my new bed is killing all my bulbs and perennials! why???

posskat(z4-5canada)May 21, 2011

last year my husband made me a new planter, 3'x10'x10" of wood i'd used before for planters. i put down thick cardboard, wet it copiously, and filled it w/approx. 1/2 homemade compost and leaves, 1/4 sand and 1/4 very old manure from the feedlot. i planted a ton of bulbs and expensive perennials i'd splurged on. well, this spring rolled around, and only about 4 crocus and 8 tulip bulbs started, and after some 3 to 4" of growth, everything has come to a screaming halt. nothing has happened for over a month!! i finally dug up a crocus and a bulb. the bulb seems ok, but there are no roots to speak of!! someone mentioned nematodes, but i can't find any info on this. are all my expensive plants doomed??? what can i do? someone please, please help! i planted some leftover pansies and petunias a week ago, and they seem fine, but nothing else is happening, and i'm feeling sick about it....

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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I think the soil is too rich. Allow it to stay empty for a few years or remove the soil and use as compost elsewhere and get supersoil container mix from home depot big bags, that is a very mild soil. Cardboard is bad for drainage.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 12:50PM
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if it is too rich, (i've used straight compost before, w/successful results, as w/the cardboard as newspaper didn't prevent the grass growing)) would this cause the roots to not form?....the bulbs (tulip, crocus, etc. seem healthy,albeit a tiny bit of mold on some but there are no roots, or only short roots about 1/2 an inch long....the manure was composted several years, so i would think it would have been great to use...

if this is the case, should i dig up the bulbs and let them dry until next fall? thanks so much

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 8:28PM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana(zone 5/6)

The bed is 10" deep, right?

When last fall did you plant the bulbs and perennials? On the perennials, I'm thinking possibly it was too late for them too root in well enough before the many freezes and thaws and thus might have heaved out and croaked.

I'm not sure why the bulbs would be moldy or just have short roots...Ok...I take that back...I had bulbs (daffodils) that were planted quite late and were planted quite shallowly, and they didn't really get rooted in before they heaved. They made short roots, and even bloomed and early this spring I pushed them down deeper, and I'm hoping they will survive and thrive next spring.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 11:35PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

Is your planter on bare ground or directly on a hard surface (eg concrete or a rocky patch)? What's the drainage like?

For example - I made a 'tabletop' planter which has a slatted bottom. I lined it with overlapping plastic bags then put in a mix of composts - one of which is very rich. Despite being three feet off the ground, with seeping drainage, and being only 8" deep - the bottom layer of the mix is very 'cluggy'. Further - despite being very well-rotted compost, the growth from the first year was disappointing. Using the same mix for a second year, after weathering, the results have been much better.

The leaves. I may have misread. I gained the impression that you had used them as a further 'water-holder' layer. Sometimes buried material can be a bit toxic while it rots. I'd use leaves on the top, as a protective mulch over a serving of, say, blood and bone (but I don't have critters, as such :-)) ) Not buried.

(That's not a lot of depth for bigger bulbs to get their roots down. At least four inches above and below the actual bulb, if they have to dodge the frost.)

The sand. Nononono. Grit, yes. Sand and compost is for serious water-lovers. Gunnera and pondside plants.
3-5mm sharp grit well stirred through. A good gritty mix encourages root development. If you have mountain streams in your area with shingle beaches - look at the root development of plants growing in that medium. The tops might be stunted but the roots spread far and wide as they forage.

If your planter has settled over winter - I'd add some genuine soil. Dirt out the garden. Not subsoil clay. Reasonable topsoil, if you have it. In an outdoor planter of the size you have the soil seems to add 'sturdiness' to the mix and the plants. One bucket of dirt, one of compost, half of grit. Later on, I'd add the ancient cowpats and good garden compost to suit the taste of whatever I was planting. And add an organic mulch if water-loss, or wind is an issue in the garden, once the soil has warmed up and growth is well under way.

For now - I'd rescue the perennials and pot them up fairly tightly until they've developed a vigorous root system again. A gritty mix will help for most of them, so long as you water with care.

You didn't list what you were growing. For a mix as juicy as you've offered, I'd be growing things such as polyanthus, or Dahlias, maybe Hostas and Dicentra. For something like tuberous Begonia - I'd wait for the second year.

If you bought pot-grown perennials and they were slightly root-bound - remember to open the base of the rootball a little so they can start spreading. If they were slips and bare-rooted - don't expect wonders this year. Some can take up to two years to settle in and then shock you by becoming garden thugs :-(.

Meantime, you could sneak in a few coloured lettuces and use the benefits tastily! Or try some bedding Impatiens and Lobelia while the soil ingredients settle down.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 6:41AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I did plant a bulb in straight compost in a pot as a test, and it sprouted a bit, but then just up and died. I am a compost fanatic, so it is not like I am anti compost, but I would start with a mild soil and then add compost to the surface over time just a bit every two weeks.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 1:44PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I would not use news papers or cardboard for weeds. The only way to do it is remove the soil that has the weed seeds, but if you can't just water and let the weeds sprout and remove the sprouted weeds before they reseed until they stop reseeding so much. Then you have to remove them almost daily in the future. Paper blocks the natural cycle of drainage and adds unwanted chemicals compounds. I think news ink is bad for plants. Which is why if you have a new planter, I would use all new soil like the bagged soil blends such as supersoil or miracle grow since that is weed free and you don't want to have to be slowed down by waiting for weeds to sprout. Then later add homemade compost if you want to the top, but manure is way too strong, I avoid it.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 1:52PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Here's another thought. You live very far north and ten inches of depth in a contained garden is not very much. Since you covered the native soil (right?) with cardboard, you created a ten inch deep pot. Very few bulbs or perennials would survive a canadian winter in a ten inch deep pot. My guess is they all froze to death.

Most plants need far more than ten inches of soil depth to thrive. If it were me, I would begin digging the soil in the bed down to at least a foot deep (this will be into the native soil), eighteen inches would be even better, bring that soil up and mix it in with all the other stuff you have in the bed.

Verti makes a good point about leaves and other compostables. If they are mixed into the soil without decomposing first, they will tie up the nitrogen in the soil in order to do this. But, since they've had at least all winter in there, they should be through, or nearly through, the decomp process and become an asset to the soil.

In the future, lay organic materials over the top of the bed in the fall, let them decompose over the winter and then mix them in with a shovel in the spring. Or, conversely, leave them on top as a mulch and just make holes for planting.

Finally, you need to know that any new bed takes a season or two to really be at its best. The digging and amending process at the start is just the beginning. You will need to weed, feed, and continue to dig in more amendments for a year or two. Honest. It will be well worth the effort. (Get a soil test, too. Then you won't be guessing what your soil needs.)

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 1:05PM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

The main thing that jumps out at me is the fact there's no actual soil in your mix. The other thing is that 10" seems very shallow for a zone 4 planter.
I've used cardboard in the bottom of raised beds for weed control and have never had any problems. Why did you use it in yours?

    Bookmark   May 26, 2011 at 11:07PM
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