One of the biggest problems we see with dead and dying plants is the lack of organic matter in our soils. Let’s face it; we mostly have red clay to grow in. If you have sandy loam or rich black creek bottom soil to raise your plants in, congratulations. But most of us have good old red clay.
For good results I preach adding organic matter to the soil. Organic matter can be found in many different forms, some of them more attractive than others.
Rotted pine bark; composted yard and garden waste such as grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps and coffee grounds; Composted stable manures and wood shavings and such commercial things such as peat moss will all add organic matter back to the soil.
Organic matter needs to be added to our soils when planting because it decomposes so quickly in our moist, humid warm environment. Decomposing fungi, bacteria and insects are at work year round converting this rich black substance into plant nutrients all while loosening the soil and providing aeration for better root growth.
Too often, I see piles and piles of potential “black gold” organic matter piled at the street to go to the landfill. What a missed opportunity. I was looking at a landscape the other day in an “upscale new subdivision” and evaluating why most of the plants were either dying or performing poorly. The soil they were planted in was red clay. The irrigation system, which was supposed to help the plants grow, was actually soaking the red clay, which does not drain so well, in essence drowning the plant.
The solution was to first, back off on the watering schedule but ultimately the long term fix was to begin adding organic matter to this soil to increase drainage. Ideally, this is done before planting. It can be done after the fact but it is labor intensive and expensive.
I suggested to the homeowner why not construct compost pile and begin turning all those lawn clippings and fall leaves into an organic resource? They would have no part of it. Once again, the misconception of a smelly, nasty compost pile and how it works prevailed again.