Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Plant Loss due to Rot

The one thing that has been really hard for me living in Minnesota is accepting the poor soil conditions I face in my yard, aka. lots of clay. I grew up in Southern Indiana where I could go out in anywhere in my yard, throw a shovel in the ground, and come up with nothing but beautiful black earth. Here in Minnesota, if I do the same thing, I might get a half foot of dirt (and it's not black) before I hit gray clay.

I have tried mixing in new top soil when I can, but I can only dig so deep before I need a backhoe and a dump truck to haul it all out. Don't have the funds for that. So what I am left with is battling my soil conditions and planting what I think might survive in a area. Of course light conditions play heavily on what I plant where.

So far this spring I have lost some plants to rot:
  • Two Coneflowers
  • Two Coreopsis
  • One Foxglove
  • Hydrangea Bush
  • Iris
Even plants that say they except poor soil conditions have not survived. For instance, for three seasons I have planted Echinops Rito or Globe Thistle, but it never comes back. I have even tried different locations. For plants that say full sun, even those fail sometimes in clay soil. I have planted Butterfly Weed in three different locations - all have failed. But last year I grew my own Swamp Milkweed from seed and planted them in a bed that gets more moisture than the others, and I am happy to report some new shoots are coming up this week. Hopefully this will continue to survive and attract more Monarchs to the garden.

So I am left every spring wondering what will come back and what won't. Hopefully this summer won't be as wet as 2010 because loss due to rot comes down to one thing, how wet is your garden?

What have been your experiences battling the heavy clay soil of Minnesota?


Michael Moore said...

Just goes to show you how diverse Minnesota is! Here in Fridley we've got 4-6 inches of reasonably good dirt, but under that is nothing but sand sand sand. I dug a hole in my yard about 5 feed deep (dry well for the sump pump) and had nothing but sand a bit of small gravel.

We have added 20 cubic yards of black dirt/cow manure to our garden though so the plants do pretty well.

The sand might be good for drainage, but it has zero nutritional value for our plants.

Ps. I hope you don't mind, I have added a link to your blog on

Billie Jo said...

I have gravel up here in my northern MN garden. It's not ideal, but at least it's easier to amend. My parents, three miles away, are in clay. Yuck is all I can say!

Joanna said...

I too am a Minnesota transplant from Southern Indiana. I grew up in Columbus. Fortunately, I have awesome gardening soil. The house we purchase 14 years ago was a gardener's home and apparently they had amended much of the soil. I also use lots of compost and black dirt when I have started new beds. I would suggest that everytime you move a plant or plant something new to add compost. Then little by little you'll get it like you want it. Good luck!

Jennifer Kirby said...

Yes, I wish I could have had time to take out the clay and replace with nice soil, but we built our house and the city would not let us do anything to the soil due to "grading" guidelines. Now I will have to slowly ammend the soil each time I plant.

Jennifer Kirby said...


LOL! I grew up in Columbus! What a small world.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. The proper word is "accepting" not "excepting" in the first sentence.

darcie said...

I grew up in ND where we had rich black dirt everywhere...Here, like you, I have compacted, yucky, clay soil.
I am fairly new to this gardening gig (the last couple of years) but am having fun trying!
We've been adding lyme to our yard - not sure if it's working yet...but I will say that my milkweeds are coming back this year and just yesterday I found ELEVEN baby monarch catapillers on the leaves! YAY! See here?

Anonymous said...

I live in Fridley, and while my yard has been amended in the back yard, (lower side) my front yard has plenty of sand. The builders (long time ago) must have added it. (btw, both soils means you should most assuredly have drain tile and a sub pump).

The house next to me is not so lucky. I tried to help the previous owners with a garden, and hit clay just under the grass/soil. I had to help them amend it and it was not wonderful, but it did work. Making beds above ground helps very well in situations where you can. I am a lazy raker, so when the leaves fall - I always leave some mulched behind for nutritional reasons.

Good luck, and if anyone needs hostas - I have plenty to spread around!