Some plants seem to do just fine in clay soil, but for others you will
need to provide much better drainage. Here's a question from a reader
who is faced with that problem.
QUESTION: "My hosta/herb garden is located directly behind my newly
constructed home of 3 years on 7 open acres that used to be farm
fields. The back of the house and garden face mostly eastward.
"The topography of the land is sloped with the house positioned at the
top. When we built the home we added soil (clay) from the neighbor who
just started building (as we were finishing), on "plastic" soil at the
bottom of the hill which used to be a pond many years ago. I am
assuming "plastic" and "clay" soils are the same or close.
"The hostas really don't seem to mind the soil, but I am finding out
that as I add lavender and other herbs, they just don't like it. I put
a rhododendron in as an accent but it too croaked.
"I thought about removing the soil and starting over, but that would
be costly as the area is about 25 foot square, sits on top of the
plumbing to the septic tank, and I do have some plants already
established that would have to be temporarily removed....is there an
amending solution that would be less expensive and stressful for my
plants?" - Donna Hrenak
ANSWER: I can certainly relate to this question! We have an area
beside our home where we built a garden area using fill from a pond we
were digging at the time. So, basically, we used all fill and mostly
For lavender we dug a trench about one foot deep, took out that soil
and replaced it with a mixture of concrete sand and small amounts of
soil. This allowed good drainage for the lavender. Lavender is a
Mediterranean plant that does not need a lot of water. Most herbs will
also need to be done the same way. In other parts of the garden I
raised the soil level to about 4 foot creating berms. Most of the
herbs that do well in our garden are planted there.
I did have drainage tiles put in around the garden about 2 foot into
the soil that are exactly like drainage tiles for septic lines that
move a lot of the runoff from hard rains to outside the garden area.
However, the tile thing may not work for you because you are sitting
on the septic line.
I can suggest a product that is organic that I use in compacted soil
but needs to be done more then once a year. It's called Prosper Soil
Conditioner and it increases friability, resists crusting, allowing
water and air to permeate soil However, this would be for general use.
For the herbs and lavender and plants like that, I would suggest that
you do what we did in the similar situation as described above.
QUESTION: "We have just built a new home and are trying to do the
landscaping ourselves. We planted two dappled willows in the front on
either side of a set of windows with a boxwood in the middle.
"Can we keep the dappled willows trimmed and shaped to where they will
not overpower the boxwood and stay a medium sized shrub, or should we
move them to the side of the house where they can get bigger? They
look beautiful now but I heard they can get huge. I love the color and
if at all possible would like them to be in the front." - Lisa
ANSWER: You are correct in that it can reach a height of 15 to 20
feet, but if you keep it shaped and trimmed you should be able to
manage it for quite a number of years.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed
newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org