February 21, 2007


A photo of the acid-loving plants in my garden :
'Limelight' hydrangea on the left and 'Oakleaf
Hydrangea on the right.

Quote : A real gardener is not one who cultivates flowers: but one who cultivates the soil. If he came into the Garden of Eden he would sniff excitedly and say, " Good Lord, what humus !" -Karel Capek

A frequent question , but in my opinion, the most important, that I ask all potential garden clients : How's your soil - sandy or heavy , acidic or alkaline ? Before planting a thing, these are the most important things you can do : If your soil is acidic ( rarely ever here ! ) then take advantage of it by planting acid-loving plants such as Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Hydrangeas, Lilacs, etc. If it's on the sandy side, adding amendments such as peat moss, compost and manure will make it fertile and hold moisture.

Heavy or clay soils are the most problematic. I thought I'd left behind the red clay of Alabama only to find it in my Chicago garden. I visited the local garden center and asked about how to amend it.

The guy at the garden center gave me a funny look . " You live within walking distance of Lake Michigan and you've got clay ? " He just couldn't believe it until I took out my small sample.

Apparently a previous homeowner, stuck with a yard of Lake Michigan sand, must have hauled in a load of sludge. The soil in my garden was so hard when it dried out and so wet when it rained. Death row for plants.

Lots of back- breaking double -digging and peat moss later brought back memories of my father plowing straw and pine bark into the soil every Fall. Guess when you do it for a living you'd better know all the ropes.

There's an even better product available at some select garden centers these days, Black Forest soil conditioner ( Gethsemane Garden Center carries it ) and it really works wonders in lightening up heavy clay soils. It's also used to acidify soil. Black Forest is finely ground pine bark that decomposes over a period of time. I use it religiously. Adding compost and manure ( it's combined in one bag ) is another amendment for heavy soil that I swear by.

A question I get frequently about plants that love acid soil is " How can I turn my Hydrangea blue ? Passing by my neighbors house one day I see him toiling away beneath his Annabelle Hydrangeas. " I'm turning my Hydrangeas blue. " he informed me. " That'll be a miracle, " I replied. Oh, yeah he says I got this stuff at Gethsemane and they said it really works. " Did you tell them what kind of Hydrangea you had, ?" I inquired. " Uh, no. Is that important ?" Uh, yeah, Annabelles are white and their color cannot be changed by amending the soil. You must start with a pink if you want to turn it blue.

As the song says, " Now don't that make my brown eyes blue ? "

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