall effect does not become confusing. For instance, you wouldn’t want to combine bronze garden sculptures of saints or cherubs with rustic wooden wagon wheels.

Imagine what your patio area will most often be used for. You may plan to entertain lots of outdoor dinner guests. If so, be sure your patio space has plenty of room for the largest number of people right from the beginning. Your patio may be more of a private, reflective retreat for enjoying the sun, reading a book, or gazing up at the stars. Determine the use of shade, open sun, or even covering it with a roof.

Now take your favorite ideas and put them into your rough plans – and soon you’ll have a design that is ready for action.

The next step is to create your garden and patio design to scale – you can use landscaping software for this, or do it by hand. Choose the flowers you intend to plant, noting how many you will need for each month of your growing season, and select the landscaping structures that will give your design its form.

Some say the secret to a beautiful garden and patio design is having a good amount of hard structure. This is what landscape designers refer to as “good bones” – walls, fences, garden bridges, gates, garden arbors, landscape statues, garden fountains … even a strong line of evergreen plants.

Garden structures such as these create forms and lines, giving your garden and patio design definition and dimension. Plus, in the winter when most plants are empty and bare, your garden will preserve its shape and sense of completeness. It’s amazing how just one or two structures can produce this satisfying effect.

Most garden and landscaping structures are built to withstand the elements. Treated pine, cedar and teak garden furniture, trellises, arbors, and decorative fencing are great choices. Stone, copper, and bronze garden statuary will never let you down. Garden fountains bring incredible beauty and atmosphere to any garden and patio design – in fact, entire gardens have been built around them.

Next, choose annual spring flowers and perennial plants that will give you blooms from one season to the next. For instance, select carefree roses that need no pruning or spraying, and bloom continuously from spring through fall. Fill planters with beautiful blooming flowers such as Oriental lilies or verbena for different colors all summer long. Establish flower beds in corners or along walk ways. Always consider your local climate and plant according to the sun and shade needs of your plants.

As you plan your garden and patio design, create paths or walk ways that lead from one area to the next. Rambling garden paths are relaxing and charming… and if laid out thoughtfully, will be a big help to you as the gardener. Paths can be of stone, brick, flagstone, gravel, or mown turf, although grass paths require more upkeep. Garden sculptures or sitting benches thoughtfully placed along the way provide wonderful expression.

If you want garden and patio designs that are pre-drawn, there are ready-made plans available in books and magazines. This is another fine way to get off to a solid start. Use pre-made garden plans from start to finish, or incorporate parts of them right into you own creative plans.

Copyright 2006 Robert Mosse

Garden and Landscape Paths

Paths add a certain charm to a yard that can not be had any other way. It invites you to step interact with the elements. When you look at a well laid out path with beautiful foliage around it, you can’t help, but want to walk on it.

Natural and Hand Made

The most inviting paths look handmade. You can imagine yourself living in the forest as an explorer who made the first path through the forest. These paths look awesome in select flagstone. Some people also prefer brick or pavers. Hard stone is necessary for high traffic paths.

Path Plants

A good path has a lot of low growing perennials and flowers growing right up to the edge of the path. The plants should be well maintained. In addition, moss and grass growing between stones is a great look.

Path Size

Three feet is pretty average for the size. If you want to walk hand in hand with your loved one, then 5 feet is a good choice.

Path Lights

You need a way to get to your exotic flowers or outdoor shower. In the summer, your yard will be much more fun if you can see where you are walking.

Wood Paths

Another choice is decking materials. You might use redwood or cedar on railroad ties or pressure treated posts to make your path. This will give you a more formal look. You can create stronger lines with this type of path.

Where is the End of the Path?

Keep in mind that what makes a path fun is that you can’t see the end. You want the path to take you to a “secret” unique place. Also, smaller yards will appear larger by gradually diminishing the path to make it appear longer.