Does the Willamette Valley’s packed clay soil have you stumped? Ask an expert – OregonLive


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The gardening season has started and 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 it in and include the county where you live. Here are some questions asked by other gardeners. What’s yours?Q: We recently finished building a house in west Salem and are working on landscaping.The soils are very compacted and have a high clay content like most of this area. I have not had great luck with planting new trees and shrubs at my other home mostly because of the lack of oxygen in the soil despite digging large holes to plant in and amending the soil with organic matter.I’m wondering if you can direct me toward resources for making these tight clay soils more hospitable for trees and shrubs as well as recommendations for species that are more tolerant of this climate in terms of wet winters and drought summers.We will have an irrigation system installed, but I like to limit inputs as much as possible. I do have some gardening experience and a permaculture design certificate, but I’m from New Hampshire and these clay soils have me a bit stumped. – Polk CountyA: Newly built houses present a number of problems for planting. The topsoil is removed prior to construction, and only a couple of inches is replaced afterward. The construction process further compacts the already dense clay soil.If you know where you will be planting trees, shrubs and perennials, you are in a position to have the soil amended deeply. This will require significant amounts of pure compost or organic matter (do not use triple mix or other mixes that dilute organic materials with soil).Creating a new bed is the only time we recommend working the organic matter deep into the soil. Tilling and organic material will stimulate a lot of micro-organism activity so there may be a shortage of nitrogen for a few months. This article explains the process.After planting, we recommend top-dressing the entire bed with an inch of mature compost once or twice a year. Follow up with about 3 inches of organic mulch, which should be maintained at all times. (Subsequent compost can be applied on top of existing mulch.) Note that arborist wood chips provide much more benefit than bark chips.You are very right in looking to choose plants that are adapted to your existing soil. Native trees and shrubs, in particular, would be good choices.Here are some suggestions for perennials.It might be best to create a short-list of desired plants and then confirm the best placement and conditions. If you have any other questions, please write again.Although not specifically for clay soils, this article may give you some ideas for species. – Lynne Marie Sullivan, OSU Extension Master GardenerServiceberryOSU Extension ServiceQ: We recently bought a Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) at a local native plant sale and planted it in our front yard, but it didn’t come with any leaves and doesn’t appear to be growing any.This is the second time we’ve tried planting Amelanchier alnifolia in the yard, in different locations. The first had leaves and flowered one year, but absolutely nothing the following year. We waited a full year to see if it would revive, to no avail; hence the new plant. Both have been planted in partly shaded areas; and we have well-drained soil – some areas appear to have drier soil than others.The new plant is situated on flatland close to a few other plants. Is there something special I should do to try to ensure this new plant will be healthy? – Multnomah CountyA: Establishing a new tree involves many steps, and a dose of luck it seems. I don’t have an Amelanchier alnifolia, serviceberry, to compare the leaf expansion with yours. Most trees in my space are only starting to bud, some still in early flowering, so don’t give up on your new plant yet.Common reasons for trees to fail include planting in amended soil rather than only the native soil, and planting too deep. Did you check for root flare at trunk base? Did you back fill planting hole with amendments?This slide show from Clemson Extension, “Show Me Your Flare” is rather long at 39 slides. The early photos, though show well what flare looks like with minimal scrolling. With a tiny tree, it won’t be as dramatic, but still identifiable.Follow-up care will include mulch and irrigation (not too much or too little).Sun or part shade and adequate air circulation is best to keep these trees blooming well and limit fungal disease. Here is the OSU Landscape Plants page for it. – Jacki Dougan, OSU Extension Master GardenerQ: I started some tomato seeds on a heating pad in a small greenhouse with a heater on low about Feb 10. I was following some book instructions and waiting until two sets of secondary leaves were showing. I have six plants transplanted to larger pots, and it’s April 20. The other 15 still only have the first two leaves. Can I successfully transplant the rest? – Lane CountyA: Overpotting is when you put a plant in a pot way too large for the root system. You do not say if they are in 6 packs or trays. Go up only one size. As soon as the plants are well up, they need to move off the heat and increase light. Keep lights fairly close to the top of the seedlings. We have a while yet before we can safely plant out unless extra protection is available. The nights are still in the 40′s and tomatoes prefer in the 50′s. – Pat Patterson, OSU Extension Master GardenerHollyhockOSU Extension ServiceQ: My beginner hollyhocks are being attacked by something I cannot identify. They are growing in a raised bed and may be too close together. – Douglas CountyA: Your hollyhocks are afflicted with rust, Puccinia malvacearum, a fungus. Symptoms are reddish, raised spots or pustules on the bottom of the leaves. Lack of air circulation (you mention your plants are in close contact) and wet leaves contribute to the growth of the fungus.For now, pick off infected leaves, seal in a bag, and place in your garbage, not your compost pile. At the end of the season pull out infected plants, clean up plant debris and place in the garbage.Avoid the infestation by spacing plants and watering early enough in the day that the leaves are dry before dark. For chemical control, use a fungicide available at garden centers, following all label instructions.For more information see this page in the Pacific Northwest Disease Handbook. – Sharon May, OSU Extension Master GardenerNote to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.
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