Water-Wise Plants Soil Preparation, Mulch and Groundcover

One of the most important steps in gardening of any type is soil preparation. Good soil is what we build our yards and gardens out of. A little more time and effort in this stage, will help to assure your gardening efforts are successful. It should be noted that some Xeriscape plants do not need or thrive in rich, high quality soil.

Get to Know Your Soil

There are three basic types of soil - Sandy , Clay, and Silt

  • Clay based soil causes problems by holding the water and being to dense to work..
  • Sandy soil allows water to drain too easily and washes out nutrients.
  • Silty soil also allows water to wash through it too fast, the difference with sandy soil is when it is dry it is powdery in texture and prone to wind damage.

Along with organic matter or humus there are three primary minerals that make up soil: sand, clay, silt. The right balance of both humus and minerals will achieve garden loam, the best soil for growing plants. The good news is that poor soil can easily be improved and transformed into loam.

What Kind of Soil Do I Have?

Here's a quick informal test to see what type of soil you have. Check your soil's texture by picking up a handful and squeeze gently: If it feels sticky and stays in a tight mass, your soil is likely too high in clay. If it feels harsh or gritty and won't hold any shape or crumbles it is likely too high in sand. If it feels smooth or floury and won't hold any shape, it's likely too high in silt. If it molds into your hand yet crumbles apart when squeezed, it has the perfect texture. It is probably loam.

Turning Poor Soil Into Loam

Available organic matter can be used to enhance the quality of your topsoil. There are several sources of organic matter. The one to use depends upon local availability and cost. Commonly recommended soil additives include:

  • Mushroom manure, well rotted
  • Chicken manure with sawdust, should be composted
  • Peat moss
  • Peat and sand mixture
  • Any readily available compost

After adding topsoil and/or soil additives, bring entire yard to a rough grade, be sure to distribute the improved topsoil evenly over the entire yard.

Roto-till the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Finish grading:

Prepare the ground with these goals in mind:

  • Good drainage or water detention for water intensive plants
  • Smooth contours for even growth
  • Good topsoil

You should slope the ground away from buildings and grade to one inch below driveway or sidewalk level.

When possible use mulch or gravel borders to avoid areas that are difficult to irrigate efficiently.

Mulch

Mulching is a great addition to your garden and landscape. Mulch helps keep plants roots cool, prevents soil from crusting, minimizes evaporation, and reduces weed growth. Mulches also give beds a finished look and increase the visual appeal of your garden. Organic mulches, such as bark chips, pole peelings or wood grindings, should be applied at least 4 inches deep. Because they decompose over time, they’re an excellent choice for new beds. As plants mature and spread, they’ll cover the mulched areas.

Inorganic mulches include rocks and gravel, and should be applied at least 2 inches deep. They rarely need replacement and are good in windy spots. However, they should not be placed next to the house on the sunny south or west sides, because they tend to retain and radiate heat. Mulch may be applied directly to the soil surface or placed over a landscape fabric. (Note: Do not use black plastic because it prevents air and water from reaching to the plant roots.)