Learning Center


Getting to Know Your Soil

On this Good Earth Greenhouse segment, Jeff and Gregg talk about planting.  There is a lot of information out there, and not all of it is accurate or applicable to all soil types.

Correct plant methods relate closely to soil type, which is why it’s so important to get to know your soil before planting.  Here in central Arkansas, most soil have at least some clay in them and in many areas, the soil is mostly clay.

Clay Soils

What happens when you plant in clay?  The clay binds together and can form a kind of an artificial in-ground pot.  And most importantly, it’s an artificial in-ground pot that lacks good drainage, which can be very detrimental to plant roots.  If there isn’t a place for excess water to go, it stays in the soil near plant roots, filling air pockets with water as opposed to oxygen.  If the water stays near the plant roots for too long, and plant roots have no access to oxygen, the plant essentially drowns.

What is Good Drainage?

Sometimes the symptoms of too much water or lack of drainage can include wilting or yellowing of top growth.  These symptoms can be interpreted as a lack of water. This can result in a homeowner applying even more water to an already drowning plant.  It’s one of the many reasons that performing a drainage test and getting to know your soil before planting is so important.

A drainage test includes digging a hole near where you will be plant, at least a foot deep and a foot wide.  Fill the planting hole with water. Take note of how long the water took to drain out into the surrounding soil.  If it takes more than a few minutes, the drainage isn’t good and adjustments will have to be made for better plant health.

How to Address Poor Drainage

There are several ways to address drainage. If you are starting over or building a new bed, either in your landscape or as a garden bed, we recommend building the bed with our blended soil.  This consists of compost, horse manure, leaves and sandy loam.  To amend existing soil, add one-third amendment, such as compost, to the existing soil.

In both cases, address the top sixteen inches of soil; this is where most of the roots for shrubs to their work.

If your yard is compacted clay, dig down about two feet at planting and add some gravel at the bottom of the planting hole.  By doing this, you are creating a kind of french drain. The gravel gives the water a place to rest away from the plant roots.

Additional Planting Tips

Another planting tip is not to disturb the roots too much.  You don’t have to cut the roots but if the roots are bound and circling, loosen them a bit. This will encourage them to grow outward, instead of continuing to grow in that same root-bound, circling direction.

When you dig deeper than the root ball height, some settling will occur.  In this case, we suggest planting the root ball a little high, about an inch. After some settling occurs, the top of the root ball should be level with the surrounding soil. You don’t want to plant too high and create a volcano.  You also don’t want to plant too low and have excess water settling on the plant crown, which is where the plant top growth meets the soil.