Planting trees and shrubs: It all begins with the soil

Gardening guide

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Of the problems faced by Yampa Valley gardeners, probably 80 percent can be attributed to soil issues, master gardener Deb Babcock said.

Homes in and around Steamboat often are plagued with soil that has heavy clay content.

"The clay just gets so tight, it holds water and it doesn't get to the plant," Babcock said.

Gayle Noonan, supervisor of Yampa River Botanic Park, is convinced the weight of Steamboat's snowpack condenses our soils year after year. It's necessary to amend soil and continue improving it every season.

Use organic matter to break up clay soils, Noonan said. If you have a friend who keeps horses, well-rotted manure is one of the best composting materials.

Babcock advises adding compost to the hole every time you plant a new flower or shrub. Use a garden fork with thick tines to work the compost into the clay. Twist the fork into the clay to be effective. And don't hesitate to add wood chips and pine needles to the compost. They help to open up a little breathing room in the clay.

"The root system finds every little crack and crevice it can," Babcock said.

Planting flowering shrubs in the fall gives them a head start on overcoming amended clay soils, Noonan said. A shrub planted in autumn is already programmed to devote most of its energy to developing its root system and pushing into those newly created nooks and crannies in clay soil.

- Tom Ross

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