Newbie hereAdvice on blended soils please

Saint Paul, MN

We are in the middle of a huge landscaping project here. End of the season (Minnesota) of course, so we are in the crunch in terms of materials available.

We tore out a steep driveway with high retaining walls to create a level backyard with wide garden beds above short retaining walls. When the project began, the original excavator/landscaper said he could save my amended topsoil (all organic) and that we would need no additional soil. Now he's bailed on the project and the new excavator/landscaper has saved very little topsoil (and it's not his fault, the site is narrow and the soil above walls with tons of Class 5 behind the walls mixed in). The beds now have to be filled in with soil brought to the site. I had silty loam, everything grew like mad and am really upset about losing that in my beds.

When they bring in this stuff does it have any structure, any microorganisms, any life? I need to plant tulips as soon as there are beds, I have 100s I dug out of the old garden, should I water in with compost tea or something to get the process going?

The landscape architect, the landscaper, all say they can bring me what ever kind of soil I want but are landscape mixes any good? and what should I be looking for to be as much like my soil as possible? Most mixes have topsoil, sand, milled or coarse peat. Some have wood bark and compost. I especially don't want soil that retains too much water--I have perennializing tulips and other bulbs, yuccas, heathers, other plants that grow here that don't grow in other gardens--so peat seems a bad idea to me, but WDIK?

To add insult to injury now they want to just mix the topsoil they saved into the substrate because they have to bring in fill, and they're bringing "good" soil in anyway so why have the inconvenience of working around it? Arrrgh. I feel like I started out with one deal and I'm ending up with something else entirely. But that's just venting.

Appreciate any advice and experience, thanks, Laurie

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Boy, Jazzdoctor, those are some serious questions. I'm wondering if you might find some help on this forum:

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

You might find these tagged pages helpful:

This message was edited Oct 6, 2009 12:04 AM

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Better yet, read the articles by Darius Van d'Rhys on soil-related topics:

Talk about a treasure trove of knowledge!

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Can't say I would know what to do either, really, but bear in mind that most soil has organic topsoil only for , um, a foot or so at the top, how deeply willl they be filling? I wouldn't put too much organic stuff down deep that will add to the cost and just rot and settle eventually. My vote FWIW is to let them put the old topsoil in with substrate then can you go see samples of what they can buy? We got cheap local topsoil that was OK for lawn renovation but ddid bring some weeds and rocks and bits of plastic.
And then yes use compost to help out the microbes.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

jazzdoctor - personally, I would not have "top soil" brought in without knowing in advance where it came from. "Top Soil" might be no better than what you already have - it can also contain "sedge" which you definitely do not want to battle with.

Again, personally, I would see if your municipality can bring you a dump truck of compost.

Here's a link to our county's web site which will give you some idea of cost:

Saint Paul, MN

Hi Everyone! Nothing like posting 7 months later, but here's the rest of the story:

I've been away from the computer pretty much all winter because I developed tendonitis in my right elbow (golfer's and tennis elbow) from getting the gardening done last fall, esp the tulip planting, so be careful out there! I'm just now back to typing and gardening.

Thank you for all the good advice, I checked out all the links and took everything into consideration. I also picked up the phone and coldcalled the soil science dept at the U of MN and asked for a professor who was listed on the U site as interested in soil composition, and he was good enough to spend 10-15 mins talking to me.

I decided to do as sallyg suggested, and told the landscaper to save my soil for the top foot or so of soil and to bring in sandy subsoil for the rest. This allowed my topsoil to "stretch" further, but I still had to bring in soil, there just wasn't enough.

I sampled several soils, one from the landscaper working here, one from a well regarded landscape nursery nearby, and one from a wholesale soil supplier recommended by the prof at the U. The best thing is that I learned to precipitate soil, which takes no skill whatsoever, just put some soil in a jar, add water, shake and let it sit several hours or overnight. The organic stuff sinks, the sand settles next and clay is on top. (who knew that stuff floats?) I'm told ideally clay should be about 10%. My own soil had no clay I could see.

It was interesting. The soil from the landscaper on the job which was supposed to be 100% composted organic material was almost a third clay. The other landscaper's soil was weird, it didn't want to hydrate and wouldn't settle. The garden mix from the soil supplier was almost identical to mine, so I went with that.

So far so good. The tulips all came up and the shrubs we planted survived the winter. I'm waiting for the tulips to die back so I can plant perennials, but so far the drainage is good, which was my chief concern. Hope someone can learn from my adventure!

Thanks again, Laurie

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Thanks for the update. Sounds like things are turning out well.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

That is interesting. I can't wait to do a jar test in my yard.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

jazzdoctor - first, I'm sorry to read about your tendonitis :(

As to your decision - you certainly did your homework and should be commended for a job well done.

Keep us posted.

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