Need advice for dry, rocky soil

springleavesJune 7, 2012

My soil is as bad as you can get. I cleared a small area yesterday and found that my soil is made up of 60% very dry soil (mostly clay), 30% pebbles, 10% LARGE rocks. No earthworms.

I am planning to grow a variety of herbs and citrus trees in this strip of land and would like to get as close to growing organically as I can. What amendments would you recommend to improve the texture of this dry, lifeless soil?

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Dang, sounds like you need to rent something like a mini skid loader and just dig out that entire area about 3' down.
lay in several inches of sand.
You could lay in an irrigation system also at that point, make sure you have good drainage so you just don't create a mud pond.
Put in fencing to go under ground if you have rabbits, gophers, etc.

Then put in some good black top soil and compost.

Hard to "amend" a mix of "clay, & rocks"

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 7:29AM
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Organic matter, organic matter, organic matter. Lay down anything you can get. Grass, leaves, compost, manure, food scraps, preferably a combination of all. Layer it and keep it moist. Topsoil can help get things started if you don't want to wait a season or two to get going.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 2:31PM
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Stellabee(7, Atlanta)

I'm with Gribble. I would get as much of the pebbles and rocks out as you can (what a pain!) and then fill the area with wood chips, dead/brown leaves and straw, along with things like egg shells, manure and kitchen scraps. I would do about 85% chips/dry matter to 15% nitrogen (manure, kitchen scraps, etc). It will need to sit for at least six months though before planting (maybe more) in order to break down properly. Your soil will be super dense with nutrients though and ready to roll once it's done...!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 4:40PM
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hamiltongardener(CAN 6a)

Dry, rocky soil sounds perfect for the herbs...

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 5:45PM
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You local citrus-selling nursery should (hopefully) be familiar enough with the soil(s) in your area they can tell you what you need to get it going.

If they start talking big $$ for little bags of stuff (aside from specific citrus/palm/etc fertilizer treatments) then you might want to try another nursery for advice. I wish I could say you could trust them all.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 6:14PM
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specially when a truckload of chips from a tree company can be had for free. If you go with chips, which are the cheapest of all organic matter, one foot is the very minimum you can lay down. Two feet would be good. perhaps build a temporary containment. Chips do not attract earthworms but a little bit of leaves is all you need to have them move in. Two feet of chips will cook down to about two inches of topsoil. The large rocks should go, as much as feasible.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 9:40PM
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I thank you all !!! You are a wealth of information. We have yard maintenance services here who cut off fronds from coconut trees. Those fronds aren't sprayed, so I will try that first thing.

I also have to do some research on using EM-1 by the gallon to treat the large areas. I believe I can speed up the composting process with it. Have any of you had success using additive in your compost?

I have easy access to LOTS of dry leaves from a lychee tree.

I've got my work cut out for me! I hope to plant by October. I'm excited!!!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 4:12AM
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I would think that palm fronds would break down very slowly. Perhaps you could run them over with a lawn mower to speed things up. I have never heard of EM-1 but I would guess it is a good way to waste some money, but I would be happy to be corrected.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 8:38AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

As hamiltongardener says - it sounds as if it would suit Mediterranean herbs perfectly just as it is. They don't need or want rich soil. Have you tried growing anything in it yet? Something like rosemary, bay, thyme, sage or lavender for example? However, it would still need digging as they will not enjoy compacted ground.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 9:11AM
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EM-1 is great for commercial applications or someone that needs to "charge" a compost pile or soil with microbes.

The thing is, no matter how much of this stuff you dump into the ground, if the microbes don't have "food/organic matter" to break down to do their thing they're just going to die and you'll keep having to reapply it.

Unless you're looking to charge/start/etc a whole lot of soil/compost it's mostly useless based on the cost vs benefit.

You can brew up a quick compost tea, create a "base" layer of compost yourself to add to your main pile, or borrow a few inches of someone else's already churning compost to start your pile much cheaper.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 4:15PM
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scotty66(8 Hutto TX)

check your local landfill... many have free or low cost compost and wood chips. In my area, there a couple of guys with dump trucks that advertise on craigslist, for $50 they will deliver full loads.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 6:43PM
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If you're ever short of nitrogen (since there is such a plethora of wood chips/browns/brown leaves around in most places) you could always supplement with your pee, just put it in a bucket, walk outside, and fling it in a way that disperses it evenly. It's just pee. But it's FREE 8)

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 10:34PM
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If the soil is that bad, it might be worth it to just buy a truckload of topsoil. Break up your soil as well as you can, and then drop the new topsoil on top and grow in raised beds. Roots from your plants will work down from the topsoil you've added, and into the poor soil. This will help break it up over time. Gradually, worms and other critters will churn that bad stuff with the upper layer.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 7:56PM
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jonfrum - Funny you mention that. While driving down the hill on my way to work, there was a guy shoveling some beautiful dark, rich looking soil from a big pickup truck. On my day off, I'm going to drive by this house and ask the workers where that BEAUTIFUL soil came from. A raised bed is a great idea. Many thanks!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 1:52AM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

springleaves, I'm not a fan of raised beds in dry climates. In my sandy, dry soil I've gone down, rather than up. I don't have rocks though, so it's easy for me to say!
I've seen some really nice drystone walls made with the rocks removed from gardens...
I think adding as much organic matter to the existing soil would be my priority.
As others have mentioned, Mediterranean LOVE the conditions you describe. But citrus like fertile, moisture-retentive soil, maybe hold off on citrus until you've got healthier soil from adding all that OM?

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 4:26AM
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