New Garden – Not Thriving

Q: We want to know if you have insight as to why our garden failed this year so we can avoid issues next season.

We planted our garden in August, with mushroom compost and landscape soil turned into it.

You can see the plants are not thriving, and look sickly. What happened?

A: It’s not uncommon for new gardens on previously unamended clay soil to perform poorly for a year or two. Your pictures tell me that although you mixed the compost and landscape soil with the clay as best you could, the soil still has a lot of big organic particles. The slick clay visible between the rows washed from between thelarger pieces of organic material. “Good” soil consists of clay particles mixed thoroughly with humus, the tiny particles that result from organic matter decaying. For the first couple of years after amending clay soil, organic matter has not broken down sufficiently to form humus. Therefore the soil is not very productive and plants don’t grow so well.

That explains why your garden wasn’t as good as you expected.

But don’t give up hope! The process of making good soil is well underway. You can make lots of humus this winter by tilling the garden a couple of times when the soil is dry enough to turn without making lots of clods. Big organic matter particles will break down rapidly and mix more completely with the clay.

I expect you’ll see a marked improvement in your garden next year.

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