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Planting trees/shrubs in rocky clay soil

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Planting trees/shrubs in rocky clay soil Empty Planting trees/shrubs in rocky clay soil

Post  Judy McConnell on 2/7/2019, 10:16 am

Having the typical northern Virginia "soil" in my yard, led me to building my first raised beds. Now I want to add a corner of the yard to shrubs and small trees for birds and invertebrate nesting and feeding.

The problem is that the "soil" consists of decaying shale (lots of rocks) and clay  A 5 gal bucket will be filled with 1/2 rock with the remainder being soil.
 
Any suggestions as to the easiest way to dig the needed holes for the shrubs, etc. True, the easiest way would be to hire someone with a big machine to dig the holes but that is not an option.

How difficult is a one-man powered auger to use by an old woman?

Any other suggestions besides the shovel and digging iron that I plan to use?
Judy McConnell
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Planting trees/shrubs in rocky clay soil Empty Re: Planting trees/shrubs in rocky clay soil

Post  OhioGardener on 2/7/2019, 11:40 am

Like you, Judy, we also have a lot of clay & big rocks here is SW Ohio, largely thanks to the glacial retreats. I highly recommend that you DO NOT try to use one-man powered auger to dig a hole - it is far too likely you will be going around in a circle instead of the auger!

But, the best way to dig & prepare the hole depends on the size of the trees/shrubs. I only plant young trees or shrubs, so do not need to worry about large holes to plant them. I have successfully planted fruit trees, shade trees, and shrubs, in spite of the rocks and they have all done very well.

I hand dig a hole 3 times the diameter of the tree root spread, and a foot deeper than the tap root. I separate all of the rocks from the removed dirt, and blend the dirt with an equal amount of compost. I line the bottom of the hole with rock dust (I use Azomite, but there are others as well), set the tree in the hole and back fill with the compost/dirt mixture, and water it in.

I have fruit apple & pear trees that I planted that way 36 years ago, and they are still growing strong and producing fruit every year.

Best of luck!
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Post  Judy McConnell on 2/7/2019, 12:49 pm

Thank you, OhioGardener - your success will guide me.  Plants will be in 1 gal containers so should NOT be too difficult to dig the needed holes  (she said smiling-LOL)
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Post  sanderson on 2/7/2019, 2:33 pm

Just like your raised beds, I would recommend building up. The corner could be a lovely area of different levels.

When we first moved in 23+ years ago, the lot was landscaped.  However, we noticed over that first wet winter that the red hard pan was a wet slurry in the top 3" and hard as a rock below.  Come spring, I couldn't even get a hand spade into the soil.  Bush plants were drowning.

As we were still in our spry 50s, my husband rented a 3' auger, a 3' trencher, a jackhammer and a commercial rototiller and, with 13 cubic yards of humus, we amended the soil, punched through the hard pan, created drainage channels.  I had to "ride" on the auger to get it to punch through!  We built raised flower beds with treated 4"x6"s .  The 4 trees planted in the back yard were unsuitable for small back yards so husband chopped them down and, dreading getting the stumps and roots out, was surprised that the surface root systems just popped out!  

Throughout the neighborhood, we have watched as tree roots snaked over the ground and into the lawns, making it hard to mow.  Shrubs drown over the winter as the water can't drain. We are sitting pretty.

In the front yard we installed a treated wood raised box and planted a xylosma tree.  All of the landscaped areas are Back to Eden style with compost topped with wood chips.  Planting trees/shrubs in rocky clay soil Xylozm10

As OG, did, we dug holes 3X the pot size and and as deep as each pot.  In addition, we dug deeper trenches around where the root balls sat.  Draped some larger roots over the "table" and backfilled with mixed native soil and compost. Planting trees/shrubs in rocky clay soil Planti16

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Post  No_Such_Reality on 2/7/2019, 4:16 pm

When planting in hardened or compacted soil, make sure the hole is bigger and the edges and bottom are jagged (like a dense starburst pattern) and not smooth.  When planting double check to make sure any rootbound is unwound.  Otherwise the hardened hole basically acts like a clay pot and the tree will rootbound in it like a pot.
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Post  sanderson on 2/8/2019, 12:32 am

@No_Such_Reality wrote:. . . When planting double check to make sure any rootbound is unwound.  Otherwise the hardened hole basically acts like a clay pot and the tree will rootbound in it like a pot.
We hosed off the root ball until the big roots were unwrapped. These were draped over the "table."

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Post  Judy McConnell on 2/8/2019, 9:04 am

Sanderson - Thank heavens that I don't have a hardpan to deal with - only rocky soil.  I like your idea of raising the area to plant my young trees/shrubs.

No_Such_Reality - thanks for the reminder to make holes big enough, etc.

Sounds like I will do a fair amount of both digging and raising soil levels to get these plants into the ground.
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Post  OhioGardener on 2/8/2019, 6:38 pm

One thing I forgot to mention, Judy, is that once the trees get their roots into the clay soil, they love it!  Clay has a lot of minerals that trees tap into, and do very well with.

We have very heavy clay subsoil here in SW Ohio, and I plant Winter Rye as a winter cover crop because it has roots that go 6' to 8' into the ground, and pulls those minerals up to the surface where my veggies can use them.
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Post  plantoid on 2/9/2019, 11:48 am

I've been crippled for 40 years with a bust shoulder & just over  23 years with a major spinal injury set plus old age related ill health .   


Yet I've managed to dig two 4 foot deep holes three feet across using a metal spade point 2 inches wide  on a long broomstick and a garage /workshop tub vacuum cleaner . I've also dug 26 off 12 x 12 " x 3 foot deep holes for a run of concrete fence posts that were nine feet long  .
 Plus another fence line run of another 23 holes of the same dimensions . I had to wait till summer when the soil got dried out and could be chipped to loosen it then vacuumed out the holes .
 I sat the vacuum on a plastic garden chair to make it easier to open it up when it got filled  and easier to tip it over to empty it into a  wheel barrow . Putting only one tub per load in the barrow 
  Some days I got two post holes without any problem one in the morning and one in the afternoon, other times it took me two or three days to do just one hole.

 I've also planted hundreds of saplings in big holes in blue clay , 4 thousand grape vines and thousands of  tree cuttings I'd  managed to root up .  
 
   That could give you some ideas about making a round hole 30 inches across by 30 inches deep and  putting a good mix of sandy soil & well rotted manure in it for say a 6 inch first layer , put the sapling on it so the sapling is not any lower or higher than the soil mark,  then fill & lightly tamp the hole as you do the back fill . Slip a length of 2 " dia 3 foot long pond hose down inside of the hole so you can give the sapling water & feed direct to the roots if it gets too dry . If it gets too dry or insects ty to take up residence in the tube put a spray can cap over the open end .  Basically you will not over water the tree via the tube , for once it's full of water that's it ,  don't water for another three or four days unless you get to drought conditions .
 
 Now get some one to drive a five foot long 2& 1/2 " dia wooden stake in a foot away from the trunk at a 45 degree angle  to the vertical  trunk of the sapling. Tie the sapling lightly to the stake ensuring it is padded between the trunk & the stake to stop it rubbing the bark off .  I used  old bicycle inner tubes as the lashing put on in  two  figures of 8 and then tied off in a knot .. for they don't become too tight as the tree goes .. 
After three years when the roots are well set you can either cut the stake off at ground level & cut the inner tube free or leave it in place for it to rot away naturally in ten or so yeas  . 
 The stake helps prevent excessive wind rock of the sapling so allows better root development.
  
 I found it far easier to do my holes out using the stick & vacuum method than to scrape up / dig up enough useable & carry it to the place to make a raised bed to pant the trees in.
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Post  Judy McConnell on 2/9/2019, 11:59 am

OhioGardener - What you said about clay is exactly what  I had always believed about this type of soil. 

 We have a fence that birds sit on and "release" mulberry seeds. Each seed sprouts and forms weed trees = a constant removal problem. The point being that it  is obvious that weeds "love" clay!  therefore so should desired plants!
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Post  Judy McConnell on 2/9/2019, 12:14 pm

Plantoid - thank you so much for chiming in. I always look for your responses because they are so helpful! This is especially true in my case - thanks again!
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