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Mulch for clay soil- what and when?

(11 Posts)
Erebus Mon 01-Apr-13 21:27:58

Sadly I don't have any homemade compost ready, but I fight a constant battle with not very good quality, heavy soil. After last Spring's 'drought' the top layer was baked hard; after last year's deluge, it was sodden for ages!

There isn't a huge amount of garden bed, let me see- maybe 20m2 along the back (i.e. 13m x 1.5m) and the same along the sides (or a moss strewn lawn), so not a vast area to pay out to get proper mulch for- but what?

Numpty question: what garden centres call 'compost' (like 'multi-purpose' or 'seed-raising' compost isn't what I'd call compost from my compost bin, is it?

I know you can get rotted horse manure etc- is that worth it? I'd have to get sacks from the garden centre, I don't have anywhere to 'rot my own'. Or what about used mushroom compost?

I gather now is a good time to spread it, whilst stuff is allegedly breaking dormancy, should the spring ever come!

I want to get into my garden this year, having 'sorted the house' over the past 2 1/2 years but I am aware that I am having quite a few gardening failures due, I think to shite soil- and no, I don't plant 'needs free drainage at all costs!' plants, just 'normal to 'heavy' soil liking ones. But once you see your attempts at watering just careering off the baked, poor surface, you know the soil's got to be improved before I throw more plant money at it!

I want Monty's soil.

cantspel Mon 01-Apr-13 21:58:08

Do you have a local dump near you? if so this time of year they often sell what they call soil improver.It is recycled organic matter. Mine sells locally produced stuff for £4 per large bag or 3 for £10. It is ideal for braking down clay soil.
Now is an ideal time to start. Add 3 or 4 inches worth and dig it in well and the worms will do the rest. For the best soil do it each year until you get Monty style soil.

monsterchild Mon 01-Apr-13 22:02:14

Yes, the stuff you have in your compost bin is the same they are selling. It may have slightly less household waste, but compost is just biological stuff breaking down.
The mushroom compost is good, I've used that. One thing to know about clay is that it usually "eats" anything you put on it, and after a few years you just have clay again. (at least mine does this)

Erebus Tue 02-Apr-13 08:13:22

Thanks, all. You know, I hadn't thought about the stuff they sell at the dump! Of course!

I have also discovered that anything I've put on my clay soil has disappeared, too! I have, since we've been here, put a couple of compost bin-loads of compost on the garden beds, plus several sacks of bought rotted horse manure, plus exhausted pot-plant and seedling compost etc etc but, in most places, you wouldn't know I'd been there at all! There was on shady patch under the apple tree that was hammered flat and impervious- by the action of birds' feet, as they ate the detritus from the bird feeders in the tree above!!

I won't be able to dig it in well as there are quite a few plants in there (and I've always wondered how you're supposed to 'soil-improvement' mulch a garden with gravel all over it?!).

I do wish we'd bought the house with a bare garden for me to start from scratch with. You always think it's a waste to dig up and chuck out anything especially any of the 3 trees, none of which were well thought out. Everything is too close together!

cantspel Tue 02-Apr-13 10:07:55

If you cant dig it in the worms will do the work for you but it just takes longer.
Same with anything you have been putting on it and it is a good sign as it shows you have plenty of active worms.

LexiLexi Tue 02-Apr-13 10:19:04

We have had some medium term success working in bulkier organic matter, such as shredded bark and well rotted horse manure. If your garden is relatively small, you may be better off opting for raised beds and a no-dig garden method. Would recommend getting your own compost on the go if you decide to go down this route as the beds will need topping up from time to time.

You should be able to transplant most plants, just dig out and leave in buckets of water until you are ready to re-plant. With regard to your trees, I would reluctantly say that if they are too close together, they are unlikely to thrive. Would it be possible to remove one? Depending on it's size you may be able to transplant it elsewhere.

ComeIntoTheGardenMaud Tue 02-Apr-13 10:20:38

I have soil similar to yours. For several years I have mulched with composted bark but this year I plan to use horse manure compost. I never dig it in but let the worms do it for me.

Erebus Tue 02-Apr-13 14:00:27

Thanks, all.

I've done some work on the garden since we arrived. I cut out a non performing but oversized cyanothus; I cut out a stringy flowering crab, a real one-hit-wonder of display for a week or so followed by just looking, well, stringy; I've 'crown-lifted a dominant 'feauture' bunch of black bamboo: I've desized a huge spotted laurel to about 1/4; we've put in 2 properly spaced maples and 2 small maples. And I'm afraid the apple must go- way too close to the bamboo and fruits every other year. I really need 'a plan', not to just plonk stuff in!

I really should re-lay the lawn, it's really bumpy and uneven as several bits have been garden beds in the garden's 15 year history. The boys still play badminton on it so I may leave that yet another year as they'd have to stay off it for 3-6 months, I gather. I'd love to Carole Klein the whole thing but I am aware this is a 4 br family house on a family-style estate so people expect 'an oblong of grass' but it doesn't have to be surrounded by 3 strips of nastiness, does it?!

I must hie me off to the dump, then persuade myself that though it's toasty inside and looks lovely and sunny outside, it's still 2 degrees but I must get out there... I did look at last year's April garden photos just now and I'd say it's all a good month behind that, however.

bumperella Tue 02-Apr-13 18:36:41

If you can get in to dig, then adding lots of horticultural grit /sand will really help open up clay soil. Then a good thick mulch as mentioned above.
ceanothus generally hates clay - you were right to get rid.
The apple is likely fruiting only every second year because you're not thinning the fruit out enough - in late June/July be brutal and get rid of about half the fruitlets on the tree. That way it'll not need a year to recover from its fruitfulness before being ready to set fruit again. At least, I think that should help! I find it v hard to be brutal enough in thinning fruit out. And also hate getting rid of plants that "theres nothing wrong with" (except that they're the wrong plant in the wrong place and look rubbish, of course!).

Absolutey with you on the hatred of "patch of lawn with narrow borders surrounding it" garden layout, it's often a bit dull. Even rounding off the lawn area and making the beds much much wider will help, but better to measure up, mark out things you can't mvoe, list the things you want to have, and doodle until you get a layout you like. Then add the fine detail (eg plants).

Rhubarbgarden Wed 03-Apr-13 18:13:00

How about doing a circular lawn? Just changing the shape from big standard rectangle can make a big difference.

Rhubarbgarden Wed 03-Apr-13 18:44:32

Actually that was meant to read 'bog standard'

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