Compost over whole yard?

MichelleABQMay 6, 2014

(Crosspost from Xeriscape/Southwest Board)
We are fairly new to gardening and very new to xeriscape and are now converting our Albuquerque, NM lawn to xeriscape. The grass is 99% dead after stopping watering last year and moving earth to reshape the area. We had originally planned to put down newspaper/cardboard, then compost and then mulch to kill the grass before moving forward but now that the grass is already dead, we are wondering if we should still cover the entire 55x45 area with compost or simply mix in compost at each planting site. We are planning to plant about 50% of the space and will be using mostly native plants that will eventually (theoretically) survive on only rainwater after 3-4 yrs. Given our drought, we know we will likely need to still supplement with some watering. We are converting our sprinkler to drip. The soil is very hard (we have to use a pick ax to even dig down a few inches) and the grass was definitely not thriving before we killed it. We added 10 cu yrds of sandy fill dirt doing the hardscape but that has not been mixed in everywhere yet.

We want to start off on the right foot but don't want to over do it either.

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I would not add any compost....xeric plants survive in areas with poor soil....adding compost will mess with drainage and provide excess nutrients xeric plants can do without.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 9:22PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

I disagree. I would absolutely add compost but there is concern for overdoing it. Honestly, I would spread it over the whole area and work it in. My xeric plants still like some organic matter, just not as much as my roses. The compost will help with the soil food web which is still necessary in a desert environment and will help the plants deal with the stresses of drought better.

The problem with putting compost in just the holes is that will create a bathtub effect which is even more dangerous to xeric plants, that do not like excess moisture. It would be a definite problem as when it rains here in NM, it often comes done all at once, fast and hard. If there is OM in all of the soil, it will help store the water.

You have great bones started, good luck. I can tell you one thing I have learned about xeric plants, they like water while they are getting established so do not skimp too much in the early stages (cannot tell you how many plants died on me because I underwatered them the first season).

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 10:21PM
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Definitely add a moderate amount of compost, or use it as mulch to retain moisture.

I have my xeriscape plants heavily mulched and they seem to like it, as do the birds. Mostly it's natural leaf drop, so I'm saving water and work. :)

And ditto to what TishTosh said .,.. drought tolerant plants need good supplemental watering until they are established, then you can taper off the following years.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 11:06AM
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I am not expert in desert gardening, but in my tough clay I get miserable crops if I do not amend. and the way to amend is to turn the whole place over, turning bags and bags of leaves (or kitchen scraps) under. The earthworms will then do the rest, and in the process continue to break the dirt. I can not do it in every bed every year (I only do it in beds which will receive transplants), direct seeding beds have to be left undisturbed. If I were to start a new place, I would certainly do a major working in at the beginning, probably a foot of OM. Note I do not use compost, the earthworms need to eat. I use partially decomposed leaves, and patience.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 1:46PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I was going to make some suggestions, having spent some time gardening in Albq. The advice above from NM and AZ posters is way better than any that I could offer.

I am not even sure there are earthworms in that kitty litter that passes for soil in Albuquerque. :-]

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 6:26PM
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Prior to the coming of the know it all Europeans the Zunis, in your area of the world, practiced what is today called waffle gardening, small plots with amended soil that could easily be watered with the available water.
In these small plots the Zunis apparently (I was not there) could raise enough food to feed themselves, and have enough left to provide seeds for next year. Back then, I am told, there were no garden supply shops around the corner.

Here is a link that might be useful: waffle gardening

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 7:23AM
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The problem with "waffle gardening" is that it also requires high stone walls around the plots for wind protection, and daily watering of the plants in the gardens. Or did you miss that part of the explanation?

And, what works on the Colorado Plateau doesn't always work in the Rio Grande Valley. Weather patterns are different, soil composition is different.

And, altitude counts heavily in a state with a range of 2800 feet to 13,000+ feet. What grows in the "east mountains" often struggles in the ABQ valley, and vice versa. And what grows well in the Rio Abajo usually dies in Taos.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 10:57AM
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Hey-ay, hey-ay (Kimmy)-

What's the matter with your feel right ?

Here is a link that might be useful: Tribute

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:04AM
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Michelle -
There's a guy named jason roback with a native plant nursery east of ABQ. He raises his own from seed and sells at the big Saturday swap meet most of the late spring and summer. (If he's still growing)

And the Pueblo of Santa Anna (by Bernalillo) has a native plant nursery

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:25AM
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Cool! M

This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Thu, May 8, 14 at 11:28

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:27AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

From the photo, I can't see you over doing it for many years, that soil will take all the compost you can make and add, maybe if you hired a company to rip it up and add tons and tons of compost, it could be too much, but what you can make will not be too much. I have been compost for years and I never have too much compost. As long as the soil is mixed in, don't plant in straight compost.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 1:33PM
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