Friday, September 9, 2016

Project Updates

Last week I reported on work done to extend the dry stacked wall on the southwest side of our property.  I wasted no time getting around to planting the empty space.  I swung by two garden centers last weekend and, by Labor Day, had filled the vacancies.

View of the south-facing segment of the dry-stacked wall with the new plants in the foreground.  The spots of pink here are provided by Nerium oleander (left, poking through the hedge from the neighbor's driveway), Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' (inherited with the garden but never a strong bloomer), and Pelargonium peltatum 'Pink Blizzard'.


After adding cactus mix to the soil in the area behind the newly raised wall section, I planted an assortment of succulent cuttings from my garden and purchased succulent plugs.  The only large plant I bought was an ornamental grass.

The new plants here include: Sedum morganianum 'Magnum' (said to be tougher than the usual "donkey tail"), Aeonium arboreum (cuttings), Aeonium 'Garnet' (cuttings), and Kalanchoe gastonis-bonnieri

This is my new ornamental grass: Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln' 

The new plants included here include: more Aeonium arboreum (cuttings), Aeonium 'Sunburst' (cutting, next to the grass, still curled up in its dormant summer state), Aeonium haworthii 'Kiwi', Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' (cutting) and Crassula lycopodiodes 


I planted cuttings of Senecio vitalis and Euphorbia tirucalli 'Stick on Fire' in front of the new wall section, which should eventually obscure the differences in the stone used for the old and new sections of the wall.  I also planted plugs of Dymondia margaretae between the wall and the stepping stones.  If these take (an earlier planting years ago did not), I'll buy flats of this plants to cover the remaining bare ground around the path.

If I add more rocks, they'll go in along the upper ridge of the slope a few feet in from the upper pathway


Next, I moved on to the suspected soil problem I spoke of in my August 26th post, finally testing the soil in the area of several successive plant deaths.

Two of at least 4 plants that have died in one particular area: Adenanthos sericeus (left) and Leucadendron galpinii (right)


The soil test kit I purchased was easy to use.  The pH test of soil acidity/alkalinity was quick.  The tests for nitrogen, phosphorus and potash took a little more time but only because the soil needed to settle before the test capsules could be added to the soil solution.

The sample used in testing for nitrogen, phosphorus and potash used one part soil to 5 parts distilled water

Liquid from the settled sample was siphoned using a dropper for use in filling these color-coded containers.  The contents of color-coded capsules were then added to the test chamber of each container.  After a good shaking, it takes about 10 minutes for a comparison against the color chart on each container.


The camera distorts the colors shown in the test chambers some and readings can be distorted by light but my conclusion is that the soil in the troublesome area has a pH between 7.0 and 7.5, which means it isn't nearly as acidic as the Australian and South African plants I located there would like.  However, it doesn't appear that there's an excess of phosphorus in the soil, something many of these same plants are sensitive to.  Nitrogen and potash readings were in the adequate to sufficient range.  I'll probably conduct a few more tests in the surrounding area but expect that I'll be adding iron sulfate to the soil this fall to reduce its alkalinity.

The next job up is to fill in spots where my spreading thyme died out during summer's early heatwave.  A flat of thyme awaits!  Happy gardening.


All material © 2012-2016 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

24 comments:

  1. I love what you've planted, Kris, and even more so, I admire you for doing soil testing. I guess I'm either too lazy, too cheap, or both-which ultimately is quite silly if I am killing plants that cost money......

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    1. I planted based on hope and a prayer, Tim, and I regret that I didn't at least check my soil pH earlier. As I recall, the kit I bought was about $20 so, basically, not much more than the cost of one or two of the plants I lost. I've lost plants in other areas as well so I think I'll be running a lot of pH tests - at least they don't take long.

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  2. The new area is going to look great once everything takes and grows in. It must be frustrating not to have a definitive answer on what conditions killed your plants in that one spot. Hopefully changing the ph will help.

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    1. As with many problems, my guess is that there isn't a single cause for the plant deaths but the pH is clearly high. I understand that all the plants I lost prefer soil on the acidic side. The soil test kit offered some examples for common plants - in the case of Grevilleas the preferred range is 5.5-6.5 and my reading is falling in the 7.0-7.5 range. Heat was possibly also a factor and, when I conducted the test I noticed that, despite having increased irrigation, the soil was on the dry side only 1 day after the last irrigation cycle, which suggests that the soil is draining a bit too well.

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  3. I love your enthusiasm Kris, although the coming autumn does have me wanting to fill some gaps too. I've been meaning to ask "what are flats" it's not a term I'm familiar with. Some of my thyme looks dead too, although I'm leaving for now, it might regrow from the base.

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    1. Groundcover plants here are frequently sold in "flats," which are shallow, square plastic containers within which the groundcover has been grown (presumably from seed). I'd guess the containers are about 20 inches (50 cm) square. It's a cheaper way to buy plants you wish to install en masse and it's ideal for something like thyme, which can easily be pulled into plantable pieces.

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    2. That's a really good idea, I've only seen that method used for wild meadow grass plants.

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  4. Your rock wall and planting turned out really well. I can well imagine how those plants will steal the show as they form clusters in the future. So frustrating when you have plant failures and you cannot pinpoint the reason. You are very wise to do the soil test, something I have never done. We have every alkaline soil to and my understanding is that it is very high in phosphorus and that it is difficult for plants to take up nitrogen. I sometimes add epsom salts to the water or around the plant. I must look into this further now that you have reminded me. Where did you get the test kit?

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    1. I got my kit at my local garden center. It's a Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit. I just checked on-line and it looks to be available through a lot of retailers (at a cheaper price than I recall I paid). Mine came with 40 test capsules (equal numbers for pH, N, P & K tests).

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  5. Interesting on the tests--I test my pond water but have never done soil.

    Keep the Dymondia watered for a while. Very sensitive to drying out until well established.

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    1. yes, I learnt that it is thirstier than I expected - but mine is spreading its fingers, looking for a new space to conquer.

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    2. My thanks to both of you on the tip for establishing the Dymondia.

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    3. In my garden it is at its most vulnerable when newly planted.

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  6. It all looks so good, your hard work is paying off. The test kit is interesting and I enjoyed seeing how it works. I know we have alkaline soil so I generally avoid acid-loving plants but it might be good to check different spots.

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    1. The soil in my former garden, just 15 miles away, was more neutral than the soil used in this sample. It'll be interesting to see if samples from other areas of the garden yield the same results. I suspect there's some variability as Australian and South African plants in other areas have fared well (as least by comparison to those I planted in the area I tested).

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  7. The fun part is filling in with the plants... ;-) Love the way the Senecio looks at the wall base, just perfect. Thanks for mentioning the Australian plants and acidity; as most are drought-tolerant, I had assumed they would be fine with alkaline conditions. I'll probably be taking your advice and getting sulfur on the Ozothamnus once temps drop low enough... and checking individual soil requirements a little more closely!

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    1. My Ozothamnus is doing well despite the fact that it's planted only about 10 feet from the location that proved a death sentence for several other plants. It may be that the Ozothamnus has a greater range of tolerance for alkalinity or, perhaps more likely, that it benefited from my prior treatment of the soil in that area - I brought in a lot of imported topsoil when we removed the lawn there.

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  8. Your garden is looking great! Each project adds to and improves. I love all the interesting vignettes you created with your plant combinations. I recently purchased some plants at an end of summer sale at my favorite nursery, but the weather continues to be too hot to work in the garden much so I have not planted them yet. I am eager to launch into some projects of my own, though nothing on the scale of those you have undertaken.

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    1. I keep hearing about these end-of-summer sales! That's pretty much a foreign concept here. While I occasionally find individual items marked down (usually plants grown as annuals or those in poor shape), I haven't found any local garden centers that offer a comprehensive range of deals. I'm envious!

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  9. Interesting to see your soil testing and results. Still well worth a try with those plants you bought for those areas even if the soil tests indicate it is less than ideal for them. A lot of them are more tolerant that initially given credit for but it's all a matter of trial and error. Looking fab btw!

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    1. I won't be giving up on those plants, of that you can be sure. I'd like to avoid the heartbreak of losing one after another, though, so if a soil supplement helps I'm all for that.

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  10. Your new garden looks great, Kris, it's such fun to put in new plants. I remember the good old days back in San Diego when I could just stick succulent cuttings in the ground and have them grow! I just bought a couple of Euphorbias and a lavender and a Luna Pink Swirl Hibiscus moscheutos that were on clearance sales, to fill in a border.

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  11. So industrious you are! Your new plantings look marvelous and I'm impressed with your soil testing.

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    1. Now, if only I could work up the energy to face the work required on the back slope...

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