Growing your soil - for all the beginners

52 posts in this topic

To all recent members, lurkers and long-timers who just want to know, welcome to Palm Talk.

The big question, like it or not, is how to deal with your soil. That's what the palms grow in, and if it's got problems, your plants will have problems, too.

Fortunately, there are people here with a wealth of experience, and I ask you to share, too.

"Growing your soil" means just that: soil isn't just inert dirt, but the product of living things acting on dead things, and non-organic things. Poor soil can be made better, sometimes with spectacular results. Not everyone gets river bottom silt like in the Tigris and Euphrates or Nile river valleys.

CLAY.

I have clay. At its worst it, sucks. Literally, as in sucks off your shoes when it's wet. The good news is you can make it much better by adding organic material to it, and you'll end up with soil that drains and holds water well, and that plants love.

Some of the rest of us have other types, like "DG" sand, etc. Share with us what you do to cope.

6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have clay. At its worst it, sucks. Literally, as in sucks off your shoes when it's wet. The good news is you can make it much better by adding organic material to it, and you'll end up with soil that drains and holds water well, and that plants love.

Some of the rest of us have other types, like "DG" sand, etc. Share with us what you do to cope.

I think I am very lucky;

Instead of planting palm species in a place a palm wouldn't grow, and cope with that situation by working hard on adding organic material, digging deep holes or planting on mounts, I just plant the seedlings where Areca concinna and others like Caryota seed themselves like weeds.
I am not proud of that but I just notice I am lucky. 

In this lucky situation, planting Areca macrocalyx is almost as usual as letting a spontaneous Areca catechu grow, like we do many times.

But of course, when it's easy with some species it's difficult with others; we are not so good with Clinostigma or Bentinckia condapanna ...

But wild boars and porcupines can make it difficult too !

2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A most important topic DD.....

About 14 years ago, I had the property regraded and removed the top 2 feet of soil (approx.). 

Once that was completed, I trucked in several hundred yards of quality palm mix. This was one of the better decisions I made early on in this crazy hobby of ours.

In addition, whenever I plant a new palm/cycad, I always custom mix my back-fill based on the plant going in.

And I have always maintained a healthy mulch regiment. 

 

4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a 3 Gal Royal and small Areca palm planted outside. Here in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.  Same climate as Miami, but our soil is very red rocky clay type.  Its watered 2 times a week.  But leafs are going brown.  Is it because it needs more shade? or too much water ?  or just hates the soil?  around me are loads of date palms, spindle palms, all ok? my coconut palm is ok, but royal and areca going brown.  Any ideas please ?

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

IMG-20171011-WA0002.jpg

IMG-20171011-WA0001.jpg

IMG-20171011-WA0000.jpg

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Any advise please ? 

 

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, Patrick Palms said:

Any advise please ? 

 

Looks like a lot of heat and full sun caused some sunburn.

1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great subject. Mulch, mulch, mulch and more mulch. I started out with full hard pan clay in 2000, you know the stuff that turns to cracked concrete in the heat of summer and pottery forming quality play dough in the winter. I learned from the "old" palm talk forum about mulch. Use purely organic mulch and the earthworms will do the heavy work. After 17 years of yearly mulch application, I now have a nice clay "loam" to a depth of about 2-3 feet with excellent drainage. And it holds moisture very well. I keep the mulch application to less than 3" so that the water does not only get absorbed by the mulch, but also the soil beneath the mulch (I have surface sprinklers and not drip). More than three inches and I find the mulch sucks up all the water!

8

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the advice Brett. Will def use plenty mulch

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And thanks Matt. Yes I did wonder about it being too hot and in full sun

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So should I dig them both up and replant in the shade ? Or will they eventually adapt ?

 

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It seems like many here live in some of the best climates on Earth, but with some of the worst native soil. And here I am in New York with a nice sandy loam, digging deep holes with an 18 inch shovel, though the selection of palms hardy to zone 7 is extremely limited lol.

Clay soil sounds like a royal pain, but it’s good to know that it can be improved over time. I never really looked at mulch as something that helped improve the soil much, I mainly used it for aesthetic purposes and to keep the ground from drying out so quickly in the summer.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I should have known better, than planting palms in full sun.. My coconut is loving it though. My young Dypiss Pembana seedlings are planted in shade and doing great

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yet I always thought Royal palms prefer full sun ??

 

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Patrick Palms said:

I have a 3 Gal Royal and small Areca palm planted outside. Here in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.  Same climate as Miami, but our soil is very red rocky clay type.  Its watered 2 times a week.  But leafs are going brown.  Is it because it needs more shade? or too much water ?  or just hates the soil?  around me are loads of date palms, spindle palms, all ok? my coconut palm is ok, but royal and areca going brown.  Any ideas please ?

I am far from an expert on the subject, but Royals come from deep southern Florida, which is a very hot, humid, moist, tropical climate.  Florida is also a sandy, flat plot of land.

 

The Canary Islands are a cool, desert environment.  Fuerteventura is incredibly dry if memory serves well and gets very little rainfall, and all of the Canaries are volcanic structures.

 

The Royal may need a much longer spell of heat and humidity.  In their native habitat, they get countless days at the 90 degree mark with oppressive humidity, where the Canaries hardly ever get out of the 70's.  It could be a lack of high heat and humidity, it could be soil drainage problems, it could be too much of some type of nutrients found in volcanic soil or a deficiency of something else.  So many variables, but the easiest question is are you watering enough?  Date palms grow in deserts and are very drought tolerant.  A royal certainly is not.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Palm Tree Jim said:

A most important topic DD.....

About 14 years ago, I had the property regraded and removed the top 2 feet of soil (approx.). 

Once that was completed, I trucked in several hundred yards of quality palm mix. This was one of the better decisions I made early on in this crazy hobby of ours.

In addition, whenever I plant a new palm/cycad, I always custom mix my back-fill based on the plant going in.

And I have always maintained a healthy mulch regiment. 

 

And your garden is spectacular!

1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Brett in Mission Viejo said:

Great subject. Mulch, mulch, mulch and more mulch. I started out with full hard pan clay in 2000, you know the stuff that turns to cracked concrete in the heat of summer and pottery forming quality play dough in the winter. I learned from the "old" palm talk forum about mulch. Use purely organic mulch and the earthworms will do the heavy work. After 17 years of yearly mulch application, I now have a nice clay "loam" to a depth of about 2-3 feet with excellent drainage. And it holds moisture very well. I keep the mulch application to less than 3" so that the water does not only get absorbed by the mulch, but also the soil beneath the mulch (I have surface sprinklers and not drip). More than three inches and I find the mulch sucks up all the water!

^^ This, right here. Perfect.

Even here in the Desert, can't recommend Mulch enough, especially if you intend on growing Tropical fruit trees and palms which arent as adapted to life in nutrient poor, grit and gravel. Leaving Mesquite leaf litter under trees, or scattering it through nearby beds is also a bonus for cycling Nitrogen back into the soil surface layer. Seems to work well as a top dressing around potted stuff as well. 

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I concur with Dave and Brett.. I almost went Jims way but I'm too cheap and lazy.. :lol: Anyway, below you will notice my yard that is mostly clay. I was going to scrape the top and do what Jim did until I was told I could mulch heavily and wait it out... Well 10 years or so later and the results show. Especially when you consider I have been LUCKY if I manage to mulch once a year. More like once every 2 years!! ALSO, I have probably only fertilized 3 times? maybe?..

Imagine what it would look like if I was more diligent... ;)

 

The only thing I would add that I did not do is the use Round-Up or the like on your yard before laying down the mulch. It's taken years to get the weeds under control....in spots.. lol

 

20170724_180526.thumb.jpg.020fcd1af873c8

8

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We are agree that clay soils could be a good rich soil if it is amended with lots of organics and mulched.

Mulch is the most important if we want grow tropicals. With mulch our soil has better drainage, always is moist on the top, is not too hot in Summer and not too cold in Winter. The plants can take better the minors and the PH is lower in alkaline soils. 

Work with a mulched soil is easy and the tipical companyon plants like Crotons, Bromeliads, Ti plants, love it.

My garden is mulched with pine bark. Once a year i fill with a little bit more bark and twice a year, with compost.

After 3 years, my top soil looks amazing.

Like Palm Tree Jim, i am removing the native soil and filling with rich top soil.

My native soil is limestone sand. The drainage is too fast, is poor and hydrophobic. 

When i started with my garden i had big problems. My sandy soil was amended with lots of  organics. Bad decission, dry sandy soils with organics are hydrophobic when are too dry. You can water a lot but water runs and the soil is dry. I want to cry when i renember my first palms diying and i am asking what is happening.

With sandy soils you have 3 options:

First, amended and mulched. But you must use with the first waters a wetter( surfactant?)and always, keep it moist. If the soil is dry, you must start other time with the wetter. After few years your soil will better, the organics will be descomposed and you will have a sandy organic soil not too bad.

Second, not amended but mulched. It is easyer keep the mulch moist and after a long time(years) the top soil will be better.

Thirt, my option, remove the sandy soil and fill with rich soil. It is expensive, needs lot of work, but you have a good soil for start with the garden. 

Edited by Monòver
5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, doranakandawatta said:

I have clay. At its worst it, sucks. Literally, as in sucks off your shoes when it's wet. The good news is you can make it much better by adding organic material to it, and you'll end up with soil that drains and holds water well, and that plants love.

Some of the rest of us have other types, like "DG" sand, etc. Share with us what you do to cope.

I think I am very lucky;

Instead of planting palm species in a place a palm wouldn't grow, and cope with that situation by working hard on adding organic material, digging deep holes or planting on mounts, I just plant the seedlings where Areca concinna and others like Caryota seed themselves like weeds.
I am not proud of that but I just notice I am lucky. 

In this lucky situation, planting Areca macrocalyx is almost as usual as letting a spontaneous Areca catechu grow, like we do many times.

But of course, when it's easy with some species it's difficult with others; we are not so good with Clinostigma or Bentinckia condapanna ...

But wild boars and porcupines can make it difficult too !

Yes but you have to travel with the plane, while wehave only to step out from out doors.

3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, Phoenikakias said:

Yes but you have to travel with the plane, while wehave only to step out from out doors.

Seeing the arabian peninsula from the sky is not too bad, spending so much time before getting in the rickshaw is actually not so nice, you're right.

But when I am there, as you may have seen in other posts, I am really in my own "jungle book" universe.
Just to say I feel lucky seeing it's so easy to get seeds germinating (on the compost pile) and palms growing without any effort 

2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In conjunction with amending the soil for your palms, we also now try to separate the palms into different areas with differently structured soil.

That is so that we no longer try to grow a Bismarckia next to a Hedyscepe, or a Coccothrinax with a Chamaedorea.

Remember that they don't all like the same soil or conditions.

6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, doranakandawatta said:

Seeing the arabian peninsula from the sky is not too bad, spending so much time before getting in the rickshaw is actually not so nice, you're right.

But when I am there, as you may have seen in other posts, I am really in my own "jungle book" universe.
Just to say I feel lucky seeing it's so easy to get seeds germinating (on the compost pile) and palms growing without any effort 

At least there is something, which can console me a bit.:D

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, gtsteve said:

In conjunction with amending the soil for your palms, we also now try to separate the palms into different areas with differently structured soil.

That is so that we no longer try to grow a Bismarckia next to a Hedyscepe, or a Coccothrinax with a Chamaedorea.

Remember that they don't all like the same soil or conditions.

Of course, agree. I have a planting bed filled with my removed rubish soil and the Chamaerops grows happy, in the same place a Hedyscepe will be death in one year.

But, for example, if you want plant a Coccothrinax and your soil is clay, what can you do? And may be you want to grow a Howea near the coccothrinax. 

I think amending your soil with organics, the Coccothrinax will be better than only with not amended clay and if you dig a big hole and fill it with a little bit sandy limestone or dolomite, your Coccothrinax will grow near the Howea.

Of course, you must water less the Coccothrinax area.

Every thing is possible in a garden!!!:lol:

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, BS Man about Palms said:

I concur with Dave and Brett.. I almost went Jims way but I'm too cheap and lazy.. :lol: Anyway, below you will notice my yard that is mostly clay. I was going to scrape the top and do what Jim did until I was told I could mulch heavily and wait it out... Well 10 years or so later and the results show. Especially when you consider I have been LUCKY if I manage to mulch once a year. More like once every 2 years!! ALSO, I have probably only fertilized 3 times? maybe?..

Imagine what it would look like if I was more diligent... ;)

 

The only thing I would add that I did not do is the use Round-Up or the like on your yard before laying down the mulch. It's taken years to get the weeds under control....in spots.. lol

 

20170724_180526.thumb.jpg.020fcd1af873c8

No arguing with the results. And, Mr. Spinal Column is happy, too.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lots of threads have discussed amending clay.

LOTS OF ORGANICS. Truck beds full. Unrotted is best, if you have time. The rotting and the worms and bacteria, also riddle the clay with holes.

Brett's got the right idea, but some hard-a$$ed labor will cut short 15+ years. With Mr. Spinal Column's permission of course.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, Patrick Palms said:

I have a 3 Gal Royal and small Areca palm planted outside. Here in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.  Same climate as Miami, but our soil is very red rocky clay type.  Its watered 2 times a week.  But leafs are going brown.  Is it because it needs more shade? or too much water ?  or just hates the soil?  around me are loads of date palms, spindle palms, all ok? my coconut palm is ok, but royal and areca going brown.  Any ideas please ?

Water them a lot, for sure. They're thirsty things.

If you only planted them a short time ago, you can dig and amend, but it's a lot of work.

I did it once. (Ah, lovely word, once.) I dug out the palms, "heeled them in" in the shade, kept them moist, and dug a pit about 1 M by 1 M wide, and about 30 -  40 cm deep for each and mixed the dug-out soil with lots of rotted organics (dead leaves, cut grass, etc) put back in hole and planted palms and kept moist. Go bigger for the Royal for sure.

My method worked. Here's Butch, the beneficiary a big Royal. (Maybe worked too well.)

IMG_2510.thumb.JPG.55660a375e3cbb87c0ee3

8

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Important detail as mentioned above by Manover, regular mulch application, in addition to improving soil structure, will lower the soil PH which will help combat PH rise for those that water with high PH water, e.g. Colorado River water for those of us in So Cal. Lowering those high PH soils will help nutrient uptake and plant health. I agree with Matt, when in doubt test the soil. Great advice in this thread! 

1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I use a composted mulch.  I probably apply it about one time per year.  I have also been filling my composter like crazy.  Hopine to use more of that.

For particularly gnarly areas, I will add gypsum.  I have also used composted chicken manure as part of a "lasagna" mulching strategy. 

Currently I am working on building out a soil improvement schedule.   I plan to include mulch, humic acid, compost applications and so on.  I hope a schedule will keep me more on task and really help my garden and soil.

4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Everyone, thanks for your posts!

Please keep them coming; those who haven't answered, don't be shy.

What about D & G? Sand?

I know the folks in Florida have challenging soils or "soils"; share your coping hints.

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for starting this tread! I LOVE to talk soil amendment! :yay: I don't know if I'm doing it right, but my plants seem happy for the most part, as far as soil conditions go. Here is my story and I'm wide-open for advice!

I'm 11 miles in inland Naples, Florida :indifferent: I have sugar sand, limestone caprock, and limestone marl. I dig over-sized holes and amend each and every one Canadian peat, Black Kow and/or compost (depending on how low the pH the plant likes), topsoil, and mix the original sand in as well. Everything gets heaped up with eucalyptus/melaleuca/cypress mulch, then pine bark fines on top of that. I view the heaps of mulch as a kind of insurance, as my soil amendments leach away from the plant's roots, the mulch will break down and add nutrients...as long as my chickens allow the mulch to stay in place :rant: Then again, the chickens add their own high-nitrogen amendments as well!

Luckily, the marl seems to be concentrated in the back part of my property. I put my Caribbean plants back there. Pseudophoenix sargentii and Sabal mauritiiformis are quite happy in it. I think I'm going to move my wee Coccothrinax argentata back there as well. I've tried the acid-lovers back there, even with amendments, and it was a big no-no, as in - no thriving.

3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, Matt in OC said:

Test

Your

Soil

Don't assume. Here's a good place to start: https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm

Then do some tests yourself: the mason jar test, the ribbon test. https://support.rachio.com/hc/en-us/articles/115010542588-What-type-of-soil-do-I-have-

You might be surprised!

Wow!  That is some great Information. So much makes sense now. Thanks Matt!

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is beach sand good for palms? Or only coconut palms ?

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Brett in Mission Viejo said:

Important detail as mentioned above by Manover, regular mulch application, in addition to improving soil structure, will lower the soil PH which will help combat PH rise for those that water with high PH water, e.g. Colorado River water for those of us in So Cal. Lowering those high PH soils will help nutrient uptake and plant health. I agree with Matt, when in doubt test the soil. Great advice in this thread! 

Good point Brett!

1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/12/2017, 8:42:22, Matt in OC said:

Test

Your

Soil

Don't assume. Here's a good place to start: https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm

Then do some tests yourself: the mason jar test, the ribbon test. https://support.rachio.com/hc/en-us/articles/115010542588-What-type-of-soil-do-I-have-

You might be surprised!

Great link btw Matt! Thanks!

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks DD for posting. This thread proves each and everyone’s love and devotion to this wonderful hobby - willing to sacrifice money and a lot more. Bravo!

2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am a beginner myself, but a few questions if you may:)

What is that DD soil or DG soil?

Won't compost be better compared to mulch as it would add ingredients to the soil instead of removing (dried leaves as mulch removing nitrogen from the soil) ?

If compost is good can we just use it and reapply it once or twice per year instead of using mulch? 

Thanks this has been a nice thread!

 

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

DD= DoomsDave

DG= Decomposed Granite.  Mostly super fine stone/pepples... very little organic.

The larger mulch does not rob as much from the soil as you think AND the larger pieces help aerate the soil. I did forget to add that "air" in your soil is very important too. Effectively on clay, you are just trying to get your soil more "loose and airy" as such..

2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 13/10/2017 16:18:58, Patrick Palms said:

Is beach sand good for palms? Or only coconut palms ?

Patrick,

As I understood that when I came to Sri Lanka first times, there is real soil under the sand of the  beach.
Real red heavy soil here on the south coast.

F1020012.JPG.a409dc3554ffa2baefdea0ada67

But it's not enough to avoid the monsoon sea erosion every year. You see all that land disappearing with the trees every year 

F1010019.JPG.9a6648e4d39caf78f4f519367b0

So I would say that even for coconut palms , beach sand doesn't make a soil.

4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now