Earthworks Nursery

Garden Soils are "Death in a Bag"

Written by: Jim Putnam

     "I don't know what I did wrong. I dug a big hole and then I mixed in this black soil that I got from....(fill in the blank with boxstore whatever)...and it died."  This is a story I have heard many times. Welcome to central North Carolina. When we dig holes here, we are creating a clay pot in the ground. If we fill that clay pot with heavy organic soil mixes, our plants stay too wet and they die. 

       Digging holes in the clay can be difficult. This makes homeowners think there is something wrong with it. There is not anything wrong with the soil. The clay is rich in nutrients, great at holding water in reserve, and because of its density, the clay prevents fertilizer leaching. 

      Roots need air just like the leaves do. Clay, although very dense, does have air inbetween the soil particles. The soil and manure mixes are heavily marketed and look great when the bag is opened, but because of their water holding ability, these mixes actually fill the air pockets in the soil with water. This causes the roots to die and rot away.  Once that process begins, it is almost impossible to save the plant.

     The best thing to use when planting in our area is pine bark fines. This is simply pine bark left over from lumber production that has been ground several times. Its course texture mixed 50/50 with the clay prevents the clay from recompacting as tightly and adds additional drainage and air holding capacity. Pine bark is also inexpensive which is another reason the stores do not promote its use.

      When planting, it is also helpful to use a liquid starter fertilizer. These are low in nitrogen to prevent the possibility of burning new transplants. Requiring water to use, no one can forget the crucial step of watering in the plant. We have complete planting instructions for our area at this link. Planting Instructions