Problematic Clay Soils? Try Mulching!

Over watering plants and lawn and they still look dry? Do you have Clay soils? If you live in the Bay Area you more than likely do. How can one improve their garden soils?

Throughout the Bay Area we have clay soil. Not every area but the majority do. Many try to improve their soils by amending their soils with manure and/or a wood chip product like redwood shavings. This is great but many do that when they plant and then they forget and just leave the plantings and their substrate without any further attention. We have to add enormous amounts of inorganic fertilizers to our planting beds to keep them green and blooming. Unfortunately, these fertilizers are washed off of our hard soils or are leeched into our water sources. This can be easily prevented and will help conserve water and will decrease the need for inorganic fertilizer and prevent filling our landfills with a valuable material.

One of our greatest recourses is disposed of in our landfills every single day. Our local arborist companies throw away all the chipped wood from their projects. They pay money to throw away GOLD for our gardens. These grinded braches and leaves are the best thing for our clay soils.

The average gardener removes all the leaves from our planter beds every visit. What is left behind is a hard planting bed that is unable to absorb water and the majority of our water goes down the curb and dumps into our Bay. The poor plants are forced to grow a shallow root zone to be able to receive their water requirements. Fertilizer is spread to help keep the plants green and blooming but only a small percentage is actually used by the plants. The rest is either carried off site by the sprinkler water or with the amount of water applied it percolates down into our sub surface water.

Masterpiece Gardens began using arborist chips approximately 7 years ago on a few large properties. We began to use these chips in areas that were not very visual and we continued to use redwood chips or gorilla hair to mulch around the houses and highly visual beds. Within two years we saw such an enormous difference between the two areas we started installing the arborist chips throughout the entire garden. It was amazing! The beds began to loosen up, we had worms in our soils, and our plants were thriving. We noticed we needed less water distribution in the summer months and we were only fertilizing once a year with an organic fertilizer, which is made mainly of poultry compost. We did find clients who did not like the mulch because everyone is accustomed to the fine, equal sized mulch that can be purchased at the local garden center. But after showing people other gardens and the fact that the mulch was FREE or we were charged a minimal delivery fee they agreed to try it out. Within two years all of our properties change dramatically.

It is a process, nature takes time. We have been removing the leaves and organic matter for so long and have left a barren landscape of bare soil. Mulching needs to be done a minimum of once a year and in some areas more often. We mulch approximately 2”to 3” deep each application otherwise the breakdown period is slowed and can be detrimental on water filtration to plant root zones.

Warning…. There is one draw back in the beginning the first couple times of installation. The process needs nitrogen to begin the composting process. If there is not a presence of nitrogen the composting process will rob this from surrounding plants. We usually will install osmocote before installation to help this process. But after two layers (approximately a year or two) inorganic fertilizer is no longer required.

I recommend that everyone try using the arborist mulch. Redwood looks great but it just does not break down (quickly). People have commented that they do not want to mulch that often they want a product that will last for years. I am sorry but there is no such thing. Look at our natural forest or hillsides here in the Bay Area. When you walk under the tree canopies it feels as if you are walking on a bed mattress. All the leaves that the trees drop and have been composting for all these years has helped maintain arified soils not hard compacted soils that need a jack hammer just to plant a petunia. Please try it and I promise you will see incredible benefits for your garden and our earth.

Mulching Benefits:
– Increased health of plant material
– Decreased water requirements
– Atheistically more attractive than barren soil
– Keeps wood chips from our landfills
– Decreased weed populations in gardens
– Healthier Soils = Healthier Plants

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About the Author
Masterpiece Gardens & Design, Inc. is an award-winning garden landscape design/build firm that has been creating beautiful environments for Bay Area residents since 1994. Owner Michael Moore began his landscaping career at the age of 15. He and his team share a lifelong passion for working outdoors and love of plants and nature that is evident in all of their work.