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Article: Garden Myths Busted: Beer, Corn and Rubber: Gypsum for clay

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Talent, OR

May 7, 2012
6:31 AM

Post #9113752

gypsum alters clay at a molecular level, breaking it down.
Melbourne, KY
(Zone 6a)

May 7, 2012
6:53 AM

Post #9113782

Hmm...sounds better than the sand I once used. LOL Yep, I have proved what you said, Paul, that sand turns clay into cement! Live and learn.
Washington, DC

May 7, 2012
9:27 AM

Post #9113984

For 3 years after buying a house in DC I dug up my yard - should say down because I went down 12 inches or more - adding tons of organic compost but never saw a noticible difference. Then someone told me about gypsum. The next spring I was so excited when I saw worms happily living in my lovely garden soil. GO GYPSUM!!!
Dahlonega, GA

May 7, 2012
5:07 PM

Post #9114645

That's what my dad used , 60 years ago . It made the soil puffy and water sank right in . He got blue ribbons at fairs for fruit and veggies
Buffalo, NY

May 7, 2012
5:20 PM

Post #9114668

So, how much gypsum should be put in the soil to make it break down the clay? And does it change the PH of the soil at all?
Malvern, AR

May 8, 2012
7:09 AM

Post #9115415

Gypsum is definitely better than organic matter at loosening clay soils. I have also used epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) when gypsum was not readily available. In Okinawa, Japan, we used shredded newspaper to help loosen our heavy clay soil in the garden.
Mount Vernon, KY

May 8, 2012
7:23 PM

Post #9116503

Okay you guys. You got me all excited about adding this around my blueberries. Clay is not easy on blueberries.
I looked up gypsum this was written by a Chalker- Scott Phd from Washington University.

• Gypsum does not usually change soil acidity, though occasional reports of both increasing and
decreasing pH exist;
• Gypsum can increase leaching of aluminum, which can detoxify soils but also contaminates
nearby watersheds;
• Gypsum can increase leaching of iron and manganese, leading to deficiencies of these nutrients;
• Gypsum applied to acid soils can induce magnesium deficiency in plants on site;
• Gypsum applied to sandy soils can depress phosphorus, copper and zinc transport;
• Gypsum can have negative effects on mycorrhizal inoculation of roots, which may account for
several reports of negative effects of gypsum on tree seedling establishment and survival;
• Gypsum is variable in its effects on mature trees;
• Gypsum will not improve fertility of acid or sandy soils;
• Gypsum will not improve water holding capacity of sandy soils; and
• Gypsum’s effects are short-lived (often a matter of months)
With the exception of arid and coastal regions

I notice he never said if it did or did not puff up that clay soil. So if I use it on my blueberries - then I just put some extra magnesium on them?
What does a plant that need magnesium look like? Is it pale yellow - is that what is in those acid plant foods for alaza? Because I had a blueberry that was really yellow - sitting in a ton of peat moss and bark mulch- I put some of that stuff on it and I will do it again (once aweek) but it still looks yellow.

I am getting tired of trying to get the nack of raising blueberries.
Sacramento, CA
(Zone 9b)

May 22, 2012
8:10 AM

Post #9133374

Gypsum is basically calcium sulfate. It works well on loosening soils compacted because of salt content (often found in coastal and arid regions). It desalinates these soils by replacing salt w/ calcium. However, the salt has to leach out, so if water won't drain through the soil, it won't work.

Gypsum won't change a soil's pH, I guess because the calcium and sulphate counteract each other. It does add needed calcium, though, that may be lacking in highly acidic soils. Blossom end-rot on tomatoes, for example, indicates a lack of calcium as well as moisture uptake. Agricultural lime, calcium carbonate, adjusts pH as well as adding calcium if you have acidic soil. If a soil is too acid, some necessary nutrients form compounds unavailable to plants, and others become so available they're toxic to plants. In alkaline soils, iron is usually present but unavailable until you decrease the pH.

It takes a LOT of sulfur or lime to change a soil's pH just a little. Organic matter can act as a pH "buffer" , helping plants grow in less than ideal pH.s. The acids released by decaying organic matter are more likely than gypsum to loosen the bonds between the sliver-like particles of clay soil.

There are lots of things that can make leaves yellow. Waterlogged plants in heavy clays often have yellow leaves. Best solution for that is a raised bed so at least the root crown stays relatively dry. When I had heavy clay soil, I used to build a box for each plant out of benderboard to hold in a layer of looser soil around the crown.

If the old leaves are yellow, this may indicate nitrogen deficiency . Nitrogen is very portable within the plant, so when the supply is scarce, it's taken out of the old leaves and put into new growth.

When iron is deficient, the new leaves get yellow. I've seen photos of other yellowing patterns associated with various types of deficiencies. They're probably on the 'net now.

Home pH testers are pretty accurate and not very expensive. Since a pH too far from neutral causes so many problems, you should always know what you're working with so you won't do a bunch of work making things worse.

It's difficult to change a soil's pH, but it's nearly impossible to change the basic structure of a clay soil. There are no magical chemicals to turn it into lovely topsoil. It just takes a lot of hard work adding a ton of organic matter. Even then, you usually need raised beds. I had a house once situated on a lot carved out of a hillside in California. The soil was like subsoil, and very high in clay. Tilling 20 yards of manure into it hardly changed it at all. A soil with only 20% clay in it still acts like a clay soil. That's another reason adding sand is not the way to go 'cause you'd still have to add organic matter with it to avoid making concrete. It makes you appreciate the great topsoil our farming regions have, or had before we covered it up with urban growth and lost it through erosion (about an inch per year, I've read). There is a silver lining, though. Clay holds way more nutrients and moisture than a sandy soil, so if you can manage the compaction issues, your plants will love it -- eventually.
Mount Vernon, KY

May 22, 2012
5:33 PM

Post #9134176

Thank you for going to so much trouble to help me!
That is a lot of good information, I had to read it several times. .
After you mentioned nitrogen - yeah I believe that is the problem. I poured that stuff they sell in a box for ever green/blueberry/alzae - sulfur/iron over them and it did not help -

----and now that I think about it - I did get the road crew that was clearing aways some pine and cedar close by to donate a whole truck of ground up bark and twigs. That was two years ago, but I think it takes that long for decomposing microbes to deplete the nitrogren.

I see the importance of boxing and getting the blueberries up high- but we have good drainage - live on top of a gentle slow hill.

So gypsum or organic material - well since I have so much organic material on it already I guess I will continue, as you said if I can defeat the compaction problem - clay is better than sand.

Good news right now is --- I have a lot of blueberries this year on my third year plants - this year I have won !!!!!-

. My older plants however, have stopped bearing. I have pruned them for the last two years - surely by next year I will know if I don't know what I am doing about keeping them bearing berries. The year before I just cut the branches that looked bad, and last winter I cut one all the way down - it has all new growth this year, it was also the one looking very yellow.

I also am looking into a mulch easy to get, easy to spread, loosen the soil, -- That why I was considering the gypsum for I am getting to old to carry in saw dust, too poor to keep buying mulch in bags, and too lazy to hunt down the road crew when they are doing my road.

How about this method? A big bag of peat - spreading that - and then putting down straw.
That is what I am considering now instead of gypsum

Sacramento, CA
(Zone 9b)

June 11, 2012
11:17 PM

Post #9161632

Blueberries like acid soil, so before you play hit-and-miss with your money, time, bodily integrity, and energy ;-) you really ought to get one of those little pH test kits (cost 7 to 10 dollars) -- they come with instructions and are really very easy to use. If soils are uniform in your area, you might be a ble to get the information from your local agricultural extension.

Adding a lot of wood chips and/or sawdust in preparing your soil can result in nitrogen deficiency. The microbes that break down the wood use up a lot of nitrogen. In time, once the wood is decomposed, it adds nitrogen to the soil, but until then, you should add nitrogen. Ammonium sulfate is kinda hard on the microbes. Ammonium phosphate is better. Urea is almost organic, which is great, but you have to dig it into the soil. Nitrogen can disappear into the air (volatize?) but it's pretty soluble. I'm getting old and lazy so I find it a lot easier to lightly sprinkle w/ high-nitrogen fertilizer just before a nice, easy rain that will penetrate the soil w/out running off with all my fertilizer.

If you can get someone to deliver a bale of alfalfa (hay has toooo many weeds) and take the wire off, it's inexpensive compared to garden-center bags, and is real easy to spread around a flake at a time. A garden writer whose name I forget promoted "no tilling" gardening, and recommended this kind of mulch. The worms love it and do your digging for you :-). Alfalfa also has something in it that promotes plant growth. Once I got a big bag of dried alfalfa pellets at a feed store. Being dried, it was fairly lightweight, and seemed to help. It's fun to experiment.
Mount Vernon, KY

June 12, 2012
11:46 AM

Post #9162287

Hey! I bought on of those dried alfalfa pellet bags one winter for my geese. I was feeling sorry for them - only getting corn and nothing much green.
They would not eat it.
But the cows stood next to the fence with big brown eyes looking so longingly that I had to give it to them.
Our land is a bit odd. We have lots of calcium/limestone rocks but our extension officier said in spite of that it is tied up - oh I forget - maybe he said it was down deeper in the ground and the rains and ground water washed it away and thus the soil around here always needs lime added/?? Does that make sense?

But alfalfa over straw? Hmmmp - I - well I am struggling from year to year to get a blueberry crop worth dealing with - and I do have a neighbor right down the road that grows and sells it.
Malvern, AR

July 16, 2012
9:04 AM

Post #9207124

There are some organic fertilizers for acid-loving plants: Nitron (Johnson, AR) and Bradfield (Brentwood, MO) have some 8-2-2 and 4-5-4 fertilizers, respectively. Seems that both use cottonseed meal as a first ingredient as well as alfalfa, kelp, feather meal, bone meal, and other ingredients. One note on the Bradfield bag warns not to plant blueberries where potatoes, eggplants or tomatoes were previously planted.

We have had a problem getting our blueberries going and we have the right soils to start with. Don't give up!
Mount Vernon, KY

July 16, 2012
5:01 PM

Post #9207804

I have used cottonseed mill - one time on my strawberries. That is great stuff - I could tell the difference and I only used a little.

Cottonseed - fertilizer - that sounds very interesting!
Bone meal I know is good stuff and have used it one time on box wood knot garden. It is pretty healthy even now in such crowded and pruned condition.

Thanks, I will look into that too, and am copying these name brands down!
Also, Thanks for your encouragement with the blueberries. I ended up with 11 pints this year. Is that much for about 20 blueberry bushes ? I doesnot sound like much to me - but maybe it is?
- -I have 10 more older ones that produced maybe one berry between them. Sigh!

I am a little concerned about the mention of nighshade plants - not because I have done this - and that is good to know - - but it makes me think that to get a good blueberry crop - people might be continual putting in new blueberry plants to the point they are using garden areas for tomatoes and potatoes?.

As I said, my old ones are not bearing - I hope it is just because I have not pruned them heavy enough. I did this past winter - I cut everything down - so there!
But the first three years the small and young blueberries do produce, really well!.
I am hoping that if I get to pruning heavy that they will produce ?
Do Blueberries reach an age that it is best to just start over?

My brother-in-law (he is way down in sandy soil, Miss that grows blueberries as good as Michigan) he says in order to prune them - to cut ever other one down all the way and leave the next ---- next winter cycle- go back and cut the ones I did not cut the year before?

Do you do anything like that?

Dahlonega, GA

July 16, 2012
6:38 PM

Post #9207977

I prune out the older branches all the way to the ground and let the younger ones bear the fruit . Also I water often when the blooms are on and the little berries are developing , Then water deep about once a week , keep weeds out from under and fertilize with 10-10-10 before , during and after the growing season . I have acid soil so don't need any amendments .
Mount Vernon, KY

July 16, 2012
6:57 PM

Post #9207998

Hi Digger.
Red Georgia - clay?
or sand
I use 10-10-10 once a year, before the growing season in the spring. Not in the summer -or fall because the seasons are so dry and the winter is cold and - well I thought they should be shutting down and I should not encourage them???? maybe I should?
Dahlonega, GA

July 16, 2012
7:31 PM

Post #9208052

I meant Just before growing season during , and at harvest . Probably wouldn't hurt to skip the harvest fertilizer . I have a good well that lets me water all day if I like . There is a river down the hill from me and the well is deeper level than the river. I think even a coupla good watering's in the time the berries are developing gives them a big boost . Helps keep them plump and helps keep them from dropping to save the rest of the plant . Pine straw helps keep the moisture and shade the roots too . I like the way water goes down through it , not like leaves where it wicks off and the ground stays dry . Cold winters are good for blueberries .Yep , red clay .
Mount Vernon, KY

July 16, 2012
8:02 PM

Post #9208130

Cold weather. Yes, we had a late freeze which ruined the strawberries, seriously cut back the blackberry harvest this spring, but I still got the 11 pints of blueberries. I think there were a couple of blueberries that were extra early that were affected.

Pine straw - I have heard it is very good stuff.
And if you can do that with pine straw and clay - then surely I can do it with wheat straw.
Still I like the idea of cotton mill, - alfafa sounds expensive - sorry Corineii.
But then so is peat moss that I have put down in the past.
Dahlonega, GA

July 17, 2012
5:08 AM

Post #9208358

My blueberries need more sun . I planted them about 18 yrs ago and the trees have grown and given too much shade . The native oak have spread and we cut most of the pines .
Mount Vernon, KY

July 17, 2012
7:01 AM

Post #9208513

I too over planted in trees at our old house, but I was lucky enough to have to move. I went to visit our old house expecting the same pretty yard, and it was a grown up mess????

Also my parent's yard - the very same thing and we are having to cut things down forever; so far four apple treest a blue spruce, fourhuge maples, and those shurbs ain't no small task either - some of them are huge.There is even a hugh arboritivae type tree that I think is pushing in their basement.

I was "not "going to plant many trees at my new house. I planted one oak way back in the back. yard. Then the next thing I know it is a good place for my blackberries and garden., and I wanted it gone before it did take over the garden and blackberries. I was going to cut it down while it was small - but my mother,and husband says ohhhhhh it is such a pretty tree. Yeah right.
I tried to plan out trees that were resonable size. black gum, and some kind of twisted branch willow (not the walking stick filbert or hazelnut thing), and a scarlet maple - very slow growing. And I turn around and my mother and father as old and weak as they were - was bringing holly trees - not so big but the leaves stay around forever and stick in your dog's feet and all. My husband's found a natural nursery down at our pond - 1000s of small water maples and he thinks he needs to use them all.

But I saw a show on red wood trees a year or so back -- and growing on the branches of the red woods -- using what little organic leaves stuff that fell from the red woods and caught on the branches -- were blue berries.
I am offering my blue berries more than a small catch of debrie on a limb. Darn them.
Dahlonega, GA

July 17, 2012
9:45 AM

Post #9208765

Funny , Liquid , But I didn't plant most of these . Native dogwoods , red oak and white oak , black gum , sweet gum , holly , and yellow popular . We had to cut a road through the woods to level a spot for our mobile home . Then I planted hemlock , white cedar from Oregan , bald cypress from Louisiana . I didn't know trees grew so fast . The oak were too tall to cut .I'm still in the woods . LOL
Mount Vernon, KY

July 17, 2012
11:45 AM

Post #9208970

Digger; Well at least you half way knew what you were getting into then.

Sweet gum - I always thought was a small tree - and then I have seen some in the wood since and they are monsters. Dogwoods can be trusted though - that is a very nice thing about them.
Now I know about Hemlocks - oh yeah, cute little things that you think you can keep in check by trimming them. My parents/grandparents kept them for years trimmed to shrubs and then over night -- yeah we had to cut all those too in my parent's yard.
I planted them at the old house from wince I moved and oh yeah they were part of the problem too
I was not going to plant hemlocks at the new house, but as old as my mom and dad were - we managed to get them back to where they were raised and to the top of the hill were the family cemetary which in now all part of the national forest.. The hemlocks had just taken the cemetary, pushed up gravestones or hide them from view..

Undaunted - my mother pulls up a little hemlock and says --- ohhhh you must plant it in your yard to remember all of those buried here - I do know a lot of them in that cemetery and I don't need a tree to do it either.
But darn - I planted it down by the road,, anyway.
and darn
it is making it.!
I thought bald cypresses are slow growing? but you said no - well that figures.
Dahlonega, GA

July 17, 2012
1:49 PM

Post #9209131

I have two B C in the front yard , dug when they were 2" high . They have been there 10 years and are about 18-20 foot tall .
I hate it when the woods take over a cemetery .Church graveyards are better kept up .
Mount Vernon, KY

July 17, 2012
2:50 PM

Post #9209232

It is a lonely, and very disturbing feeling!
What is more - if those who slept there came back - today- they would be shocked - they all went to sleep when this national forest was a thriving community full of houses, a couple of stores, a school, a post office, a grist mill, lumber mill, acres of cleared farms. Nothing of their lives remains except very rough road.

Mom as she pulled up the hemlock was saying at the same time that her younger brother -- about 75 years old should be ashamed of himself for not getting his chain saw up there and taking care of this mess.

By the way blueberries only grow on the tops of the mountians were the soil is to thin to support trees. And it is very dry up there on those hill tops - but I suppose they do get sun.
Dahlonega, GA

July 18, 2012
5:58 AM

Post #9209844

Are they the low bush , native blueberries ?Some of mine are nine foot tall . Birds got to them this year , taking the whole berry , not just pecking the side off them . I don't expect to get many .
Mount Vernon, KY

July 18, 2012
2:39 PM

Post #9210430

What was on the hills were low bush native.
But what I am raising (trying to raise) is highbush.
Mother said that this was a serious thing they did - they picked a lot and had many, many quarts of them each year. Wild- did not mulch them - or pay lots of money for the plants - did not trim them - al they did was climb up on mountian and pick, watch out for snakes and get up with chiggers.
I don't understand it?

Yeah, I supected birds were getting a free meal off of me too.
But they never so bad with the blueberries as they are with the cherries - they can eat the whole tree bare in only one day's time.
Dahlonega, GA

July 19, 2012
11:36 AM

Post #9211482

Wonder if I could have cherry trees here . Would love the black , sweet cherry . I'll have to check into that , already looked at the different types and the ones that need a pollinator
Mount Vernon, KY

July 19, 2012
8:09 PM

Post #9211983

Sour cherries are on small trees so you can reach them., easy picked.
They also produce very well (except this year, we had a very unsual late FREEZE that got blackberries, strawberries, pears, apples, hazelnuts, and the cherries. But not for some reason wild plums.
Sweet cherries I have never had any luck with.
But you are further south, so that might make it better.

I do love those sweet cherries. They are in season now and I just bought some at Wal Mart (where else) a little plastic container cost 2 dollars.
. I am not going to be tempted to try to raise them again.
But sour Cherries are great, never failed with them (except this year) , but you need to get a bird net and throw over them when they start to set on - if you want them.
Dahlonega, GA

July 19, 2012
10:18 PM

Post #9212059

They make good pies . I haven't gotten around to buying any sweet ones yet .We are worth 2.00.
Mount Vernon, KY

July 20, 2012
8:52 AM

Post #9212359

Two dollars is indeed well worth it, Digger.
If you do any research on the sweet cherries and how to get them to produce - let us all know.
I would be curious on that one.
Right now I am working myself to death to get some knowledge on how to get blueberries.

And come to think of it -- I am not a newby! I surprised myself -- I have being trying to do this for the last 20years??? Just goes to prove your own experience is not enough -- but the accumalation of other people's experience comes in really handy.
Dahlonega, GA

July 20, 2012
10:17 AM

Post #9212457

I need netting , The birds are taking berries as they ripen . Thank goodness I have several gallons from previous years in the freezer
Mount Vernon, KY

July 20, 2012
10:31 AM

Post #9212469

Bird netting found outside in the garden section at Lowes - about 15 dollars a row but there is a lot of it.
Works great.
Might be called deer netting - I am not sure.

thin back plastic, very light weight.
Got some on my Indian corn right now - since the birds down in my lower garden pulled it up and even continued to pull it up when is was a half a foot high. Unbelievable.

And I don't aprreciate how you are bragging you had so many blueberries that you have some left over from last year. Really 11 tiny pints here!!!! A little sensitivity, Please to those who struggle for a berry. Just kidding - I am glad you have them - I just wish ed I did..
Dahlonega, GA

July 20, 2012
10:40 AM

Post #9212480

Funny , Liquid . My bushes are 18 - 20 years old . I have never pruned these as the old canes are still producing good , and lots of new bushes coming up under them . I need someone to come dig the off shoots . Happy to give away . The blue berries I have don't get ripe 'till July or Aug . A lot of them around here have already produced and gone by .
Mount Vernon, KY

July 20, 2012
2:01 PM

Post #9212637

You have my full attention.

What kind are they?
Where did you get them?
Dahlonega, GA

July 20, 2012
4:19 PM

Post #9212734

From a neighbor at the time . I have no other information on them .
If you can wait until early April , I can dig a coupla for you . Can't do it now because I'm leaving early Oct and don't think they will survive at that time .
Mount Vernon, KY

July 20, 2012
6:49 PM

Post #9212883

Free blueberry bushes.
They are reproducing small bushes
You don't know the variety
You fertilize with triple 10
You do mulch with pine straw.
You do water.

And they are nine foot tall. .

I will be down in April.

Dahlonega, GA

July 21, 2012
6:26 AM

Post #9213180

Ok .Several D G ers have spent some time here , come on down .

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