I live in the sunny desert of Idaho, zone 6. There's a little garden section
next to my house on the south side. The ground is sandy in this place.
I've tried planting several things there.The first year, peas (which did
well unil late spring, and I was able to harvest) and carrots (which were
kind of woody tasting). What I really wanted was roses. It's a tiny space
(2'x8') and I could fit three roses there, with strawberries as a ground
cover. Well, the leaves didn't even bud on the first roses I planted. Almost
all of the strawberries dried up right away. I thought I wasn't watering
enough, (and planting too late in the season) so I tried it again this year.
I planted much earlier. I watered more. One of the bareroot roses put forth
leaves. The strawberries looked like they were going to do well. I left for
the weekend, thinking they'd be all right. Three days later I returned to
find only a few strawberries left (of the ~50 I planted) and the leaves on
the rose shriveled up and crunchy.
I'm thinking my problem is two-fold. The sandy soil doesn't lock in any
moisture. The house reflects the heat from the sun.
Only two things seem to grow well here- prickly lettuce and purslane. The
previous owners had it filled with lava rock.
This is my new idea. I could get some sagebrush (a very natural plant around
here) and use purslane as a ground cover. I'm also thinking of using prickly
pear cactus down further along the side of the house. I also have one lone
cotoneaster at the corner of the house that doesn't mind the dry.
I'm looking for any other suggestions. I also have a much bigger section I'd
like things to grow in along the house (where I'm thinking of using the
Sagebrush and similar shrubs are pretty flammable - are wildfires a
concern where you are? If so, they should not be located anywhere near
the house or any other structures.
Look around to see how prickly pear grows in your area. If it gets
weedy, it could be real torture to get rid of it or even to keep it
under control. Possibly a liability issue too. Or - consider buying a
completely thornless variety. For a bonus - get a thornless variety that
makes really good fruit!
Why not do some SERIOUS amendment to your soil there. It sounds like the
area isn't that large. Perhaps 10 big bags of compost/ aged manure/
well-soaked peat moss, etc etc. This will seem like a lot at first, but your
sandy soil will "eat" it all up. Roses should do well in your climate -
they tend to do better and act healthier in deserty climates than they are
in humid climates. (Fewer problems with black spot and mildew). And they
like lots of sun, as long as their roots are able to get moisture. Hence,
the amendments, which will keep moist after the sand has dried out.
So I would go for the peas again. They worked. They are good and
they fix nitrogen in your sandy soil.
I think one of the keys for this site will be to add mulch, mulch and
some more mulch around everything you plant. This will help to create
a microclimate around your plants and will help (somewhat) to limit
some of your water loss to evaporation.
I saw the post about soil amendments and you could go that route...but
I rather like to start with what conditions I have and then find all
the cool variety of things that will grow there. It sounds like you
have some more room so you might consider some container/raised bed
gardening if you want all the veggies, etc.
Here's a site of Front Range Plants
Colorado's Front Range has dry/clay soil generally but the
dry/sunny/rocky plants might also succeed where you are.
Not sure how high/dry you are but there are varieties of lupine that
thrive on dry, sandy river banks. Great plant with lovely color.
Penstemon - bearded tongue
-(http://www.prairiefrontier.com/pages/natvpics/nativea1.html ) is
pretty and we've found it to be so successful that it's almost
invasive in the rocky beds that run immediately beside our house
I hate to advocate any mint as it's just so annoying...but if you want
to fill in space - Dotted mint is pretty and should thrive in your
conditions (http://www.prairiefrontier.com/pages/natvpics/nativea4.html ).
Indian rice grass may provide you with some height and "structure".
Not sure how big bluestem will do, but it's such a fun plant I have to
Antelope bitterbrush (http://tinyurl.com/2uj5t ) and snowberry (any
variety) are 2 larger shrubs that might help you fill up space around
Also, except for the shrubs, I would consider planting from seed.
Personally, I would overseed the area and then wait for stuff to
sprout. The most successful can stay and then pull the rest.
I like to go to local nurseries and pick their brain over what might
grow in the space. They'll know your area and they might be able to
come up with more fun, local natives. Don't buy anything when you go
the first time. Just create a plant list and mark down their seed
prices. Visit a couple. Choose the one that you felt gave you the
most help and have prices that seem the most reasonable. Take your
list and buy from them.
Thanks for all the replies. Last year I added a five gallon bucket of aged
manure (minus the bucket) to the area. It didn't seem to help. It never
occurred to me to add TEN bags of stuff. So, I'll try one more time by
amending the soil and mulching.
Oh, and the peas, they're fine for spring, but it's too hot for them by the
end of May. Besides, I'd like something a little more permanent.
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