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Rose Care Basics

Beginners often become confused with the many recommendations and suggestions for growing roses. However, it is important to start with the basic guidelines for successful rose growing. Roses can thrive under many conditions, but they are sure to grow better, with more luxurious blooms and fewer problems, when you follow the basics. 

Prepare the Soil 

The proper soil is essential to nourish roses so they can grow to their full potential. To make the soil ideal for roses… 

  1. Take a soil sample to test the pH, either with a home testing kit or through your local extension service. Roses like a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. You may need to add sulfur to lower it to the optimum rose range.
  2. Incorporate composted cow manure or other healthy compost into the soil. This will provide superior drainage and excellent organic material for roses to absorb.

Planting Roses

If they aren’t planted properly, roses won’t thrive as well as they could. Improper planting could even damage roots and destroy a rose bush. 

  1. Select a sunny spot with good soil drainage – roses require at least 6 hours of full sun daily. Early morning sun is preferred because it dries the leaves, which helps prevent disease.
  2. Dig a wide, shallow hole that is 2-3 times as wide but not quite as deep as the root ball (about 1 inch shallower). The plant should sit on solid ground so it doesn’t sink when the soil settles.
  3. Remove the plant from the pot and loosen any circling roots. If you can’t pull the roots apart, use a knife to make 4-5 vertical cuts in the root ball. This will allow new roots to grow out into the surrounding soil as the plant becomes established.
  4. Place the plant in the hole slightly elevated above ground level. Backfill with soil until the hole is half full.
  5. Soak the root ball with a mixture of Root Stimulator.
  6. Fill the rest of the hole with soil and water thoroughly. Apply mulch to a depth of 2 inches, being careful not to mound mulch against the trunk of the plant, which could encourage rotting or insect damage.

Pruning Roses 

To look their best, roses must be properly pruned. This can be intimidating for rose-growing novices, but once the basics are mastered, the techniques for pruning roses are not difficult. 

  1. In spring, remove winter mulch when new grow appears. Prune out all dead wood and twiggy growth and cut back to sound wood with a clean slanting cut, just above a good bud eye.
  2. During the growing season, remove fading roses promptly, cutting just above a five-leaflet leaf. This will help encourage reblooming on many cultivars, and will help prevent rot or disease infestation.
  3. To winterize, remove all fallen leaves and debris from the base of the plant, cut back to 10-12 inches after the ground freezes, then apply a 8-12″ mound of mulch over the canes to protect them from temperature shock. 

Food and Water 

Roses need the proper nutrition – water and fertilizer – to bloom well and develop stunning colors and fragrances. 

  1. Roses thrive best when given 1 inch of water weekly. A thorough soaking from rain or hose will keep roses blooming all season. Try not to overhead water unless it is early in the day, as the damp leaves can promote disease.
  2. Fertilize every 6 weeks with Fertilome Rose Food with Systemic specially formulated for the nutritional needs of roses.

Treat for Disease and Pests 

There are times when roses will succumb to diseases and pests. Quickly recognizing these problems and treating them properly will help minimize outbreaks that can damage several rose plants at once. 

  1. Fungus diseases cannot be cured, so a regular spraying schedule is very important. Keep an eye on plants that were infected last year and spray with a fungicide to prevent outbreaks this year.
  2. You may also need to use an insecticide for severe insect problems. Minor problems can be handled with less harsh methods, but diligence will be necessary to keep pests from taking over the rose bushes.
  3. Many rose lovers find it convenient to use an all-purpose insect and disease spray once a week or a systemic control every 6 weeks.

It may seem like a lot of work to cultivate roses, but when you wander through your rose garden or see your favorite rose bush in full bloom, that effort will be well rewarded.

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Summer Gardener’s Calendar

Continue planting trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs. Consider adding some exotic color to your deck or patio with tropical blooming plants. 

It’s time for your houseplant’s summer vacation! Take outside to a shady place. Repot if necessary, fertilize and check for pests and diseases. They’ll thrive in their outdoor location all summer. Be sure to bring them back inside in early fall.

Water plants and lawns deeply during periods of dry weather. Annuals, perennials, vegetables, trees and shrubs should be watered with a slow trickling or soaker hose. Pay extra attention to plants in containers and hanging baskets – check them regularly. Remember that clay pots dry out faster than plastic.

Apply a 2-3″ layer of mulch on your garden beds in preparation for summer. Mulch conserves valuable moisture in the soil, helps keep weeds down, maintains even soil temperatures, and gives an attractive finishing touch to your beds and borders.

Warm, humid weather encourages the development of fungal diseases such as Black Spot and Powdery Mildew on roses. Water roses in the early morning and avoid overhead watering if possible. Clean up any fallen leaves and follow a regular fungicide spray program. 

Prune evergreens such as pines, junipers, euonymus and boxwood, to shape as needed. Remove faded flowers of annuals regularly, to encourage more flowers. Annuals will also benefit from regular applications of a water-soluble fertilizer right through summer.

Attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your landscape by planting Butterfly Bush, Bee Balm (Mondarda), Hardy Hibiscus, Scabiosa and Coreopsis.

Kids and Nature: Uncovering Surprises Everywhere

Wherever you live, nature is always near, with entire worlds to discover around the trees in your yard, in the carpet of grass or beneath that pile of rocks. With school vacations rapidly approaching, you may already be thinking of ways to keep your children or grandchildren busy during the long summer months. Well, how about setting up your own Nature Camp! An appreciation of nature will stay with children forever and teach them the importance of caring for the environment and all living things, including themselves. 

Top Nature Activities for Kids

Spring and summer nature activities with your child could be as simple as a daily walk around the block or backyard, or as complex as starting your own backyard wildlife preserve. Popular options include… 

  • A stroll through the woods or a nearby meadow, observing or gathering things of interest along the way. Spend some time watching ants or earthworms, caterpillars or butterflies. Take an evening walk to look for fireflies and bats or to listen to crickets and frogs. Note different species of birds, or look for other wildlife such as squirrels, rabbits or deer.
  • Very young children love collecting things – rocks, feathers, flowers, shells and leaves are a few easy examples. See how many different types, colors, shapes or sizes they can find. Older children might want to start a pressed leaf or flower collection, or capture some insects for identification and observation.
  • Raising butterflies or moths from caterpillars, noting how they grow and change in a nature journal or through a series of photographs to create a scrapbook of the experience. When they’re ready to be released, let the child have the wonder of connecting with nature as their fluttering friends fly free.
  • A more extensive nature activity could be to help your child plan and plant a whole garden devoted to attracting wildlife. By planting trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals that attract birds (including hummingbirds) and butterflies, and by installing bird feeders, bird houses and bird baths, you can create a miniature wildlife refuge that you and your child can enjoy for many years to come.

We’ll be delighted to help you and your future naturalist select plants suitable for a wildlife garden, plan a backyard refuge or to identify flowers or leaves that have been collected on your nature walks. 

So, what are you waiting for? Make the most of this spring with a child and go back to nature!

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Vegetable Garden Weed Control

You may want to grow many different things in your vegetable garden, but weeds probably aren’t on your favorite edibles list. Weeding can be an enormous time-drain and is one of the the least liked gardening chores. What’s wonderful is that we have so many weed control methods to choose from; there’s a solution for every type of gardener and their schedule.

Safe Control Methods in Edible Gardens

When it comes to vegetable gardening, many gardeners are very particular about what goes into their soil and onto their plants, as it will eventually end up on their plates and in their bodies. Here are some indisputable safe and effective ways to control weeds, without chemicals, in your veggie or any other garden for that matter.

  • Plan your garden to crowd edible plants together, effectively crowding out weeds because there isn’t space left for them to grow.
  • Manually pull weeds when the soil is wet and roots are looser. This can be done after a natural rainfall or after supplemental watering.
  • Hoe when the soil is dry to break apart weeds and damage their roots. Pick up larger weeds after hoeing so they cannot reestablish themselves.
  • Mulch with straw which contains no weed seeds. The straw will shield weed seeds from the sunlight and moisture they need for germinating.
  • Lay biodegradable and compostable mulch down to create a firm barrier to keep weeds out or to prevent existing weed seeds from germinating.
  • Attract seed-loving birds such as finches and sparrows, which will happily eat hundreds of weed seeds each day for natural control.
  • Consider raised beds or container gardening to more effectively control weeds and make any remaining weeding easier.
  • Use fire (with all appropriate safety precautions) to burn out unwanted weeds, especially in pathway areas or along garden borders.
  • Treat exposed weeds with boiling water – the hotter the better – to cook and kill them. Several treatments may be needed for the best effects.

Weeds can be some of our worst enemies in the garden, and it is impossible to eliminate every single weed all the time. By using multiple methods and keeping on top of the task, however, it is possible to minimize weeds and make this chore less onerous, without resorting to harsh chemicals.

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Yellowjackets: Good Guys or Bad?

When you hear “yellowjacket,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A buzzing, stinging insect ruining your outdoor meal or a treasured pollinator of many plants? A yellowjacket is both!

About Yellowjackets

The most commonly found yellowjacket is the Eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons). The Eastern yellowjacket is a wasp that is 1/2 to 5/8 inch long and is black and yellow striped. The body is curved under and is wider than the head. Yellowjackets do not have any “hairs” such as are found on honeybees and bumblebees.

Yellowjackets are generally ground nesters, however, in some situations, especially in urban areas, they will make their nest above ground such as in hollow walls and attics.

During the spring and summer, the colony population increases from the fertilized solitary queen, who survived the winter, to several thousand. Adult yellowjackets feed protein to the young wasps and larvae while they subsist on sugars. Foraging for food, the wasps cross-pollinate plants while seeking small insects and nectar. Yellowjackets provide a valuable service to humans by consuming numerous insects that eat ornamental and cultivated plants.

On the other hand, yellowjackets are drawn to cookouts, picnic areas and garbage cans. Their sting, unfortunately, is especially painful. Unlike honeybees, which only sting once, wasps can sting numerous times. Some people react severely to the venom and may have problems breathing or other dangerous reactions.

To Minimize Yellowjacket Interactions

Despite their good characteristics, many people prefer to keep yellowjackets away from picnics, play areas and yards. To reduce the possibility of inviting yellowjackets to your outdoor party…

  • Don’t leave moist pet food outside during the summer. Bird seed is fine, but not suet.
  • Keep garbage cans washed. Securely cover all garbage cans and recycling containers. Rinse beer, wine, soft drink and ice cream containers before disposing of them.
  • Keep garbage cans away from entertainment areas, play areas and pathways.
  • If eating outdoors, cover all serving plates and drinking glasses/bottles to prevent yellowjackets from getting into food or drink. When yellowjackets are in the area, be sure to check your food and drink before consuming.
  • Yellowjackets feed on aphids and scale on trees and shrubs. Therefore, spray for these pests in July and August, if needed, to remove that food source.
  • Repair dripping hoses and faucets as the puddles can attract wasps.
  • Wasps enjoy rotting fruit. Harvest tree and cane fruits when ripe. Carefully pick up all fallen fruit (gloves are a good idea!) and dispose of it in a covered container.
  • Wasps create a flight-path from the nest to food sources. Avoid this area. If this is not possible, consider removing the nest.

Yellowjacket Traps

To help make your outdoor gatherings more pleasant and safer, yellowjacket traps can be effective. Hang these around the perimeter of your yard if you plan to eat outside, but never hang traps near the food area, as you will only increase the attraction to that area. Some traps are disposable and have the benefit of reducing the sting possibility. Others are “reusable” and must be emptied and refilled with bait. These increase the probability of being stung but can be more affordable in the long term.

Eliminating Yellowjacket Nests

When absolutely necessary, the elimination of a yellowjacket nest should not be undertaken lightly. If it’s early in the season and the nest is visible, a forceful water blast will break it apart. To reduce the chances of being stung, do this during the day while the workers are not home. Wasps return to the colony as dusk. Sometimes the workers will begin rebuilding in the same place. Pesticide sprays can kill wasps, and after the nest is destroyed, spraying the area can discourage rebuilding. If it’s later in the season, the aerial nest may be too large to eliminate safely.

Underground nests are a much bigger challenge to destroy. Because the entrance may be at an angle to the nest, flooding seldom works. Never try to burn a yellowjacket ground nest by pouring kerosene or other flammable liquid into the entrance and lighting it. In addition to many stings, more serious injuries may occur. This also pollutes the soil and a fire can quickly get out of control. If the flight pattern to the entrance creates a serious hardship or is close to a building, it is best to consult with an expert for safe nest elimination.

If the yellowjackets have built their colonies within your house walls or attic, it may also be necessary to contact a professional. Note: if yellowjackets are nesting in your home, do not plug the entrance/exit hole or they may chew the rest of the way into your house! Our experts can offer a professional referral for local wasp removal services or search “Pest Control” for your city on the Internet or in the yellow pages.

Yellowjackets do have their uses, but if you have no use for these stinging insects, there are many ways to eliminate them safely. Using several techniques will be most effective and will minimize the risk of being troubled by wasps again.

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Perennial Power

Perennials may not be the best showstoppers in a garden full of annuals, but they make great foundation plantings to serve as a reliable backdrop or trusty fillers among other plants. There’s no reason you can’t select perennials that are just as beautiful as your favorite annuals, however, it’s just a matter of choosing the flowers that pack the most punch and using them appropriately.

Best Perennials to Choose

When choosing a perennial to fill an empty space in your garden, make sure to get the most bang from your buck by selecting one, or several, long-blooming perennials. These flowers will be worthwhile additions to your landscape for their ongoing staying power, giving you a reliable backdrop and structure to build from.

  • Achillea (Yarrow)
  • Alcea (Hollyhock)
  • Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed)
  • Campanula (clips series)
  • Clematis ‘Jackmani’
  • Coreopsis (Tickseed)
  • Delosperma (Ice Plant)
  • Dicentra exima (Bleeding Heart)
  • Echinacea (Coneflower)
  • Gallardia (Blanket Flower)
  • Gaura (Wand Flower)
  • Geranium ‘Johnson Blue’
  • Hemerocallis ‘Stella D’Oro’ (Daylily)
  • Hemerocallis ‘Happy Returns’ (Daylily)
  • Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)
  • Lavender
  • Liatris spicata (Gayfeather)
  • Ligularia (Ragwort)
  • Monarda (Bee Balm)
  • Nepeta (Catnip or Catmint)
  • Oneothra ‘Siskiyou’ (Evening Primrose)
  • Perovskia (Russian Sage)
  • Rudbeckia (Coneflower)
  • Salvia (most verticillata)
  • Scabiosa (Pincushion Flower)
  • Shasta Daisy ‘Becky’ or ‘Snow Queen’
  • Veronica (Speedwell)

Using Your Blooming Perennials

To make your perennials truly pop, it’s important to position them in your landscape where they will show to their best advantage. Popular options include…

  • Filling in between showstopping annuals with perennials that will grow and bloom to cover fading blooms after the annuals are finished.
  • Adding blooming perennials in front of a hedge, fence or privacy screen for extra coverage with a dash of color.
  • Using perennial flowers as a backdrop for lower annual plantings along a house foundation or in other flowerbeds.
  • Creating a naturalized lawn or meadow-like area full of different perennials for a low-maintenance option that still stuns.
  • Planting perennials in hard-to-tend areas, such as alongside a water feature, in tight corners or on terraces so they can be gorgeous with less maintenance.

With so many options for lovely perennials that can be used in many different ways in the landscape, there’s no excuse not to enjoy these easy-care flowers for many years!

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Watering Tomato Plants

Proper watering plays a significant role in producing a healthy tomato plant with tasty, meaty, juicy fruit. So, what’s the secret, and how can you be sure you are watering your tomatoes the right way?

Watering Location

Always water tomatoes at the root zone; never overhead water your tomato plant. Watering directly at the soil level will strengthen the plant’s root system and ensure the maximum amount of moisture reaches the roots. When you overhead water, much of the water will not make it to the roots as it evaporates before reaching the soil. Water droplets on plant leaves act as a magnifying glass and can burn tender plant tissue, damaging foliage that is essential to keep the plant healthy. Water dripping from leaf to leaf can also spread disease, infecting an entire crop. To be sure tomatoes are not being watered inappropriately, keep plants out of reach of lawn sprinkler systems or other inadvertent watering.

Watering Speed

Slow watering is essential to properly distribute moisture to a tomato plant. Allow the water to drip slowly into the soil, giving the plant roots time to absorb the moisture. A drip system is best and will also help with water conservation. Avoid using a hand held hose, as it is easy to either underwater or overwater using this method. Water to a depth of 8 inches to ensure all roots have access to adequate moisture. You can also use a watering reservoir, such as a gallon jug with several small holes in its bottom, to slowly and carefully water the plants without flooding the root zone.

Watering Frequency

A regular watering schedule is essential for the healthiest, most productive tomato plants. Water consistently to produce larger fruits and to avoid split and cracked fruit and blossom end rot. Tomato plants should be watered 2-3 times a week in the height of summer or when natural rain is lacking. A deep soaking rain counts and supplemental watering should be adjusted whenever Mother Nature lends a hand with watering chores. The top inch or two of soil should dry out between watering to be sure the plant is not getting too much moisture.

Watering Adjustments

There are several times when it may be necessary to adjust where, when and how much you water your tomatoes. Changes in local rainfall – increasing spring or summer rains, a sudden storm, an unexpected drought – can require changes in supplemental watering to keep the moisture to your tomatoes consistent. As plants grow and more fruit appears, more water may be needed to meet the plant’s watering needs and keep it lush and healthy.

By understanding the basics of watering tomatoes, you can keep your plants well hydrated without risk of either overwatering or underwatering, both of which could be disastrous for your tomato crop.

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Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses can reduce your watering costs, lessen your mowing time and increase the interest level of your garden. No matter what your garden’s needs, there’s a grass to solve it. From short ground covers to tall bamboo, there’s something for every site.

About Ornamental Grasses

Generally defined as “a plant with narrow upright leaves growing from the base,” ornamental grasses come in different sizes, shapes, colors and with differing growing requirements. While they may be cut to the ground each year, they are not mowed regularly, and work well as borders, specimen plants or part of coordinated beds. When choosing an ornamental grass for your site, consider the following:

  • Size
    Some beautiful grasses are just inches tall. Others, such as Hardy Pampas Grass grow to 10 feet or even taller. A shorter grass is a perfect edge for a walkway or to border a flowerbed, while a taller grass provides screening or background height.
  • Deciduous or Evergreen
    The winter form of a grass can be very different from its summer form. Evergreen grasses do not die back in the winter, their form remains the same. Winter colors may change and provide interest. Deciduous grasses die back or lean over. Consider the plant’s use when choosing between deciduous and evergreen. If using a grass as a screen, deciduous may not be a good idea.
  • Running or Clumping
    Clumping grasses stay where they planted, and as they grow, the overall plant width increases. However, a running grass sends runners through the ground to grow another grass plant. Sometimes this can be up to 6 feet away. This is advantageous when using the grass as a groundcover or trying to fill in a larger area. Clumping grasses can be divided if they become too large for the site.
  • Color
    Ornamental grasses are available in many colors, including variegated shades with contrasting edges. Additionally, many grass colors change throughout the year. Blues, reds, greens, yellow and variegated shades work well in different situations. A gold or white-hued grass can brighten a dark corner, whereas a dark green grass may be a perfect backdrop for smaller colorful plants.
  • Growing Requirements
    Sun, water, wind and soil requirements vary among grasses. Some require full sun; others grow best in the shade. Some grasses are ideal in rain gardens or wet soils, while others thrive best in drought conditions. Some don’t mind a breezy location, while others need to be more protected. Some prefer a rich, organic soil, while others will look great even in poor soils. And, of course, there are grasses for every range in between.

Before going to the garden center to purchase an ornamental grass, make a list of your requirements. You may want a short grass to line a walkway in full sun with sandy soil. Alternatively, you may need a grass to fill a dry and shady corner. Perhaps you would like to watch a grass clump emerge in the spring, grow to 6′ tall, change colors through the summer and harvest dry seed heads for an autumn arrangement. Choosing the correct grass ensures the beauty of your garden for years to come.

Succulent Container Garden

Have you noticed how a container garden can really jazz up a front entryway, back deck or porch? Perhaps you’ve thought twice about including this addition to your plantscaping because you just don’t have time every day to water. 

Cheer up! You can plant a container with succulents (plants with fleshy or thickened leaves, stems or roots) and you will not have to worry about watering frequently. Succulent container gardens are relatively carefree, and they’re so easy that you don’t have to limit yourself to just one. If one container makes a statement, several will create a conversation! 

Succulent Container Garden Tips and Tricks

To have the greatest success with your new succulent container garden, consider… 

  • Exposure
    Full sun is a must for all succulents and will help show off their subtle colors and textures. If your viewing location has less than adequate sun, place your succulent garden in a full sun area for the majority of the day and move to your desired location when you have company or time to enjoy it yourself. Remember to move it back out into the sun when company leaves.
  • Containers
    Because succulents do not have extensive root systems, your chosen containers may be shallow. Too much soil can hold excessive water causing the succulent’s roots to rot. Perhaps a strawberry pot would make the perfect focal point at your front door, and many front doors look great with a single shallow round planter sitting on the stoop. If you have several steps to the door, try a pot on each step. How do you want your front entrance to say “hello”?
  • Height
    Think about varying the heights of your containers. Perhaps your containers will require a pedestal or something else for elevation. This could be an inverted pot, a table, shelf or even pot feet. You may even consider hanging your container for elevated elegance. Whatever you choose, it’s important to remember succulents require excellent drainage. Therefore, the containers must have holes.
  • Soil
    All succulents need fast draining soil. Pre-mixed soil is available that is specifically blended for succulent container plantings. You may also use a general all-purpose potting mix and add perlite, coir or sand to increase the drainage sufficiently.

Plants for Your Succulent Container Garden

When making your plant selection, it is fun to let your imagination go wild and embrace the full range of amazing succulents available. As a good container gardening rule of thumb, Use a thriller (something stunning to catch the eye), a filler (a sturdy, reliable choice to fill in bare spots) and a spiller (a trailing plant to blur the container edges) and you’ll never go wrong. 

Succulents come in an extensive variety of colors, striking shapes and varying sizes. As when planting any container, evaluate plant color, texture and shape when making your selections. You may feel overwhelmed when choosing your plants. If you can’t decide, here is a simple “recipe” for planting one 16″ container to be seen from all sides. Maybe it will give you some ideas: 

  • 1-thriller planted in the middle.
  • 3-fillers to surround the thriller and provide texture or color contrast
  • 5-spillers to drape over the container’s edge.

As an extra bonus, many succulents bloom, adding extra unexpected beauty. Blooms can be few and far between, however, but they will be exciting and rewarding when they are spotted. 

The Importance of Topdressing 

After planting, gently brush off any residual soil from the succulents’ leaves. Add more interest by topdressing the container. This is a layer of material will give your container garden a finished appearance.  Use such items as marbles, gravel, or sand. You might even add a fairy garden surprise in the container, such as a miniature hut, hidden gnome or other quaint character who will call your succulent garden home.

Most importantly, have fun!

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How to Improve Clay Soil

Clay soil can be one of the most challenging soil types for gardeners and landscapers to work with. It is not impossible, however, to turn a clay-based plot into a lush, productive growing space. Understanding your clay soil and knowing how to improve it can help you make the most of even the densest, heaviest clay.

About Clay Soil

Clay soils are very dense and composed of extremely fine mineral particles. These soils are typically lacking in organic material but do have rich mineral components, often with plentiful calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and they’re often tinted with a reddish color. When tested, clay soil is typically alkaline on the pH scale.

Clay soil holds water very well, and can be considered poor draining. This soil can be very sticky and forms large clumps, often sticking to shoes and garden tools. When it dries out, however, clay soil will crust and form large cracks. This type of texture can be very difficult to dig and clay is easily compacted, which can contribute to smothering roots and spreading root rot.

To check if you have clay soil, squeeze a clump of dirt and see how well it sticks together. If it has a smooth texture and sticks together well, or can be rolled into a sausage shape or flattened into a ribbon without completely cracking apart, the soil has a very high clay content.

Improving Your Clay Soil

Even the heaviest clay soil can be made friendlier for planting. The key to enriching clay soil and making it better for all types of planting is to improve its texture and enhance its organic composition. To do so…

  • Add 6-8 inches of organic material on top of the clay soil. Well-matured manure, compost, grass clippings, and shredded leaves are all great options, or a mixture of different materials can be combined for a more balanced mix of organic components. Mix that material into the top 6-12 inches of the clay soil to create a healthier, easier-to-work planting bed.
  • Aerate a clay soil lawn annually and allow the removed soil plugs to break down naturally and add organic material back to the soil. Take care not to use very heavy aeration equipment, however, which can further compact the soil. If preferred, remove the soil plugs and add organic amendments after aeration instead. Very heavy clay soils can be aerated in both spring and fall.
  • Consider using raised beds for planting, adding more organic material to the beds before they are used. By raising the beds and sloping the sides, the drainage of clay soil can be improved to minimize the potential for rot.
  • Add organic mulches around both new and established plantings, such as bark chips, shredded bark, grass clippings, or shredded leaves. These mulches will slowly decompose, adding more organic material where it is needed most, but they will need to be refreshed periodically.
  • Raise and add earthworms to the clay soil. Healthy worms will burrow through the soil, improving its texture, and their castings are ideal organic material to enrich the soil and nourish plants.
  • Test your soil regularly to keep its pH balanced and adjust fertilizing options to provide the best nutrition for the plants you choose. The more you know about your soil, the better you will be equipped to keep it healthy and rich.

To improve your clay soil as much as possible, use multiple techniques to add organic material and improve its texture. While the soil can be improved, doing so is a long-term process and will require ongoing effort to keep your soil at its best.

Best Plants for Clay Soil

If you have clay soil, it is best to opt for plants that will thrive in its dense structure, high mineral content, and alkaline pH. Fortunately, there are many plants that aren’t deterred by clay soil, and you can choose from a wide range of annuals, perennials, flowers, trees, shrubs, and even vegetables that will love your clay soil. The most popular plants that do well in clay include…

  • Aster
  • Bee Balm
  • Birch
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Daylily
  • Fuchsia
  • Geranium
  • Hosta
  • Hydrangea
  • Lilac
  • Onion
  • Pea
  • Petunia
  • Pumpkin
  • Rose
  • Salvia

These are only a few of the plants that can do well in clay soil. The exact plants that will thrive best in your clay soil will also depend on local climate, sunlight levels, and the other considerations always important to proper planting.

More Tips for Working with Clay Soil

Regardless of what plants you want to thrive in clay soil, there are ways you should care for the soil to be sure it stays in peak condition and is as workable as possible.

  • Clay soil warms slowly in spring, so avoid planting very early when the soil will be too cool for plants to withstand any transplant shock.
  • Dig in clay soil when it is relatively dry, and break up the bottom and sides of planting holes in order to give roots an easier foothold as they grow.
  • Use stepping stones and dedicated pathways to avoid a lot of walking or other activity on clay soil, which could increase its compaction.
  • Be gentle with watering and fertilization, as clay soil cannot absorb as quickly. Too much watering or overfertilization can contribute to runoff and waste.

Clay soil is a common problem in many gardens and landscapes, but it doesn’t have to be a problem for you if you understand its special nature and know best how to improve clay and work with it appropriately. With care, you can love your clay soil and appreciate how very nourishing it can be.