Adding sand to clay soil could make drainage issue worse: Ask an expert – OregonLive


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Gardeners looking for good drainage solutions should consider organic matter. File photo. We’re well into winter and that means spring and the gardening season is on the horizon. If you’ve got questions, turn to Ask an Expert, an online question-and-answer tool from Oregon State University’s Extension Service. OSU Extension faculty and Master Gardeners reply to queries within two business days, usually less. To ask a question, simply go to the OSU Extension website and type in your query and the county where you live. Here are some questions asked by other gardeners. What’s yours?Q: My dahlia beds are in mostly heavy clay soil but some of them are in a sandy soil with an organic mixture in it. The dahlias in the clay did okay. But the dahlias in the sandy soil did great. So, before I did any research into it, I bought 3 yards of sand, 1 yard of compost, and about 2 yards of peat moss. My plan was to rototill about 5 inches of the clay soil and then rototill 4 inches of sand, 2 inches of compost, and 2 inches of peat moss into the 4 inches of clay.I had also planned to do the same thing in an area where I grow vegetables and in some asparagus beds that I have not been able to get to grow. Do you think the plan to work these amendments into the top 4 to 6 inches of clay soil would work? Or do you think I should leave out the sand altogether? Also, do you have any tips and pointers on growing asparagus? For the last three years I have tried to get them started but have had very disappointing results. Those that I have tried have not worked so far. – Multnomah CountyA: Please do not add sand to your clay soil. Here’s what happens: clay particles are so, so very much smaller than sand particles (though they all look pretty small to us). When sand and clay mix together, the tiny clay particles sift in between the spaces between the sandy pieces, filling them up. Then you have pretty much a solid – even worse drainage than you started with.The organic matter is large pieces which work their way between the clay particles. Organic matter also feeds the microbes that glue clay particles together so they act like the larger sandy (better-draining) particles.If you are having problems with vegetable growth due to soggy soils, even in summer, raising the level of the soil is a better idea. You don’t have to put sides on this “raised bed,” just add your organic matter and hill up the bed. Even four inches higher will make a difference. For more on raised beds of all kinds, check out this Oregon State Extension publication, Raised Bed Gardening.Asparagus crowns should be available at your local nursery or garden center early in the spring, but should not be planted until soil is getting warmer. Asparagus is also a crop that needs well-drained soil, so your idea of added organic material, and then a raised bed might be in order here, as well. See this article for more information – Asparagus Rewards Patience.Be sure your garden is well-fed throughout the summer. This generally means a plant food application three times a season. This season-long plant food program is important for plants producing as much fruit as a tomato or squash does. There are many choices from quick-acting to slow-release and from liquids to granules. Compost is wonderful organic matter, but has little nutrition for vegetables.Q: Last summer I tried growing yellow and green bush beans. On both plants the leaves were very cupped, if there was any fruit it was very curled and the blossoms failed to fully develop. These were all grown in raised beds using soil I had purchased from a nearby supplier. I have to think that the soil is lacking something since most everything else thrived. Can you tell me what I should add to the beds this year as far as any supplements or micronutrients? – Crook CountyA: I cannot say for sure but it sounds like the soil may have had residual chemical in it that prevented the beans from growing correctly. It sounds like you are most concerned about the beans. I hope this means that the other vegetables did fine.Beans and peas are the most sensitive crops to this chemical. So, if it is this, you are in luck as the rest of the plants grew fine. To remedy the situation this year I have two thoughts.First, you can grow your beans in a container filled with potting medium or second, test your garden soil before planting beans into it this year. Simply fill a couple of pots with your garden soil, plant a few beans into them, then plant a few beans into some container mix. See how each grows. If there is no difference then the garden soil may be okay this year. If you see a difference in how the beans grow from your test pot to the garden soil pots, then grow your beans in containers or somewhere that did not get the purchased soil last year. – Toni Stephan, OSU Extension horticulturistNew sod needs fertilizerOSU Extension ServiceQ: We put in sod last spring. We watered it heavily, and it seemed to do well over the summer. We have not used any fertilizer. Now it is very yellow. Is this normal? Also, I do not remember what type of grass this is. Can you tell from the pictures? – Washington CountyA: It is tall fescue and it is need of some fertilizer. However, considering the time of year I would wait until March. At that time I would apply fertilizer at 1 pound N (nitrogen) per 1,000 square feet. I would also add some tall fescue seed to your lawn at 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. In April or May, I would fertilize the lawn for a second time. In the fall I would make a third and fourth fertilizer application (October and November) and apply some more seed in October if the lawn is still thin. – Alec Kowalewski, OSU Extension turf specialistNote to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.
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