Jimmie's Easy Gardening - Pt 1: Planting

In this section, I will show you how you will achieve "Green Thumb" status. In other words, what does it take to grow vigorous, lively opulent plants that will have your neighbors asking 'How'd you do that?' It's really not that hard. All you need to do is follow these guidelines:

Start with some rich, fertile soil. How? By buying it!

Raise the bed a bit above your existing soil.

Use root stimulator or plant starter solution on all new plantings.

Don't forget to water your new plants frequently! Every other day might be in order. In hotter, climates, if you planted something during the summer, it might be necessary to water every day. This helps new plants get over transplant shock more easily. A great percentage of planting failures is due to insufficient water right after planting!

Periodically add a natural fertilizer.

Start with the soil. This is priority one!

Does your soil look like the surface of Mars? Here's mine, shown on the right. The Mariner Rover can't be very far away!
 This is a clay type soil. The particles are fine and form a hard matrix that plant roots simply cannot penetrate. This sample is Oregon soil. The black Texas clay isn't any better. There just isn't any organic matter in this type of soil. It is for all intents and purposes simply sterile.
 By the way, why is the typical soil around homes like this much of the time? Because many builders scrape away the good topsoil and sell it to farmers before they start building! I might have to cut 'em some slack by noting that part of the reason for removing topsoil is that it is necessary to dig down to the harder soil and/or bedrock, to support the foundation. Of course it wouldn't be all that hard to shove the topsoil aside and then push it back around the finished house. . .
 Before I learned about adding soil amendments, I planted some vegetable plants one spring in Texas in soil like this. By summer's end, the plants were about 3 or 4 inches taller than when I planted them. The next year I worked the soil and added compost and mulch and planted some tomatoes.
 They were as tall as the fence by the end of the summer!

clay soil

At the other extreme, here is some incredibly rich soil from the forest behind our yard, the result of soil microbes breaking down leaves, twigs, and who knows what else, for years.

And here's the riotous growth that rises out of that kind of soil!

forest soil forest soil

So we want something in between. The goal is to have soil that is rich, friable, and full of lots of organic matter. This automatically assures you of having a medium that plant roots can easily penetrate and that also is high in microbial life.
 Your soil should pass the following test: You should be able to plant things in it with your bare (or gloved) hands! (OK, maybe a small garden trowel for bigger plants.)

So we will show three examples of "gardening made easy":

Example 1: Planting a border of small flowers around a patio.

Example 2: Planting two blueberry bushes in a slightly raised garden with a rock border.

Example 3: Planting small trees

Big time tip!!

Use this Fork         Not this Shovel   Why? Because the fork is MUCH easier for
  digging hard clay soils than a shovel.

Example 1: Small plants bordering a patio

I purchased some small plants to place around a concrete patio: Some white allysums and some multicolored lobelias.

I have already dug up the former owner's grass (NOT easy!) So what you see here is the standard issue sterile clay with hard clods.

Here's the two types of soil materials that I bought for these garden projects. Remember, as I mentioned above, the easiest way to get good soil is to buy it! I could have dug some soil up from the forest behind my yard, but there might be weed seeds and/or insects in it.
 Besides, the vegetation is simply too thick to allow me to dig easily!

bare soil amendments

I have added one bag of the top soil (which has a decent amount of organic matter, as well as some sand). Also I spread some of the mulch on top.

It is necessary to turn over the amendments with the original soil. This loosens the original soil and mixes it with the organic matter. This way the plant roots won't have a sudden transition between spectacularly rich soil and hard clay.

adding amendments mix with the soil

So here's the border, almost complete. And yet. . .
Somehow it's a bit boring, what with that straight edge and all.

the border

Well, I decided that my border would be a lot more scenic if I added a rock outline. (When you live in a mountain state, rocks are easy to come by.) Note that borders are much more interesting if you "meander" the edges.
 I have added the key finishing touch: a layer of mulch on top. Mulch makes any garden look really good, and it reduces water evaporation - you won't have to water as much. Furthermore it protects the plant roots, keeping them cooler in hot climates or warm in cooler climates.


Example 2: Blueberry plants in a raised bed

I bought two new blueberry plants this spring and wish to extend an existing raised bed to accomodate the two new bushes.

I have cleared the %@^$#@** grass in preparation for extending the existing raised bed and adding the two new plants,

I worked the existing soil a bit and then added some topsoil and mulch, along with a new rock border.

bare soil amendments

Here the existing soil has been mixed with the soil amendments, to a depth of about 8 - 10 inches.

Prior to planting, I added some more mulch and topsoil and lightly mixed it in a bit further.

soil mixed more amendments

Here's the two new plants, with a nice top layer of mulch. Shown here also is one brand of planting starter (sometimes called "root stimulator").
Using a plant starter solution is almost as important as adding soil amendments. They help the plant withstand the shock of transplanting. I prefer the "natural" starters, since they employ only low-grade fertilizers derived from things like poultry manure, bone meal, and the like. In addition, they also usually have soil microbes to help enrich your soil and make that sterile clay have some life. This particular brand, for example, has 5 kinds of Bacillus species and 2 kinds of Tricoderma species.

As an alternate to starter solutions, you can also just mix in some natural type fertilizer with the soil you are placing around the plant. Two brands are "Dr. Earth" and "Jobe". These types of fertilizer are not as concentrated as "chemical" fertilizers, and they usually have beneficial soil microbes as well.

And, speaking of transplant shock, if you notice a lot of roots on the surface of the planting media when you take the plant out of its container, loosen these roots, even removing any excessive roots, especially if they circle the planting media. (This is called "girdling roots".)


Example 3: Dwarf Alberta Spruce in Some Really Rotten Clay

In the above examples, I have shown examples of planting bushes and smaller plants by building a raised bed and creating a mini-environment of rich soil over a somewhat wide area.
 But what about planting trees, especially in soil which is only decent for a depth of 6 inches or so? It's a similar principle:

Dig a really big hole

Raise the level by making a mound

You are in effect making each tree into a "potted plant", with a 2-3 foot wide container within the otherwise dessicated soil your homebuilder left you.

So I have dug down about 8 inches or so and I have already hit a rocky clay. It's typical to find a lot of rocks and concrete bits right next to your home's foundation.. The rich looking topsoil around the edges is about 6 inches deep.

This image shows some even worse soil further out in the front yard. About 8 inches down is thick, viscous - albeit quite colorful - clay. Yes, in both of these cases, you could simply shove the poor plant down into these types of soils and call it a day. But the result would be trees that grow an inch or two each year - or they just might call it a day on you and not make it!

bare soil more bare soil

So I'm about 2 feet wide and 1 1/2 feet down, and I have added some of the Ace topsoil mixed with some of the Bark Mulch, and mixed these amendments with the original soil that came out of the hole. I have pitched most of the rocks! I have also turned up the soil around my hole and mixed the amendments into that. Thus I have created an area approximately 3 feet in diameter of this enriched soil

Prior to planting any tree or bush, cut any lower branches that would contact the soil. This helps prevent insects from climbing into the plant later.

soil is ready trim branches

On any containerized plant, rough up the outer edges to remove or loosen roots that have collected around the edges, expecially if the roots have "girdled" around the edges. This may seem too hard on the plant, but is actually very beneficial. New roots will quickly form and the plant will recover from "transplant shock" much sooner. Also loosen up any roots that are on the bottom of the previously potted mass.

As an alternate to using "starter solution", you can add some natural fertilizer into your amended/native soil mixture. Chemical fertilizers would be too strong for this purpose. In this case, I am using "Dr Earth's Acid Lover's" fertilizer, which slightly acidifies the soil - good for conifers like the Dwarf Alberta Spruces. These types of natural fertilizers usually also have beneficial soil microbes mixed in.

work the roots adding fertilizer

Set the tree into your soil mixture, leaving about 4 inches sticking out. This is because the intention is to mound the soil mixture above the grade a bit. In other words, the plant is going to end up on a mound that is above the original soil surface.
 Sprinkle some more of the fertilizer around the plant. Mix this with the soil a bit and than add more of your mixed amendment/soil mixture until it's even with the top of the original "root ball".

And we top off the whole thing with some mulch. Mulch is perhaps the most important ingredient of all, since it will keep the roots cool during the warmer months, retains moisture, and eventually provides extra nourishment as it breaks down during the season.

tree planted completed tree

Here's a picture of several trees that I have planted using this method. There are two Dwarf Alberta Spruces on the left and a shore pine on the right (the grasses were already there, and you can see two more Spruces towards the back by the house). Notice that all three trees are planted in mounds that are above grade - to compensate for the lack of good soil below about 8 inches - as described in the section just above.
 Notice how wide the mounds are. As described above, each tree has an area that is about 3 - 4 feet in diameter and that has "amended" soil. This will result in much more vigorous growth than would have resulted from just placing the trees in the dessicated, rocky, and impenetrable clay that was available in my front yard.


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