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Very Quick Draining, But Poor Nutrient Dry Soil....How to Improve???

Discussion in 'NEW Gardeners !' started by Sally Parker, May 23, 2018.

  1. Sally Parker

    Sally Parker Gardener

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    Our soil is very, very dry and sandy and a lot of our plants need constant watering because water just drains away so quick and it's almost like you have never watered, once the sun comes out, especially at the minute with it being so hot and most of our LARGE (Well it's split into 3 bits, two are quite small, but one is quite big!) garden, which is in the sun for most of the day. So a lot of plants are struggling. Also, many plants, especially roses, are quite sickly looking and we think that's down to the poor nutrient content of this sandy/chalky soil. We do add seaweed fertiliser regularly during spring and summer and we also, for the first time since moving here a year and a half ago, added some well rotted horse manure to the whole garden, back in the early spring. But I know that takes a few years to improve the soil.

    So, is there anything else we can do to improve this poor soil and have healthier plants?? The only things that are really doing well are our Snowball bush (Except for aphids and tiny caterpillars eating the leaves!), rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, curry bush, clematis, Mock Orange and Budleiha and a couple of other virburnham trees and plants that I can't remember the name of. But, basically plants that do well in poor soil and drought are doing well, whereas a lot of others aren't! :frown:

    We don't have a lot of money either, so can't do anything too expensive. I'm already dreading the water bill!! :sad:
     
  2. Freddy

    Freddy Miserable git, well known for it

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    The only thing I can think of is organic matter, lots of it.
     
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    • ricky101

      ricky101 Gardener

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      Hi,

      Clematis need moisture-retentive, but well-drained soil.

      Is what most say about Clematis which kind of goes against what you describe.

      I wonder if your problem is more related to just the first 300mm of soil and below that it could be quiet moist and retentive ? Have you dug down to 600mm to see what things are like ?

      Without actual dimensions or a pic of the area/s it hard to say what the cost would be, but concentrating on one particular smaller area and finding out how best to improve it rather than attempting the whole garden would seem the best way to start.

      Is the soil in your area generally very sandy ?

      Adding organic matter could prove expensive, probably more than importing a bulk load of good top soil.
       
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      • Marley Farley

        Marley Farley Affable Admin! Staff Member

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        Hi @Sally Parker I would start by getting in touch with a local tree surgeon and get him to deliver some wood chip mulch and mulch all your borders and beds as this will stop the quick evaporation from the soil.. It is not expensive if you buy it that way. You want at least 3” of mulch on top... Then feed and water as usual would be my way of coping with it for this summer.. it will take a good soaking after you have spread it but it will stop evaporation..:SUNsmile:
         
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        • Verdun

          Verdun Passionate gardener

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          Sally, my own soil is sandy and free draining. I live near the coast so you can guess how free draining the soil naturally is here.

          However, over the years I have added tons and tons of manure, seaweed, mushroom compost, garden compost, leaf mould, etc. Initially is was all dug in but now everything is put on the soil surface in a no dig system. My garden is in 2 parts....the back now has excellent, moisture retaining soil; the front is more sandy still. Almost entirely, the garden is in full sun so I can identify with your situation :)

          I think the most important things are two fold.....to add as much organic matter as possible. Every time you plant something make sure it is added to the planting hole. Next, plant things that suit your soil and conditions. You are including some of them like lavendar so excellent. Others like euryops, senecio, echinacea, salvias, osteospermums, pittosporums, agastaches, baptisias, veronicas, santolinas, eryngiums,,hebes,etc. etc. will thrive in your soil. Grasses too like stipa tennuissima, hordeum jubatum, helictotrichon, etc, will thrive in your soil Sally

          Roses will always struggle I think in your soil. Avoid planting things that need rich soil. Go with what you have for a beautiful garden
           
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            Last edited: May 23, 2018
          • WeeTam

            WeeTam Total Gardener

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            In the autumn get your hands on as many bags of fallen leaves as you can. Place them on the soil or maybe better to build a leafmold cage and wait a year for it to turn into a great soil conditioner.
            I do both.
             
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            • JWK

              JWK Gardener

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              I've got very thin chalky soil, 'thin' meaning only a few inches of topsoil then underneath it's pure chalk. Organic matter is what you need as others have said. Finding a cheap source is difficult but I like the ideas mentioned above such as leaf mould. We compost as much as possible, including kitchen scraps (uncooked vegetable waste, teabags etc) - every little helps. I've collected free horse manure from local stables, it's good stuff but very variable so I needed another compost heap to get it fully rotted down.

              Mulches help cut down water evaporation, so if you don't mind the look you can use that black landscape material - maybe cover with bark or stone chippings to improve the aesthetics. I use my lawnmower cuttings around the base of shrubs as a mulch and it provides a slight boost of nitrogen as it rots down over the summer. My soil contains lots of flints and I've used those for 'stone' mulches around plants that hate dry soil, such as Daphnes.

              Cardboard is free and is an easy mulch, I've used it in my veg patch and it needs something on top to weigh it down, like stones. It just doesn't look nice, it can be covered with grass clippings to disguise it. I've also used cardboard in the bottom spit when double digging to add some organic material.

              On the positive side, light soils warm up earlier in the year, and I can dig my veg patch practically straight after a downpour without it becoming a claggy mess (like heavier soils).

              As well as being good for many ornamentals (as Verdun has detailed) they are good for some veggies, cabbage, sprouts etc and onions grow really well in lighter alkaline soils they just need more water and feed.
               
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              • Sally Parker

                Sally Parker Gardener

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                Thanks everyone for all your replies, some good food for thought there!! :smile:

                Just one more question relating to this. We saw some bags of top soil and soil improver (2 20L bags for £5) yesterday at Morrisons and wonder if this could also help improve our soil too??
                 
              • Loofah

                Loofah Well used member

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                Get yourself a horse!
                I have a similar soil and even adding peat, manure and all sorts of compost it still dries out quickly as you can't fundamentally change the structure. Some areas I've dug out and replaced with bought-in topsoil which is better performing
                 
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                • JWK

                  JWK Gardener

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                  Not having seen it I would guess it would help.

                  How much would you need, 40L is not much and to have any effect you need to cover your beds with at least a couple of inches before digging in. So it could get very expensive - how big an area are you looking at?

                  The Morrisons stuff seems very expensive - it works out at 12.5p/L. You can get Wickes MPC for less than 7p/L (4 for 3 offer). It has been less than 5p/L recently on sale.
                   
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                  • Verdun

                    Verdun Passionate gardener

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                    All helps but I would use dried manure, chicken pellets and compost at planting time plus an organic mulch every time you plant.:smile:

                    If you, from now on, plant things that enjoy free draining soil your garden will thrive. Over this past winter those on such soils would have seen their plants survive whilst others on heavier soils lost theirs. Worth bearing in mind.

                    In autumn, if you can get hold of mushroom compost or manure in reasonable quantities and apply generously to your borders this would be an excellent way to improve your soil.
                     
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                    • Sally Parker

                      Sally Parker Gardener

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                      It's roughly about 75 square metres, so yes, it would work out very expensive!!! :thud:
                       
                    • Sally Parker

                      Sally Parker Gardener

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                      Yes, will get some more manure for autumn (Well rotted was best I thought??), make some compost, organic mulch etc to add.

                      Will try to only add plants that like free draining soil, but sometimes it's hard because I see a plant I like reduced or something and it's not always easy to see if they like a free draining soil. So will have to try and compile a list or plants that do and try to only get them, or get more of the things that are already doing well. You're right about winter, we were so relieved to have such free draining soil through all that rain. I don't think the rosemary, lavenders etc would have survived if we had had clay or peaty soil.
                       
                    • Pushkin

                      Pushkin Keen Gardener

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                      I have very sandy soil.
                      If I dry it out I could use it in a hourglass.

                      I have managed to grow many plants in it including roses, that do very well.

                      For me the answer wasn't to just put organic matter all over the surface. I did that, for years, and it all just disappeared leaving me with sandy soil.

                      Reminds me of a very good question I heard many years ago on Gardeners Question Time.
                      Some one asked where all the organic material he has added, over the many years, has gone as there was no sign of it and he was left with the soil that he originally had.
                      The panel had no answer for him.

                      I have found the only way was to apply a good planting procedure for each plant.

                      For each plant I put in I mix a small amount of the excavated soil with MPC, manure, perlite or vermiculite and a sprinkling of Blood, fish and bone. I then use this to plant the plant and also use it to mulch the soil around the plant afterwards.

                      Then every year I sprinkle blood, fish and bone around every plant and I mulch them using my spent compost from my many pots from the year before.

                      I basically look after each plant and the immediate soil around it. I don't worry about the soil in between the plants. I worry about that when I have to plant something in that soil.
                       
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                      • Sally Parker

                        Sally Parker Gardener

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                        I was just thinking about a couple of new plants to replace the spotted laurels that we had to dig up, because they were getting too much sun once the sun got higher after winter. So I looked up plants for free draining soil and found one of them was the very beautiful black knight budleigha, but unfortunately where it would go would be north facing, so that was out of the question, according to the sites about where it likes to grow. :frown:

                        But, then, I also found this, which came up in another search:
                        Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla 'Eva' (PBR) | elder 'Eva'/RHS Gardening

                        It is so beautiful and sounds like it will suit our soil quite well! I've already ordered it and can't wait to get it, although it will only be small. :):spinning:
                         
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