The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


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April Progress Report

Flagstone finished (960x1280)I’ve embarked on a garden improvement plan, but then what gardener hasn’t? Tired of struggling with the slow fill in of the big bed that runs the length of the patio, I decided it needed some help filling in and plants weren’t going to do it.

Rabbits have gotten fat off of hearty helpings of the liriope planted in a ring around the Japanese maple. And not just this year. They’ve been munching on the liriope since they discovered them in 2013. Enough! No longer an enabler, I dug them up and gave them to a friend. They don’t bother the liriope planted up near the house but I think they’re too afraid to get near the door.

The growing maple cast too much shade on the zebra grass planted in the back of the bed. It is now positioned in front of the tree where there’s more sun throughout the day. Haphazardly planted daylilies (a gift from my neighbor) have been moved together for a more cohesive look.

flagstone I (960x1280)Suddenly I was left with lots of space around the tree. And I discovered two flagstone castoffs in the back of the yard. Well, you know the rest of the story. A quick trip to the nearby materials supply store and I was off to the races. Fortunately the ground is still soft and the soil is pretty good–not the rock hard, compacted clay I encountered when I started this bed in 2012.

“Walkers Low” catmint (Nepeta recemosa), “Maggie Daley” astilbe and “Amethyst” astilbe x arendsii, and lady’s mantle (alchemilla mollis) will find a home in the bed alongside roses, coneflower (echinacea), liatris, coreoposis, dianthus, “Little Joe” pye weed (eupatorium) and black eyed susans (rudbeckia) that are planted among the Little Lamb and Little Lime hydrangea.

Here’s a picture of the path before the flagstone was dug into place. (As a side note, I can’t believe how much the maple has leafed out in the past week. I love its dark maroon leaves.)

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I moved those suckers into several arrangements before deciding on this layout. Their heft is deceptive; the materials guy told me in total they weighed more than 225 pounds.

The addition of a couple of rain barrels, my great vegetable experiment and–coming soon!–the addition of a paperbark maple have also filled my weekends. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on these adventures.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

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Gardening: It’s a Dirt(y) Business

I have written a little about the clay soil that is prevalent here in Arch City. If you are going to garden, you are going to encounter this very dense, hard to break-through soil that seems as hard as concrete during a hot, dry spell (translation: summer in St. Louis). How do you identify clay soil? Easy. If it sticks to your shoes, attaches itself in clods to your shovel and you have to throw a clump of it across the yard to break it up, you’ve got clay. Clearly, this has not deterred the hardy souls in the area who have the vision and fortitude to overcome this stuff. My strolls in my neighborhood and beyond are testimony to that.

And so is my soil. In my fourth year of amending, amending, amending, I am starting to see the difference. More accurately put, I am starting to feel the difference. Arch City-ites know what I am talking about. When I place the shovel or spade into the ground, the resistance isn’t quite as fierce. In fact, when I was digging into the patio bed to put in “Crazy Blue,” a new, compact Russian sage (perovskia atriplicifolia) my favorite nursery is featuring, the soil actually gave way with minimal effort. I consider this a major break-through.

After three years of adding lots of compost to my clay soil, the structure is finally improving

After three years of adding lots of compost to my clay soil, the structure is finally improving. Digging into the soil is no longer at backbreaking, shovel bending experience–at least in this part of the garden.

Can you spot the clay soil in this sample? Hint: It's the stuff that looks like meatballs.

Can you spot the clay soil in this sample? Hint: It’s the stuff that looks like meatballs.

There are several shrubs and perennials that will bust through this tough, mineral dense soil and there are things clay habitues need to know, such as:

1. This soil is dense, and the roots of many annuals, perennials, and vegetables struggle to make their way through. Many spring bulbs tend to rot over the winter in clay soils discouraging gardeners who must deal with this soil type. However, all is not lost–as long as you improve the soil structure. By that the experts will tell you to add 6-8 inches of organic matter throughout the bed, not just where you are placing your new specimen (yes, I have taken that short cut).

Of course, I continue to add the good stuff to the soil when I layer on mulch on top of all this. And my plants have thanked me for it. I’ve been pleased with the new emergence each spring and have become committed to amending my soil EVERY year.

2. Clay soil is slow draining. In addition to improving the soil structure of the garden beds, I want to improve the lawn where after a heavy rain the water has a tendency to sort of just sit there. I’m not talking about the low areas of the lawn, I’m talking about the slope areas where you’d think the water would be flowing down. Not so much. I do have areas where the water ponds. Those spots will get shrubs that tolerate ponding such as winterberry (ilex verticilatta), ligularia or river birch.

3. It can heave in the winter. Thankfully I have not experienced this with my plants, but I do have a gate that won’t open when the temperatures drop. In fact, I had to move my trash and recycle bins this winter because I could not get them through the gate.

4. There are lots of perennial “clay buster” choices available that thrive in this soil type. Black-eyes Susans, goldenrod, Russian sage, daylily (hemerocallis), purple coneflower, yarrow and canna are among the hardy perennials that can thrive in clay soil.

As I stated more than once, I am about the sizzle. I wasn’t really excited about concepts such as soil structure and amendments. My goal was to plant beautiful flowering annual, perennials and shrubs. I am glad I slowed down and have taken the time to prepare the soil. This annual chore has become a right of passage into spring and it’s paying off.

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