Nervous Dread Threatens In North Carolina


I’ve tried mixing in a number of fertilizers, but I’ve had it. I’m ready to dig a 20X20ft hole, line it with plastic tarp and fill it in with a variety of bagged soils, peat and manure.

We just moved into a lovely little waterfront home and I’m eagerly waiting the spring, summer and fall seasons at our new place. At the same time, though, I’m feeling a nervous dread. We just shelled out mega bucks for 8 seven-foot tall ‘green giant’ arborvitae, followed the peat and hole depth directions exactly, and all trees are growing increasingly brown by the week. I’m reading voraciously to arm myself with proper techniques, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that this first summer is going to be filled with expensive trial and error.

If, through any networking, you happen to know of anyone in this area who wouldn’t mind fielding a few questions from a Yankee carpet-bagger via email now and again, I would appreciate a name.


  1. You know, some of the regional forums on are quite good. Many very experienced gardeners post there. And I know they have a huge soil/compost forum that used to host extensive and contentious battles about double-digging vs. lasagna gardening.

    There are a lot of southern gardeners on that site. It sounds like soil amendment is the solution here and many of them are very, very knowledgable about that.

    I know I have read many long and fascinating posts on it (and then didn’t follow any of the advice because it sounded like too much work).

  2. Dave’s Garden, who does not grant itself the same copy right privledges as yourself of your words and photos like GardenWeb does in its TOS also has a Carolina forum. It costs $15 per year to participate in the forums, but huge chunks of the site are free.

  3. Red clay. Oh, yah. That’s what we have in the hills of South Salem (OR) where I was raised — red laterite soils built on hills of iron-rich Columbia flood basalt. I hope you like brick-red socks, ’cause that’s what all our white socks became when I was a kid.

    The hole filled with good dirt isn’t so far off. There’s a reason raised bed gardening is so popular around here.

    Besides raised beds, what works for me is to give the soil a three-fold treatment of a) LOTS of organic stuff — mostly compost and cow stuff, b) a moderate amount of sand, to add grit (but always with the organic stuff, because I found out the hard way that sand+clay=something with the texture of cement), and 3) a sprinkling of gypsum, which interacts with the clay particles in some mysterious way.

    Mix well, cover with your favorite mulch, and serve warm in the spring. The hidden blessing is that clay is mineral-rich, and once it’s lightened up with compost and sand, your little plantlets will slurp it up happily. Keep adding layers of mulch year after year, and you’ll grow nice, rich soil.

    It also helps to keep your feet out of the beds as much as possible, to keep all that stirred-up soil light.

  4. I’ve lived and gardened most of my life in hard pan clay back in CA. When I moved to Indiana I was clueless what to do in a zone five (luckily the soil was fab! which was wooonderful) anyway jsut as I was getting used to this nice soil, I moved again…now I have clay gummy soil that is either too crumbly and dry or too saturated with water. I am compleatly clueless with what to do again as almost everything I’ve planted this year has drowned. I’ve started some layered beds in hopes of defeating this problem. In hard red clay I would just go with raised beds!

  5. As a yankee carpet bagger who moved from a Zone 5A with heavy clay to the Zone 7B sandy soils of eastern NC, I feel your pain. What helped me make the adjustment was to take Master Gardener classes through the local NC ag ext office–they are all about your particular climate. I’m an organic garderner & they are quick to whip out chemicals, but the plant ID & growing info for the region was invaluable–you also meet other gardeners that have experienced your soil/traumas. Also, if you haven’t read Elizabeth Lawrence, please do: her gardens were in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC. She’ll give you hours of enjoyment & oodles of info.

  6. There’s only one way to go in the Piedmont of N.C. and that is up, up, up! You could make pots from the stuff a few inches down in my back yard but I’ve been building up my soil gradually with no-till permaculture techniques. After five years I am producing more vegetables that I can use and I can look forward to easy maintenance ahead.

  7. Been here 2 and a half years. Bulbs, roses and lots of vibrant perennials are quite happy in clay. My tulips, lilies, glads, daffodils and dahlias THRIVE in our Charlotte area yard. Currently, my lilies are loaded and ready to pop. My climbing roses are just past their prime after supplying me with many vases for my kids’ teachers, mothers day, my sister’s graduation and my mantle. Perennials…so many are thrilled to live in NC- Salvia, yarrow, balloon flower, babies breath, really most perennials thrive in our long springs and falls. The clay will soon make you smile in reflection of fond memories.

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