Soil/fertilizer questions


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Fresno, CA
I'm moving into a new house and I've been officially given the green light to turn one whole side of the house into my personal bonsai garden. I've been doing some planning with the space and have decided to make a small area my grow field. I have a juniper, a pine and some maples I'd like to out in the ground for a few years and want to see if you guys have any advice on what I might need to do to prepare the soil. It been rainy lately so it's a bit on the muddy soil, but its pretty much your run of the mill garden soil. I also wanted to see what you guys might recommend for fertilizer. I've been over these threads and I get mixed messages about organic vs. inorganic fertilizer. I've been using your basic run of the mill Miracle Gro with no problems. if you have any specific brand names you would suggest for in ground growing I'd appreciate it a lot.
If this is a relatively large area (bigger than 4x6 feet) you'll be pouring money into the ground if you try to use Miracle Gro. Get a bag of some granular lawn and garden fertilizer. Till the growing area, spread whatver the label says over the surface and till again. Close the bag tightly and store in a cool, DRY place for use over the summer and next year.

Your trees don't give a HOOT whether it is organic or artificial fertilizer you use. All they want is NPK (and in the ground, trace elements aren't necessary in the fertilizer, though they won't hurt). So get something that is fairly balanced and inexpensive (i.e. READ THE LABEL).

If it is muddy, you might want to reconsider the specific area. Few trees like to grow in places that get muddy after heavy rain. It also makes tilling all but impossible.
If its muddy then the soil has a high level of fine soil particles (silts, clays etc) so you will have to build up its drainage capacity (add coarse sand, fine crushed materials etc) and you might want to use leaf compost and other amendments to build up the oragnics in the area ......
If this area is on top of a clay layer (or hardpan) you may never get good drainage so you might want to reconsider the location or increase the soil depth by building up the heigth of the soil, the "raised bed conceptl" by using landscape ties, blocksetc.
Good luck.
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Do you know how people in your area refer to the soil? There is too much to explain in a single post but talk to the locals or call your extension agent. Depending on what you start with tells what you can or can't do. In a clay soil (what I live on) sanding will actually work against. The clay particles are smaller than sand so the "soil" will just gobble up mass amounts of sand and then you have a hard packed clay embedded with sand. We won't see added drainage until adding 80% sand, meaning you would raise the soil level 24" before making it worth doing. I'm sure in certain areas you can sand the soil. Make sure you are one of them before you do.

The only "can't fail" soil amendment is well composted organic material. The only way to get a lot is start a very large compost pile or look into rotted manure. Never use anything too fresh (un-composted) as it will lock up nutrients until it is itself broken down. That and no-one likes working with fresh manure.:)
I would listen to sfhellwig and add that you could buy several bags of fine pine bark mulch and turn it in to the soil along with some finer organic material like leaf/grass compost. Since I'm sure you don't have a ready supply of that just yet, you could probably get some bags of humus, manure, or whatever and use it in lieu of compost for the first year.
One thing I have found helpful in hard soils, especially clay soils, is gypsum which is available at hardware stores,stores like Lowes, Home Depot, etc. By spreading and tilling this into the ground it will loosen soil and make it more drainable. It is not harmful to anything planted and is an asset to condition the soil along with the other items mentioned. I have found it almost indespensible in some soils.
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