21

No, in your lifetime, normal amounts of pine needles will not measurably acidify your soil. They are somewhat acidic, and acidify soil over long periods of time, unless the soil base is extremely alkaline. They don't acidify soil more than other deciduous tree leaves, and oak leaves in particular (they have a pH of 4.5 to 4.7). Rain does leach the acid out, ...


20

A few months ago I called my local nursery to ask if they carried ammonium sulfate. He said "Oh, you want aluminum sulfate to acidify the soil for blueberries." I cringed in horror that this advice is being dispensed so regularly. Is aluminum a nutrient or do plants use aluminum in any way? Aluminum is not known to be a nutrient for plant growth in any ...


18

My first step in your situation would be a soil test. The UC Extension service doesn't perform soil testing, but this pdf has a list of labs in northern and central California. The results of this test will tell you in what ways your soil is deficient. You don't specifically mention what you're growing, but it sounds like vegetables. One thing that makes ...


15

Blueberries certainly like acidic soil (about 4-5 pH) and is quite necessary for a healthy plant with good fruit production. This is not just for "serious gardeners", but is something that blueberries need. While the plant might grow in neutral soils, the fruit production might be low and the leaves generally sparse. I can tell you from experience that my ...


15

Legumes are often used for this purpose. From Wikipedia: Legumes are notable in that most of them have symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in structures called root nodules. And Within legume nodules, nitrogen gas from the atmosphere is converted into ammonia, which is then assimilated into amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), nucleotides (...


14

The wooden frame you describe is what I use, but instead of chicken wire I use hardware cloth (wire mesh). I have one frame with 1/4" mesh and one slightly larger (3/8"? -- I think 1/2" would be too big)). My large frame measures about 3' square, the small frame is built to fit over a specific bucket and measures about 15" square. The biggest problem with ...


14

What's done is done, but in future years, as others suggest, collect up the leaves and compost them separately, either in a contained heap or in binliner bags with holes in the bottom. Leaves should be wet, crammed in a binliner, the tops tied shut, holes poked in the bottom, then left in a corner somewhere to rot down over a year or so, by which time they ...


13

Clay soil is composed of extremely small clay particles formed by the breakdown of rocks by erosion and organic activity. The particles have a high surface area with the capacity to hold lots of positive ions (cations) such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium which are essential for plant growth. And it has a capacity to hold a lot of water. The ...


12

I live in the St Louis area so my soil is also very clayey. I make 5 gallons of compost tea each week (from late Spring to earlier Autumn "Fall") and apply the 5 gallon batch to the front garden one week, then the following week apply a new fresh 5 gallon batch to the back garden. I repeat that cycle for the period given previously. I have been doing this ...


12

I have a similar problem in my garden. The clay soil is at least six feet deep and can only be broken up with a pickaxe or power machinery. Why? as the glaciers melted in Ontario about 14,000 to 10,000 years ago they dropped the silt (clay) in huge moraines and drifts. Post ice age plants started building soil and took thousands of years to do so. then, as ...


12

You could try seaweed which has been used as a soil additive. Just chop it up and wash it with freshwater or compost it before using. Depending on where you are you should find varieties of palm trees. The fibre found between the hard outer shell and the inner nut is also used as a soil additive. Animal manure from goats, pigs, sheep or chickens is also ...


11

Digging in the composted manure is a good start - especially as it is free. The legumes (peas and beans) will help a bit too. I would also start to compost if you are not doing so already, and you can then dig that in in future years. Compost (especially the make-yourself kind) is mainly organic matter which will break down over time. Therefore it won't ...


11

We amended a similar plot of dense clay on a half-acre in zone 7a in North Carolina. The main work was done by a flock of about 60 chickens. We fenced the chickens in on the half-acre, and then spread leaves over the whole area. The town public works department delivered two giant truckloads of shredded leaves (mostly deciduous) from street-cleaning to our ...


10

In addition to acidity (probably not a problem), and very slow calcium release, I'm going to offer a hypothesis as to why she does it... Crushed eggshells are sometimes used as organic methods of deterring certain pests, especially gastropods such as snails and slugs (see this question). Gastropods are unlikely to be a problem in indoor pots, but perhaps ...


10

Just to round off the sterling advice already given: if it is available, I would definitely add plenty of well-rotted horse manure (not farmyard or cattle manure, which is more suitable for amending light soils). Over time, horse or stable manure - preferably one that contains plenty of straw, rather than wood shavings - will open up the soil structure, and ...


10

Once you get below the root zone, the only thing you're affecting is drainage. How deep the root zone is varies from plant to plant; see e.g. "Root Development of Vegetable Crops". Even when taproots go very deep, you probably want to focus on where most of the root hairs are, for most of the time the plant is growing, which is of course less deep. ...


10

Good quality topsoil is probably best, preferably with some organic or humus rich composted materials added (composted animal manures, leaf mould, spent mushroom compost, garden compost, anything like that), though the latter component should only be added if you're not growing root crops like carrots, which will fork badly in manured or very rich soil. ...


9

A pH of about 4.5 is required for blueberries to do well. (Some sources say as low as 4.3, some as high as 5.0; most sources say they do well between 4.0-5.5, which is a fairly large range.) At higher pH, the bushes will have an iron deficiency; see the photo and discussion on this page for iron deficiency caused by high pH. The best way to adjust the pH ...


9

There are people experimenting with biochar. Not the same as terra preta, but also a way to sequester carbon in the soil, and you can potentially capture and use the syngas. I don't use biochar, but I'm interested in its uses and have been doing some research for some time. It does appear to have beneficial effects on plants grown in soil amended with ...


9

Below is what I would consider a "Rolls-Royce" job, all of it might not need to be done if water doesn't puddle on the surface of the lawn... French drains on the back face/side of the upper and lower retaining walls: Dig 300 to 450mm (12 to 18inches) wide trenches. The trenches should run the length of the retaining walls. The trenches should bottom out ...


9

If it doesn't contain manufactured materials, plastics or anti-rot pressure treatment, burnt woody material when thoroughly consumed will leave behind the wood mineral content and charcoal. You're burning off carbohydrates, cellulose and lignins which are complex molecules of mostly hydrogen, carbon and with any protein content nitrogen. Of course all the ...


9

Unless harmful elements fell into your manure during those 20 years without your knowledge, it certainly shouldn't hurt anything. It might not be as potent as properly matured and composted manure, that's all. Concerning your clay soil : don't work in your garden if it rained in the last 2 days to avoid compacting the soil.


9

This reference says that you need to add prohibitive amounts of sand to remediate clay soils. And if you don't get it right, you get a soil like concrete The problems occur when sand and clay are mixed in incorrect proportions. An ideal soil has 50% pore space (with the remainder consisting of minerals and organic matter). The pore spaces in a clay ...


8

My mother in law liked to put eggshells (not crushed much) at the bottom of pots when repotting. Served the dual purpose of drainage (as some people might use gravel) and possibly providing calcium. With the added bonus that eggshells are easier to come by than gravel for many people. At the top of the pot I doubt it would do anything much. I'm not really ...


8

Compost sounds like the main thing you want. This will primarily add nutritional value to the soil (to be fair clay minerals can hold all sorts of mineral ions - but no humus or water holding ability) but also improve drainage, digging, and it will be easier for roots to penetrate. Over time the compost will break down so you will probably always adding it, ...


8

First, I have not personally used charcoal as a soil amendment. Where and in what form would you be getting the charcoal? Charcoal is highly alkaline, therefore unless a soil test report states you need to raise the alkalinity of your soil (and by what recommended amount), I would not add in such a highly alkaline amendment, doing so could very well have a ...


8

Covering soil with plastic or newspapers is a common way of killing weeds in soil. You haven't ruined your soil in any way. Just do whatever you were planning. I would till the soil as little as possible. The proper way to do this is to prepare the soil for planting before covering like this. A lot of people cover their soil, kill the weeds and then ...


8

I have the same situation. For garden beds, I've had the best luck with lasagna gardening. I leave the grass in place, and cover it with several layers of cardboard and/or newspaper. I think I am well known at the grocery store as the lady who asks to raid the bin where they dump the broken-down boxes. If I have enough compostable material, I'll add that ...


8

What you need is a fast growing, fast spreading ground cover which is suitable to your environment. A suitable ground cover has the following benefits: Lock in moisture and nutrients at ground level Provide habitat for beneficial insects (think moist and decomposing versus hot dry and sandy, bugs are going to prefer to stay underground if there is little ...


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