In a lot of perennial books, they take about amending the soil before planting, but have somewhat different technqiues. What techniques have you done that were reliable?
Aged horse bedding (manure and woodshavings)
If it's a new bed put it on 6 inches thick and rototill in.
If it's an established bed, lay it on 4 inches thick and the worms will work it in.
Leaf mould. Free, cheap, easy and good for the soil.
If it's rotted, I dig it in, or use it as top dressing in an established bed. If it's not, I just sweep fallen leaves onto the soil in autumn. I pile them as deep as possible, and part the clumps to allow the perennials to grow through. I just tuck the unrotted leaves between the plants as mulch, and by summer they have disappeared.
Despite the fact that I live in the middle of a hardwood forest, and have truck loads of leaves delivered from a nearby town, we still never seem to have enough.
The only other amendment I use is bone meal on my bulbs.
All vegetative matter in the soil is in the process of being broken down by the micro organisms in the soil. For that reason it must be continually refreshed if you want to maintain the structure of the soil and its ability to nourish your plants. Al
It depends what the soil that needs amending is like.
If the soil contains a lot of clay, I initially dig in *wetted* peat moss, and a lot of it. This is not easy work, since I do it by hand and the wetted peat needs to be blended well with the native soil, but it has worked nicely over the years. Subsequently, I top-dress with fallen leaves in the fall. My old house was on a clay bed - what a PITA...
If the soil is generally good in terms of drainage, I use whatever organic matter I have laying around, such as bark/bark chips, old leaves I've bagged and save, peat moss (wetted). Again, I subsequently added fallen leaves every season.
I don't have access to home-made compost, so if I want to use it I have to purchase it, which I have done in the past; same thing with manure - have to purchase it - so I try to use any organic matter I have on hand first before resorting to purchasing something. It's all good - it all breaks down over time to build the soil, I really think it's splitting hairs to say one is better than another, just use what's available or not cost-prohibitive.
There's a lot of peat in a big bale, and it's not expensive, so if I have a good-sized area to amend, I use peat - just be sure to wet it *thoroughly* before incorporating into soil, and DO NOT top-dress - *not ever* - with peat moss.
I have a much smaller garden and live in the city where we get huge raccoons and opossums, so I don't compost but want good nutrients, so I use a huge bag of Yum Yum mix, which is a mixture of alfalfa meal and other organic stuff (and smells awesome!) and just add it into the top layer of soil in my containers and gardens each spring and fall before it rains.
Since all my beds are established, I top dress with compost each fall. By then the material from the previous seasons garden is decomposed and ready to use. I love this process - recycling last years garden into this seasons garden. Unfortunately I never have enough compost to spread over each bed, so I pick a different one each year and spread it several inches thick. By spring, you can't tell it was ever there, but man do I have nice soil.
I had my soil tested, but it turned out the soil test didn't tell me what type of soil it was, though it did mentioned somewhat higher PH of 7.5 and low phorophous.
I did dig a 12 inch hole and filled it with water and noted that it drained within an hour (actually within like a few minute). I assume this mean the soil doesn't have drainage issues.
What I do every year is to dump some brush compost from a local garden place made supposedly from leaves. It at least smell right. I did try dumping leaves last year, but it didn't decompose fast enough and made it somewhat into a mouldy mess.
I guess most book suggest roto-tilling it with compost, but I don't see how to do this on an established bed. When I plan, I sort of dig a hole and fill it back with a half compost / half top soil mixture.
What I do every year is to dump some brush compost from a local garden place made supposedly from leaves. It at least smell right. I did try dumping leaves last year, but it didn't decompose fast enough and made it somewhat into a mouldy mess. If you add some grass clippings, it should decompose faster and be more complete.
I guess most book suggest roto-tilling it with compost, but I don't see how to do this on an established bed. When I plan, I sort of dig a hole and fill it back with a half compost / half top soil mixture. I add leaves, just like you did. When the foliage dies back, if you leave the stems / stalks in place, they will help hold the leaves there. If I have compost ready, I put it in clumps between the plants before the leaves. In the spring, hopefully there is more compost ready. Disperse it when plants start growing again, so you can see where to NOT put it. Then mulch if you have it.
I wouldn't try to till around existing plants either. I think that advice is more appropriate to an annual veggie patch. To get started, I'm a fan of tilling once. But I don't think tilling is good after that, even for a veggie patch. Organic matter is not naturally under the soil. Since mother nature doesn't put it there, I don't either. Laying it on top and pulling out old root balls (which go in the compost pile) makes much more sense to me. Amending holes as you describe is good, just make sure to do it down instead of out - deep, not shallow. I like to use a big screwdriver or dandelion fork to poke deep punctures into the subsoil of the hole also. It gives the roots some cracks to exploit so they don't start circling around in the hole.
Anytime you can put anything on your soil, it's good. Composting it first is good, but not always necessary. For example, if you don't have a lawn chemical service and mow before seed heads form, you can put grass clippings on your beds without composting first. Just don't go crazy with more than an inch or two of any non-composted single thing. If you're a coffee drinker, putting your coffee grounds in a different spot every day is a great idea. After a few years of amending holes, and amending the soil from above, you'll have dark, beautiful, fertile soil. Works the same here in AL as it did in OH. The more years you add leaves to your beds, the more quickly they will disappear.
One caveat not already mentioned is oak leaves. They take so long to decompose that a much lesser amount should be used compared to other leaves, or mixes of leaves. Another is walnut leaves. A thick layer of those could have too much juglone for some of your plants. I would compost these before using on beds.
I buy compost in bulk from Burnco , a place that sells landscaping rock, soil, brick and so forth. I put it on my flower garden in May but don't work it in much - leave it on top as a mulch - it seems to supress the weeds. If I get a chance, I will put some on again in the fall.
If it is a new bed, I work it into the existing soil as it has a lot of clay.
I use llama and alpaca poo, our neighbors have huge piles of it, free for the taking. i also take my little 2 stroke roto tiller and dig in a bale of peat moss if i'm working in a new area or lifting and redoing an old bed.