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Saturday, July 20, 2013

here's the dirt...



literally!
As requested, here is our amended soil recipe for shrubs and trees!  It's simple to do and makes a big difference in the survivability of new plantings.  As I mentioned before we've used this mix for years- here and in Dallas.  You can certainly buy pre-mixed products, but if you have a lot of planting to do this is much more cost effective.




The formula is not an exact science, but we mix approximately 6 parts of dirt (here we use screened top soil that is delivered via a dump truck, but in Dallas we bought bags of top soil at Home Depot/Lowe's) to 1 part peat moss and1 part cow manure.   We're looking for a light and fluffy soil mixture that will allow for good drainage and also keep the soil moist after watering.  We mix the ingredients really well and then go by look/feel and add more peat moss or cow poop, if needed, to get to the right consistency.  We've added other ingredients throughout the years- mushroom compost comes to mind, but this is our easy, go-to standard mix.
Depending on the amount of "good dirt" needed we sometimes mix it in the scoop of the tractor (a wheel barrel will work), or when mixing a large amount Dan will use the tractor scoop to mix the pile on the ground.   If you don't have a tractor no worries, in Dallas I would pour the ingredients on our driveway/parking pad and mix, using a shovel, a large mound directly on the concrete. 






It's that simple!  Depending on the size of a bed, we often will amend the soil in the entire bed- rotatilling it in, but we also simply amend the soil per hole when planting individual trees/shrubs as we did in the terrace wall bed.  To plant, we dig the hole at least twice the size of the diameter of plastic pot (or root ball) we are planting and at least 3-4" deeper.  A larger, deeper hole is always better since it allows for more of the amended soil to be placed around the new planting.   We then place a layer of the amended soil on the bottom of the hole and turn the shovel upside down and using the handle end "tamp" down the dirt.  Tamping is really important as you want to ensure that there won't be any air-pockets once all the dirt is in the hole, and that the plant won't sink in the hole over time.    We place the plant in the hole and add more amended soil, tamping the sides as we go.  Once we have filled the hole half way to 3/4 with dirt and have tamped really well (your arm will hurt, trust me;) we add my secret ingredient...  Miracle-Gro Quick Start or Green Light Root Stimulator.
For years we used the Green Light, but Miracle-Gro is more readily available in our area.  Both are excellent.   Using this product helps to prevent transplant shock.   We mix the liquid concentrate with water to the ratio written on the container for the size of tree/shrub you are planting.  I use 5 gallons for a 10 gallon tree/shrub.  I pour half of the solution directly onto the root ball and let it soak in.  After it has soaked in completely I apply the second half of the solution and again, let it completely soak in.  Depending on your type of soil and the amount of moisture in the surrounding soil this can take 5 minutes to an hour, but the point is that you want the hole to be wet, but not filled with water when you then go to finish putting dirt in the hole.  When I finish filling the hole with the amended dirt I continue to tamp, but only to the depth of the amount of dirt added at the end, not all the way to the bottom of the hole or you'll only be making air pockets, so tamp lightly.
Though the Quick Start instructions don't say to do this the Root Stimulator instructions used to say to repeat the application two more times at one month increments.  I think this is a really important part in helping the newly planted tree/shrub develop a healthy root system.  I make notes in my garden book (and iphone notepad;) to remind me to reapply.




My other ingredient for happy new plantings is water- the amount and how.  I realize this sounds simplistic, but it is an easy mistake that can cause a new plant unnecessary stress.  Never, ever let the roots of a new tree/shrub dry out.  Depending on your soil and temperatures most shrubs/trees take a month to three to establish a decent root system and you want to keep the roots moist until this happens. (I'm not saying drown them, I'm simply saying to not let them get bone dry:)
"How" you water is another important element to keeping new plants (or even established plants in extreme heat conditions) healthy and happy.  My method is that I always water plants twice.  As basic as this sounds I credit this technique for my lush potted plants thriving in the extreme Texas summers. (I use this same technique for plants in the ground, plants in outside pots and houseplants btw.)  Have you ever noticed how when you water an extremely dry potted plant the water seems to just runs through the dirt?  That's because it does.  If you only water once, the water you are intending for the roots isn't giving the entire root system a drink, it makes little pathways in the dry dirt and runs right through it missing some of the root system.  I water a plant, let it soak in, then re-water several minutes later.  The second watering insures that the water will get to the roots!  (In extreme heat conditions I will even hit the plant three separate times to make sure that it is well-watered.)

Then we mulch!  We're generous with the mulch and give the plant a wide, thick circle of mulch.   (I usually wait several days before adding mulch to make sure that I don't need to add more dirt to the plant's hole.)   We use natural pine bark mulch, mainly for the cost and I like that it decomposes fairly quickly.  I'm personally not a fan of dyed mulch- I don't like the idea of the chemicals from the dye leaching into the ground.  (And, don't get me started on the red/orange dyed mulch!   For the life of me, I can't understand what that stuff is supposed to mimic or why the manufacturers think anyone would want bright red/orange mulch in their yard.) 

 happy planting!




I recently found this tidbit in an O Magazine while waiting for a haircut appointment.  It could explain a lot....!


Here's my top-ten list for you know you're a gardener when...

1.  you have 6 nurseries in your contact list on your phone!
2.  you're the only person at the nursery when it's pouring rain or it's 93 degrees!
3.  while shopping, without consciously thinking about it, you deadhead plants at Home Depot!
4.  you accidentally hit one of your plants and tell it "I'm sorry!"
5.  you think nothing of driving an hour and a half to get to your favorite nursery!
6.  you know the days of the week the nurseries get new shipments!
7.  the thrill and anticipation of what you will find at the nursery the next day keeps you up at night!
8.  you sacrifice a fresh manicure to pull weeds!
9.  instead of jewels for your birthday you ask for plants!  (last year we bought a Sugar Maple as our anniversary present to one another!)
10.    you know and love that good, exhausted, aching, rewarding feeling at the end of a really long, hard day in the yard!

(feel free to play along and add what would be on your list in the comment section!!)



50 comments:

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly that soil mixture is key to planting new trees, shrubs, flowers and plants in general! I had a banana plant that I had started in a large wine barrel pot and for the first year it did not do well. I put it in regular potting soil. This year I transferred it to the ground and added a specific plant mixture to it and fertilizer and it has grown about 200% this year!

    I laughed out loud when I read that you know you are a gardener when you say you are sorry when you bump into a plant. Too funny! I say sorry to my plants when I fail at keeping them alive!! I truly feel bad!

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  2. omg we are right there with you Joan we would
    much rather be gardening than going to a movie.

    11. favorite activities to do together is
    planning, shopping and planting in our garden.

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  3. If anyone is living in NW Ohio, Brinkmans in Findlay, Ohio has their own soil that they sell and it is simply fabulous. Our flowers grow like crazy.

    Joannie

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  4. I totally agree about the red dyed mulch! A local garden writer in Georgia once said about it that he couldn't understand why someone would want mulch the color of Lucy Ricardo's hair. I laugh every time I see that ugly mulch!

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  5. Yes, I am a gardener!! I have yet to get a manicure this summer because of I love to stroll thru our garden in the evening and naturally end up pulling weeds!!

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    1. It's our nightly ritual when Dan's not out of town, to stroll the gardens (usually with a cocktail;)! Like you though, we can never complete the walk without stopping to pick or preen something along the way;)

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  6. much older sister SusanJuly 20, 2013 at 3:37 PM


    I LOVE your new table in the living room that you have posted on Instagram!!

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  7. Thanks for sharing the formula, Joan! And I love your list :) For my 40th last year, Tom drove me 2 1/2 hours to buy a white peony. xo Loi

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    Replies
    1. Ohhh, love that Loi! Sweet Tom (sounds like something Dan would do too!)

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  8. My husband and I have been using a similar mix for years in whatever zone we are living. Have not used the starter but intend to try it. We have used pine bark mulch for years also. As for orange dyed mulch I believe the rabid UT as in University of Tennessee at Knoxville fans would purchase it.
    Pam

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    1. ha! I bet you're right Pam, must have been a UTenn alum who invented it;)

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  9. Great tips!

    You know you're a gardener when your idea of fun is visiting the arboretum or touring a special garden. (Why does this sound so old lady-ish?)

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  10. Thank you for the secret recipe and details!!!!!!! In my twenties, when I was just starting out at home keeping, I could have really used this advise. (Well, maybe I was given this advise and may not have been a listener!) After tons of wasted time, money and effort later, I KNOW your planting technique is the only way to go. For myself, I had to learn that instant gratification is never the best decision, it's always best to enjoy the beginning, middle and end of all projects. Maybe an analogy to measure twice, cut once! Oh yay, and I also had to learn that paying the 12 year old neighbor kid $20.00 to water the week after planting while on vacation was not a good idea too :) XO Tina

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    Replies
    1. Tina, I've had the teenager/vacation/watering issue in the past too... ughhh.

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  11. Ha Ha...I deadhead the flowers everywhere! Loved that one!

    Red Mulch = hideous. the End.

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  12. When first putting in a new garden I always used buckwheat mulch, loved the look. But it got harder to find, and then the garden filled with plants so no need or space to put down pretty mulch. I also weed in neighbors gardens while talking......they never seem to say stop!!! What is red mulch trying to mimic anyway????

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    Replies
    1. I have never heard/seen buckwheat mulch! Too funny about you weeding the neighbor gardens, love that!

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  13. Thanks for the recipe...that's pretty much what I've been using. I laughed at your "you know you are a gardener when" list...I replanted a houseplant last weekend, and when I finished I kissed a leaf...guess I've got it bad! Sort of like hugging a tree...I've done that too! Enjoy gardening! ;)

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  14. That's a great list, Joan!! I totally relate to #10 -- it can be the BEST feeling in the world. Something else I love about working in the yard/garden? Instant gratification. :)
    xo Heidi

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  15. Thankyou for posting this. I will use this for my next planting.

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  16. I am so with you on the orange red mulch!! Sadly, all I have ever been able to keep alive in my yard is weeds :( I am more of an indoor gal. I wish I had a green thumb - but I am so lost when it comes to plants. (Probably due to me and my daughter being allergic to most green things?? You think?)

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  17. love your new table in the living room too!
    You do have a great eye for beautiful things Joan.
    Will there be a story to go along with this new find?

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  18. Thanks for the informative post. What are your favorite low maintenance shrubs for foundation planting? Do the green velvet boxwoods require much pruning to retain their shape? Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. The Green Velvets have a lovely natural shape that I don't prune in the garden. For the path I'm sure I will need to prune when they get larger, but they stay relatively short in height(compared to some boxwoods) so I'm hoping it won't have to be too much.
      Regarding my favorite low maintenance shrubs, it really depends on your gardening zone and shade/sun?

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    2. We planted "bowling ball" shrubs around our deck three years ago; they stay round and do well in the sun.

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    3. I had to look that one up Sandy, as I've never heard of it... Mr. Bowling Ball Arborvitae looks nice!

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  19. We have chairs in the garden so that we can go sit in the garden in the evening (with cocktails in hand!) Yeah, we're gardeners alright!

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  20. Root stimulator is amazing!! I've brought home many "clearance" plants that thrive after planting them and using root stimulator...and I LOVE finding earthworms and ladybugs in my garden...there's nothing like playing in the dirt :)

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  21. What a wonderful post. We are going to be establishing a new house and garden on a virgin site and I don't think the new soil will be nearly as fertile as my river flats soil. I plan now to use your recipe and get my lovelies off to a great start. Thank you.
    I want to add my own 'you know you are a gardener when...your arms look like you have done battle with a mad lion every July (for Aussie rose pruners or around March for Northerners).

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  22. Joan,
    Thank you so much for your soil recipe. I follow a bit of that already, but I think I like the idea of the quick start. I'm an avid gardener and look forward to each time spent in the garden. The longer days allow me a good 30-45 minutes after work, before dinner on week nights.
    xo,
    Karen

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  23. Love the list of ' you know you're a gardener when....' and laughed and related to all of these! I also find myself opening up the greenhouse in the morning and automatically saying 'Good morning!'......to my Tomato, Pepper and Aubergine plants! Oh dear.......

    Have a lovely weekend and happy gardening!

    Sophia x

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  24. These are some great tips and very timely for me. We're doing a big landscape construction job at my NH house and will be adding a lot of bushes and plantings.

    Can't wait to see how everything turns out with your project!

    Warmly,
    Christine
    http://antiquenehomes.blogspot.com/2013/07/crazy-stuff-going-on-at-my-house.html

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  25. Love the mix, I do something very similar, very worthwhile. Top on my list is "You know you are a gardener when you are shopping at your favorite nursery in the winter", and yes it's open all winter. They have two large green houses which they remove the room, keep the sides, and store all the perennials to protect from winds. The staff loves our visits, as there usually isn't anyone else around, except inside the store/glass greenhouse. Also on first name basis with the "important" people at that nursery. Orange/Red mulch, I call Taco Bell mulch...hate it! I buy mulch from my favorite nursery by the truck loads...my winter (when there is no snow) chore. Also love the new table in the livingroom...gorgeous!

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    1. Donna, I don't think I will ever look at red mulch ever again without thinking of Taco Bell!!!

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  26. Manicure!??! Wassat!?!? I don't even put clear polish on because it would be gone in an hour! You know you are a gardener when you buy a Zone 5 rose, knowing full well you live in a Zone 4 now, and plan to 'baby' it, scheming about heat blankets and creating micro-climates. :) We use a very similar dirt recipe too....but forgot about the transplant stimulator, thanks for the reminder! Short story: my friend was talking to a garden center owner and said, tongue in cheek, that for her, 'gardening was a sickness', and the owner replied, in all seriousness, 'no, it is the CURE'! And isn't that the truth! Rosie

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    1. You are 'hopeful' gardener to buy a wrong-zone plant Rosie!! Yes, it is totally the "cure"- love that!

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    2. You're gracious to say that....'in denial' gardener is more like it! I figure I will pot the rose, garage it for the winter, and go from there....sometimes plants surprise us with their hardiness! :)

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  27. Your soil formula is similar to ours, only we use seafood/lobster compost - love that stuff!!! Your "Top 10" made me smile because I can relate! LOL!!!

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  28. I love your top ten list... one I have on mine is when you get cramps from "that time of the month" the best solution is to go out back and pull weeds. My husband still thinks I'm crazy!

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  29. Such a fun list, Joan! You definitely have not only a green thumb but a whole green hand! Thanks for sharing what you've learned over the years of getting your hands dirty!

    xoxo Elizabeth

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  30. Joan, I've been following your blog for years and was thrilled to finally see the barn room. I looked at those photos for days. Beautiful! Today, I became the proud owner of a tree conk. Do I need to do anything to preserve it? The Internet has been most unhelpful.

    Schalene

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    1. Schalene, Congrats on your tree conk! I don't do anything to preserve them. You just want to be sure they are completely dry if there is any moisture in them, so I usually leave them outside for a few weeks.

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  31. Thank you so much for the "recipe" and instructions!! I'm laughing at telling the plant "I'm sorry". Yep...I'm guilty...or apologizing when they were dry a little too long....
    The amazing thing is, they most always forgive me and keep my yard beautiful...even when it is 105 degrees.
    I appreciate your time to "give us the dirt".
    Blessings to you and hugs to Miss Ella.
    J

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  32. This is a great article. Many good ideas here soil mix, what fertilizer to use and how to water. I just bought some plants today. I should have bought the starter fertilizer. Oh well, back to the nursery or HD. Not that I mind.

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  33. Hi Joan:

    Your landscaping just looks fabulous!! You've done a wonderful job keeping with the period and charm of the house. I know how hard it is to do landscaping projects in New England. We have such a short window of good weather and lots of rocks and tough ground to work with. Glad that you got your project done with time to enjoy it while the weather is still nice!

    Our landscape project's coming along. The fence and sod are in and we've done a lot of planting. My poor, overworked husband is re-pointing the old bricks in the foundation now. I'll have an updated post next week about it the project.

    Take care!
    Christine
    http://antiquenehomes.blogspot.com/

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  34. I am "catching up" on our blog and had to laugh. Just last week I said to my sister that I wondered how much I had spent buying dirt in the last 20 years!!! I have been known to ask for mulch and/or manure on major gift giving holidays!!!

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  35. Thanks for this informative post. I'm getting ready to replace the soil in front of my house this week and I will replace it with your formula. Here's to hoping this new soil will actually grow something. My old soil wouldn't even grow annuals, so anything will be an improvement.

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