We are about to grade a small vacant lot which we own (it's adjacent to a
small commercial building which we're renovating-- location is urban
America... New York City!). The lot get's fantastic sunlight... nearly
all day long..... so we want to plant trees, shrubs, gardens(tomatoes,
We need to order a lot of topsoil to fill in the lot....
Question is: ... is topsoil good enough for planting? somewhere i've
heard that topsoil is not good for planting(has no nutrients??).... but i
have no idea about that.
Should we mix in with the topsoil bags of so called , "tree and shrub
planting dirt" and "flower and vegetable planting dirt"?
All suggestions greatly appreciated
On a slightly different subject: Has that vacant lot been used as a
dog toilet? If so, BEWARE. Extremely serious infections possibly
leading to blindness can happen.
You may want to sterilize the area before adding soil. This can be
done by covering it with clear plastic and letting the sun bake out
the bad stuff. Not sure how long it takes. Maybe somebody can
weigh in on this.
The OP would be wise to do a bit of digging and find out what the existing
soil is like, before adding anything. And, he should take a look at this:
The typical topsoil you pay for will turn to crust rather quickly. Unless
the existing soil is absolute garbage, it's better to fix it, rather than
pay enormous amounts of money for something that won't solve the underlying
problems (no pun intended).
have you noticed that virtually all plantings in virtually all malls in
America are mulched with wood chips? Wonder why? The chips are free
(tree companies will save money if they dump them on your property
instead of paying for landfill space), they make excellent soil
eventually (far better than topsoil, with good macro and micro nutrient
content, except N), and they last longer than other organic mulches.
You need to order enough to put one foot of chips on the part of the
lot that you intend to cover, so you are looking at tens of cubic yards
which you can spread with a pitchfork, or if the lot is big, by renting
a Bobcat for a weekend. You will be rewarded by many years of low
weeding, low watering, and no fertilizing except for nitrogen (buy a
bag of urea). Call a few tree companies and see if one will dump a
couple trucks in there for you. Because winter is coming, you are
better off doing it now rather than in the spring. If you want free
gourmet food from those chips, as well as something that will turn the
chips into fertilizer faster, please consult www.fungi.com (I do eat
gourmet mushrooms about a dozen times a year).
The con of wood chips is that they are quite acidic, as well as quite
coarse, and so unsuitable for grass for example (the seeds are tiny,
and grass prefers a higher pH). They are also unsuitable for a number
of vegetables that perform best with a pH of 7. Over time, as they
decompose, the pH goes up and you can plant such vegetables (if the pH
does not rise enough, or rises too slowly for you, adding wood ash is a
good way to improve fertility and pH at the same time). However, right
off the bat you will be able to plant virtually all shrubs, all trees,
and most perennials in a friendly soil (with winter coming, you should
consider planting them before Dec. 1, though I have planted trees
successfully as late as Dec. 10 in Michigan, a few days before the
Next year, with the chips still quite acidic, you can plant squash,
tomato, cukes, potato, garlic, and most beans in there. As the pH rises
you will be able to plant cabbage, chard, beet and onion. As the chips
become soil, you will be able to seed arugula, lettuce, carrots, kale,
and all the other small seeded veggies. When the chips become soil, all
you need to maintain the low weeding and watering is a light mulch of
either grass clippings or leaves.
How big are the woodchips you get where you live (I presume the USA)? When
people say woodchips to me that describes something fairly large, not saw
dust or wood shavings. I don't know about your experiences in the US however
here in New Zealand we wouldn't go near mixing woodchips in to top soil, I
have never come across anyone suggesting it. Untreated wood chips are used
as a mulch and wood shavings and shredded tree prunings are used in lighter
grade composts and possting mixes. Even those however are composted along
with the likes of manures, blood and bone, limes, sand etc.
Yes, he should not mix them in. They should be layered on top, and he
plant through the chips.
The chips from a tree company have much more variance than the chips
you see in malls.
Around here, probably 80% of them are one inch or lower, and about 10%
are up to 4 inches.
They 80% decompose in two years. They keep the ground weed-free longer
than that, because the larger chips work their way to the top, either
due to the freeze-thaw cycle or earthworm activity.
Untreated wood chips are used
I see no difference between composting them elsewhere and composting
them as mulch.
So long as they are on top, they will not affect nitrogen availability
in the soil.
Interesting how you recommend wood chip as a soil improver. I take your
point about planting through a layer of woodchip, the woodchip is mulch. I
don't see that as a soil improver however. Impossible to grow a lawn with
wood chip in the soil (which I note you did state in your post). Maybe I
misread what you were saying as conditioning the soil (like with compost or
poop) when you were talking more as a mulch.
Wood chips have enough fertility that they will, long term, condition
the soil. 0-0.2-0.2 is nothing to sneeze at. If you are starting a
virgin lot, with its 75-years weed seed bank, what you probably want is
a 2-inch layer of seed-free, high quality top soil. That way you come
in with some control over the lot.
Realistically, the many tons of organic matter one needs can be had
with wood chips, leaves, or manure. I doubt that one can get them by
taking trips to the local Starbucks. Now, I love leaf mold, absolutely
everything grows well in there, but if you want two inches of topsoil
from leaves you have to have minimum a couple feet and probably more.
And its nutrient content will be a fraction of that of wood. Manure
will solve all your nutrient needs but will also bring in its own
seeds, and will also be colonized by weeds very soon. You will also
need more than one foot manure to make two inches topsoil.
In general the nutrient and mulching requirements of perennials are
vastly different from those of grass. Wood chips won't do everything
for you (they won't do grass, they might need pH and N amendments for
some veggies, and they are slow-acting) but to me the control one has
at the beginning, and the minimal maintenance later, are reason enough
to go that way. Minimal maintenance is also what landscaping companies
look for, and they do what I do.
maybe different expectations of what a back yard should look like eh. The
traditional kiwi backyard is grass, and then some more grass, and some grass
on top of that, with a few citrus trees. More modern practices with layered
landscaping could very probably do what you state, shrubs and trees and
other large plants or spreading ground covers over soil with layers of wood
or pruning mulch. The growing garden would hide the wood mulch. I have never
bothered to look to closely as I have stuck to growing grass or what is not
grass are raised garden for natives and vegetables. Next time I have a
chance I will look closer at various gardens.
Excellent post and just what this 'newbie' needed to read.
What would be a reasonable 'rate' to apply wood ashes (from hardwood
charoal used in a BBQ pit - not a grill, no fat drippings or meat
product contamination) to soil (as yet untested) that is likely on the
acid side as it has had leaves (needles?) from 2 large bald cypress fall
on it for decades. It does grow St. Augustine and Colocasia and Alocasis
and several other ornamentals just fine so I wouldn't want to drive it
basic. But it seems some light application would be OK - I just don't
know what 'light' is! Also, I have just begun using a tumbling composter
and was wondering about adding ashes in there - again, at what point do
we get close to 'too much'?
sorry for the long post
Wood ash has a pH of 10.4. The reasonable rate depends, of course, on
the original pH and target pH. Wood chips have a pH of about 5, which
will go up to 6 over time, so you can add a lot of wood ash at the
beginning. My native soil has a pH of about 5.5. Wood chips are about
0.2%P and 0.2%K, and of course no N, though if they have green branches
in there, they could have a bit. I have had some chips piles become hot
on their own, just due to the green bits. Wood ash is about 50%Ca, and
about 2%P and 7%K. Both chips and ash are rich in the other
One thing to remember about wood ash is that you never apply it during
the growing season, as it may burn the plants, and as you say it is
much better if you apply it to organic matter before spreading such
organic matter. That will buffer it some. Also, check the optimal pH
for the plants. Wood ash is death for blueberries, but is good for most
plants, and great for specific vegetables or for irises for example.
In my case, I spread about 1lb for 20 sqft in late winter, or twice
that if there are wood chips already there. 1lb/20sqft is what you may
consider your maximum. In my case, given the native soil and nature of
the organic matter in the beds, I find that it takes one application if
the soil in the beds is from mixed compost (mainly leaves and manure)
sitting on top of the native soil, to take the pH to 6.5. If the
compost is mostly from wood chips, I find that it takes three
OK - one lb on 20 sq ft 'feels' like a lot more than I would have used
just guessing. But, adding it to composted kitchen scraps and garden
trimmings seems ideal to me. And, I do plan to do some pH testing
Um - do you know, 1. if pine needles are really a poor item to use for
mulch or in any other way? 2. are Bald Cypress needles/leaves bad to
use as, say, a mulch and, if pine needles are bad, would my cypress
leaves be in the same 'class'. I get TONS off my trees. I would like to
put them in the composter and/or use them as mulch.
thanx again for taking the time to answer.
not really. They do not have a whole lot of mass, so even if they are
acid they won't change the pH much. As a matter of fact this year I
mulched a small patch of cabbage with pine needles, and the cabbage
(which does not like it acid) came out good. The only problem with pine
needles is that they have chemical compounds that prevent seeds from
germinating. The perfect mulch in a sense.
I use all the needles i have, but it is not much (one tree).
2. are Bald Cypress needles/leaves bad to
I would use them. Specially if they are used in mixed compost, say with
grass clippings or manure, which tends to be neutral. But let me point
out again that a light mulch like pine needles will not change the pH
much, because you need more mass (like, a few inches of the much denser
wood chips) and the mulch also needs some time to leach various weak
organic acids in the soil.
Not clear whether you refer to me or Joe, but in my case, I have done
it for my front flower bed (approximately 150 sqft), for my japanese
maples, for my grapes, hardy kiwis and chestnuts, for my bamboo, my
raspberries, and cyclically for my vegetable beds (I have about 1000
sqft of vegetables). I have used about 60 tons of the stuff in the
process, and I have a pretty good understanding of how they work.
No. Mycelium will be there in a matter of one month even in a pile left
in full sun. Certainly in place like New York. Look, I have dispatched
a dozen multi ton piles, all with a pitch fork. Once you get down to
the junk at the bottom, all the unconnected pieces, you need a snow
shovel, but the first foot to two feet depth will be solid enough to
pick up, and yet crumbly enough that you can break it by raking with
the same pitchfork.
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.