Monday, August 4, 2008

Can You Say Compaction?

To my regular readers:
Please pardon my intermittent and odd day posting recently. I have had to put in ridiculous overtime hours of late. Talk about draining a person of the creativity or inspiration to write just one more piece. Bear with me, perhaps the sun will shine again soon. And onto today's topic ...

Autumn Amethyst Encore Azalea
Image copyright - Tammy Clayton 2007

I found some time to catch up with a few of my Blotanical pals today. Thank you Dustin for bringing an important misconception to mind that I have not yet expounded upon.

Compaction should be a four-letter word. Let me paraphrase that ... "rock" is a four-letter word and has much the same meaning. Impervious would also make a good word to fit in with this vein of thought and yet has more than four letters. If you are truly a gardener, then you know that compaction is evil and not good for plants one gardens to be able to enjoy and succeed in growing.

Any gardener worth their weight in soiled activity would never and I repeat NEVER lay down weed barrier over their treasured soil. Landscape fabric - weed barrier, whatever you choose to call it is evil and a sign of laziness. If you don't want weeds that is understandable. No one likes weeds. No one really enjoys the task of weeding when there are so much more wonderful things to be done.

Now I have known people who really do enjoy weeding, but they are few and far between. A scientist who once was a maintenance customer of mine refused to let us weed the beds. I never understood this as we did every other task necessary to keeping their affluent suburban landscape perfect and immaculate on a weekly basis. Why? Because he found it that in this simple laborious task he could easily work out the solution to any daunting problem he dealt with at work. Interesting concept. Weeds are stress reducing aids in sorting out one's thought processes.

Soil that is not allowed to be worked (i.e. scratched, hoed, etc) or accept replenishing humus as it naturally is available becomes tired and worn out. The presence of new twigs as they fall need a way to enter the soil and assist it in creating air passages so beneficial to keeping soil alive. The tunnels created for air also allow water from the rain or your hose to travel where it is useful and absorbed.

Weed fabric denies the soil from any of these beneficial additives. This leads to heavily compacted soil. Have you ever seen a plant thriving on the surface of a rock? Never on the surface, only in a crack between two impervious sections. And you wonder what is wrong with your green thumb? Plenty!

There once was a woman who hired me to design and build a most beautiful and costly perennial garden. We arrived to plant all these wonderful leafy beings and found that under her (tsk. tsk!) 4 inches of "rocking red" mulch lay not one - but TWO layers of landscape fabric. Her husband was hell bent on never having a weed in his yard.

Now I tried to explain to these fine folks that we needed to remove all the mulch and the weed barrier to till up the compacted clay beneath or their plants were not going to do very well. This process was emphatically denied and the garden was planted without being able to any more than cut an X large enough to drill a hole to accommodate the poor thing's root ball at a minimum. We were profusely thanked for the instant beauty and earned a handsome tip on top of the invoice amount.

Two weeks later the Mr. phoned to complain that we had not properly planted half of the plants. He had already fixed our shoddy work and requested I pay him for his time in all fairness. Now, I have never left a job without doing a walk through to make sure it is all done and done right. I informed him of this and refused to pay anything because I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this could not be farther from true.

The following June, I received a nasty letter from the Mrs. that she expected full compensation for everything in her garden that was missing because it did not live through the winter. Well really. It was mild winter with plenty of snow cover and everything that was planted in her yard was fine and dandy in mine. I fumed in silence for a few days trying to wrap my mind around this mystery.

At first I was convinced the plants were stolen or she decided they had spent too much money. That is until the road grader did the monthly passover on my gravel road. Of course, it rained cats and dogs within hours. The following day I was on my way to town, bumping through the same cursed holes the grader has frosted over. The light bulb of awareness glowed at about 500 watts in my head.

This woman's problem was due to her own ignorance and no fault of mine. So I called them and got the Mr. on the phone to set an appointment for a looksee. He told me it wasn't necessary really and was aghast to learn his wife had sent me this letter. And so we all met up in front of the disaster several hours later.

"Finally decided to come clean and restore your reputation?" Mrs. greeted me.

"Actually, I came here to educate you so that you do not have to go through this kind of disaster in the future." was my reply. And her hair stood on end...

Well the Mrs. stormed into the house and slammed the door so hard the windows rattled. Sheesh, but its hard to teach a pig to fly. However, unbeknownst to me, my competitor had been brought to survey the damage weeks before this day. Mr. was already wise to his error and thoroughly embarrassed by his wife's actions and behavior.

"I really am sorry that you had to come out here today. I tried to get her to see reason, but she insisted you owe her money. I will not let her give you a dime..." and he went on to tell me the rest of the story. The other landscaper had come out and told them already what I knew had happened. The freeze and thaw that happens repeatedly over a Michigan winter had heaved the roots out of the soil and caused the demise and even total dislodging of everything that was missing. Any corpse not present had blown away in the wind.

Compaction is a four letter word! This is why all proper planting instructions say to dig the hole deeper and wider by several inches than the size of the root ball. It is also the number one reason why planting in the fall doesn't work for a lot of people. The frost heaves that plug out exposing the roots to the bitter cold and literally causes death by hypothermia. With a blanket of loose soil to keep those roots insulated, the heaving ground does not harm the roots.

Loose soil and no weed fabric is the proper way to succeed at growing any plant. Scratch the soil around your precious beauties at least once a month to keep the soil loose. Boycott landscape fabric! There is nothing one can truly count on life beyond taxes, weeds and death. We'll talk about stone mulch another day ... someone needs to do the dishes around here.


Lucy Corrander said...

Here come a load of 'Hurrah!s'.

Funny how nature is unwelcome in some gardens.

There's room too for loving your weeds.


G.G. said...

Hey Lucy,
Nice to see you again. If you were living in the USA, mot likely you would be horrified at the widespread use of this weed barrier stuff. And weeds grow on top it and even come up through it. Making it virtually impossible to find the roots.