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How do you add compost/soil-improver to already planted beds?

Discussion in 'Compost, Fertilisers & Recycling' started by wolfie, Sep 9, 2019.

  1. wolfie

    wolfie Apprentice Gardener

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    Hi, hope everyone is good - I am new to gardening, it is fascinating & i've got the bug for sure!

    We have created a courtyard garden for our small London estate using very large planters/raised beds in which we planted perennials at the end of may & also in june.

    tbh we started with rather poor soil in many of the troughs. When we planted the beds we added compost into the soil first, digging it in well to a depth of 2ft or so before planting (we used B&Q VERVE multipurpose compost), but tbh the soil still isn't that rich, it doesn't smell 'earthy/soil-y' enough to my nose at least.

    Now the plants are coming to the end of the season & starting to die back, I've read that we need to mulch around the plants after cutting them back.

    But also it would be good to further improve the soil if possible first, but obviously without digging up all the plants.

    Currently there is a reasonable gap between plants as we just added them and left some distance between them they could grow into over time.

    We also plan to now add bulbs (muscari, bluebells, daffs, anemone blanda, snowdrops & the like) for early flowers in spring before the perennials kick in next year, & again it'd be good to try to get the soil much better before we add those bulbs.

    So - questions:

    Do you just dig in manure/improver between the plants with a hand trowel/fork after cutting them back? & will the plants draw on this extra nutrition around them ok?

    What is good to add to the soil if we do this? manure?

    Should we also use a liquid feed?

    We also plan to add worms, as the soil we purchased for the large planters don't seem to have any.

    we want to do whatever we can to improve the soil before planting bulbs and then adding mulch.

    or do we just simply add mulch and this will be sufficient to feed the soil, gradually being absorbed into the soil?

    any suggestions/tips please?

    thanks guys.
     
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    • Clare G

      Clare G Super Gardener

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      I did this last year to improve the soil (London clay) in my borders and also raise their level a bit - I had had my some landscaping done (lawn removed and replaced with gravel and slabs) which had left them looking rather sunken.

      Autumn is actually a very good time to choose, with the soil warm and moist. Really all you need to do is to take out any perennial weeds, cut back existing plants as desired, and apply the new material as a biodegradable mulch: Mulches and mulching / RHS Gardening

      I used a jumbo bag of this: Soil Conditioner If you are in London I can recommend this supplier - they do various more expensive composts as well, but I thought the cheap one very good quality. Inside the M25 they deliver the bags by crane lorry so it was swung directly into my front garden. Then I carried it through to the back using a tub trug and applied it around the borders, placing it initially in piles and then moving it around with a hand cultivator between the plants. I didn't dig it in - letting the rain and the worms do the hard work for me over the winter instead! I did put some bulbs in, planting them with a trowel and rather more deeply than I would do normally, into the soil below.

      There is no need to add any fertilisers or feeds before the spring, and probably not then - I only use them if I see a particular plant growing which I think in need of it. Worms - I don't think I've ever seen earth worms for sale, only the brandlings/ tiger worms which colonise compost bins but wouldn't like it in a bed or pot. But you could transfer across to the pots any you dig up in the borders, or go out with a torch on a wet evening and you will probably find some on the surface of the earth you can gather up.

      If you have been making compost in your own bins that will also make a good mulch when it is ready - I normally apply mine to the (bareish) borders in the same way around November.
       
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      • ARMANDII

        ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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        You can add, if you want, used compost on to your borders during the year and it will improve the soil and will be dragged down by worms while also increasing the number of them in your garden

        I humbly apologise to Clare and hope she will forgive me for differing about the above, for if you just add used compost from pots and other containers then there is no need for "soil improver" as that used compost you add is soil improver and you seem to have done most

        of the work already.:love30::love30:

        The answer to that is give it time.....don't rush it by adding too much too soon as it will probably only give you lush, soft growth. My advice is to forget "your nose" and instead use your sight and hands .

        I have around 8 Stables and lots of Farms around me so I have, over the early years, had trailer loads tipped onto my garden but as the garden matures the less you would need. Again, don't be in a rush to stuff loads of stuff onto your borders or containers......an "instant garden will only last a season (or two if you're lucky)

        To be frank, most manures and "soil conditions" while adding some nutrients are mainly added to give organic material and structure to the soil. Fresh manure will possibly scorch any plants it comes in contact with be carefull if you do decide to add it. Worms over time when they arrive, and they will, will pull compost etc down into the soil.

        Liquid or granular slow feed:dunno::scratch:........that is the question:heehee: All gardeners have their own favourite feed or feeds, some use only liquid, some use slow granular while some use both. If you've already planted Roses then @wiseowl, our resident Rose expert, can give you good advice. I feed all pots and Roses in the borders every 6 days with a mixture of Miracle Gro and liquid Seaweed Feed using watering cans......but other gardeners use different methods:dunno:

        Best advice I can give you is not to rush things, bunging on commercial "soil improvers", manure or vast amounts of compost. I think you've been doing the right things to set your containers and garden on the right road. You will have some great successes and some failures but then all gardeners do.
         
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          Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
        • wolfie

          wolfie Apprentice Gardener

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          Hi Clare.
          Thanks for the reply. Actually I discovered Compost Direct last night while searching the web & it looks ok & good prices! Yes we are smack bang in central London.

          Before that i'd found the London Topsoil Company who also do a jumbo bag of compost for about the same price... not sure if either is better than the other.

          You can buy garden worms from Wiggly Wigglers (lol, great name) which i found online

          the thing is there really are no worms in the troughs. We had 'not great' soil delivered by contractors & we dug it in really well and at no time have I seen a single solitary worm... but we have one brick-built older flowerbed also and that does have worms in it. You cant dig anywhere without seeing several of them... so we're going to get worms to add to each of the planters which are worm-less.


          --------

          @ARMANDII - hi, oh yes I am not expecting an instant fix

          ----

          So guys... we just spread the compost around the plants we already have installed (might dig it in a little here and there)? - do we also need to then mulch afterwards on top?

          and to clarify... we do NOT need to also add any liquid feed? (some of the troughs have really poor soil tbh, these are not real flowerbeds in the ground).
           
        • ARMANDII

          ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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          Hi wolfie, you can, but I would advise using a trowel to minimise any root disturbance.

          [​IMG]

          The compost you've added around the plants is the mulch, wolfie, for the time being.
           
        • ARMANDII

          ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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          You can feed the roses but it's too late to do so now, wolfie, so leave the roses until Spring. Regarding the containers having poor soil, you can easily change that by taking out the soil and then mixing it with, say, 3 parts of the poor soil, 2 parts compost, and one part grit which will add structure, and good drainage.
          If you have just soil in the containers then the soil will, during dry seasons, turn into a concrete like substance so never use soil on it's own in containers but use a mixture of something like I have pointed out. Containers need feeding and watering much more than plants in the soil, some gardeners use ordinary Tomato feed for roses in containers and in the soil when they start into growth, or you could use any other commercial feed.
           
        • ARMANDII

          ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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          The thing is, wolfie, is that you don't really need worms in your troughs, it's far better to have a large, healthy in your borders and garden where they will do the most good. I think there's also a good chance that those worms you add to containers will, on a damp day, decide to leave them and head for your garden soil
           
        • wolfie

          wolfie Apprentice Gardener

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          Hi ARMANDII

          1. no roses - a variety of perennials is what we have.

          2. The troughs are planted already. But (as the plants only went in in june) could we quickly dig them out after they die back, replenish/change soil & replant them?? yes? (before they really establish roots next year)?

          btw, if the worms leave a planter they face a hazardous journey across a brick-cobbled yard, then a climb up a 2ft tall brick planter to reach the nearest other soil bed :) - bare in mind these planters are 750 litres & they hold about a ton of soil each or thereabouts. so worms would have as much space to roam as in a flower bed tbh (i'd have thought, not being an expert on worms)

          yes - i'm learning about the concrete effect - we did dig in plenty of compost down to about 2ft deep, but still it get's quite a hard crust when it's dry. Would mulch/small bark chips help that?
           
        • ARMANDII

          ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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          Hi Wolfie, can you tell me what kind of plants are in the troughs? If the plants were put in in June then while they will have developed some root system it won't be terrific. I would leave them in the Troughs, Wolfie, until the end of October and then change the soil that you have in there, 750 liters or not, otherwise you will end up with 750 liters of concrete like soil in the them which will not absorb water or feed and your garden tools will bounce off. If you use the soil, compost, grit, formula I use then you will find it will reward you, but some other GC gardeners might recommend another formula that will ensure that you get an enriched, free draining soil mixture for the containers.

          No, wolfie, most definitely not, as it will give you more problems such as a nice crop of Mushrooms as the bark/chips start to rot...........so stay clear of them. That hard crust is just an indication of what will happen if you leave it. I know it's a big job but changing the structure of the soil is the only answer. I also use a mixture of three parts compost, 2 parts sand and two parts grit for some of my containers, so you could leave out the soil competely and use that............it's your containers and your garden so it's your choice, my friend.

          Well, believe me, if the worms decide to leave the containers then, having no idea of the hazards they will find their way into a area of soil in, if not your garden, then some one else's:heehee: They just need damp, cool weather and will travel blindly during the night if need be, as will Snalls.


           
        • wolfie

          wolfie Apprentice Gardener

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          Hi ARMANDII

          we've planted lupins, rudbeckia, echinacea purpurea, helenium, Leucanthemum, salvia, verbena, geranium rozanne, ferns, hosta, foxgloves, walkers catmint, euphorbia, heuchera, astilbe,
          Anemone Honorine Jobert, sedum & aster jenny, plus some odds & ends like lobelia. We went for largish/tall varieties & we also had to take into account the sun in the courtyard which means 1/2 the yard get's only 2-3 hours a day while one part gets almost full sun.

          We now need to add shorter creeping/spreading front-of-trough stuff for next year (i was thinking sweet woodruff & anemone blanda?) & bulbs this autumn for early-to-late spring too (bluebells, snowdrops, daffs & muscari).

          we've also got some other planters to be added which will have creeping jenny trailing down them & other lower maintenance/shade bits & bobs on top like more ferns

          i also want to add some brunnera to spread & fill in gaps in the shade beds & maybe some foamflower & some cow parsley & more euphorbia, but this time wood spurge for the more shaded planters.

          Also we're going to add lots of Alium bulbs for next year. It's also been suggested we make a herb bed.

          This leads to the foxglove question... i understand they flower every other year, so the ones we put in which flowered this year therefore wont flower next year i'm assuming? or do the seeds they drop mature to flower in that next year & then does the dormant 'donor/parent' plant then come back for year 2, and then they alternate? (maybe we need to add more foxgloves in the same positions next spring & then we'll get them each year as they rotate? I really need those foxgloves as a feature in the shade.
           
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          • ARMANDII

            ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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            That choice sounds great to me, wolfie:love30: I have, in the borders, mostly hardy perennials planted closely together, with underneath them around 5 layers of various bulbs, while in my large pots mostly hardy perennnials and some bulbs.
            I think the important thing is that the length and size of your troughs will,allow you to treat them as borders, (so long as you don't forget to water and feed them regularly).

            Nearly right, wolfie, being biennials they will grow the first year and flower the next but then produce seeds and then die off, so with luck they should self seed and produce growth the following year and flower the next. Having said that there is a perennial form of Foxglove of different colours which might suit your purposes more.
            Quite a lot of the GC Gang have Herb Gardens so they might chip in to give you some good advice. Herbs do, normally, need good drainage and poor soil but again don't use soil if you're planting them in the trough but something like the compost, sand and grit mixture.

            All in all, wolfei, I doff my hat off to you:love30: as you are making the right choices in plants and bulbs............although I would recommend you buy the Snowdrops "in the green" you can get them online when the time comes. One note of caution, you will have some plant failures but that, to be honest, is part of gardening, so don't be dismayed by that...........it's all part of the learning process, and don't take gardening experts books as Gospel as you will find that Nature and plants don't read them.
             
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            • wolfie

              wolfie Apprentice Gardener

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              Hi ARMANDII

              "in the green"? (looks it up on google) ah, but we're just going to have to go with bulbs this time i think & suffer any duds as we need to plant several hundred across the many planters. Do you think i'll get better quality bulbs from Waitrose Garden (crocus) than say ASDA who are flogging them now?


              Surprisingly we had very few failures, but then we bought all the plants already grown in pots and transferred them after which they flowered... the slugs (i assume) did decimate some of the hostas though, the little buggers munched some of the Hostas back to stalks almost! grrr!

              I was rather disappointed with the Leucanthemums tbh. We got some Christina Hagemann & some superbum becky. The Hagemanns were quite ragged in appearance and flopped over more, a bit disappointing tbh, but while the Becky's were more vertical, neither lasted very long. I wanted that spray of white you get by the side of motorways but i guess they dont last long or i bought the wrong types?

              As for the rudbeckia; some of the goldsturms are only just starting to flower, and didn't grow as tall as the various webpages said they grow (maybe they'll be bigger next year?), but the Herbstonnes are incredible, really tall with tons of yellow flowers, absolutely spectacular!

              ------
              so, to finish with the same question.. Does it matter where you get bulbs? As i said, ASDA are doing cheap bulbs now including anenome blanda (which we want), but maybe they've sat in the warehouse since last year? we need LOTS... we plan to plant hundreds.

              question 2: foxgloves (to clarify). we bought them as plants in pots about a 1.0-1.5 feet tall, transferred them to the beds and they flowered a few weeks later & lasted for 2 months (some are still putting out flowers now even)... so those ones dying out now will NOT re-grow & flower next year correct? - but the seeds they drop (if they take) will also NOT flower next year?
              So if we want foxgloves again next year, in the same locations, we must add new plants alongside the old dormant ones next spring & then those newly added ones will flower & the dormant ones will take over the following year & then we'll have foxgloves each year from then onwards?
              have I got that right?

              (btw, we planted several colours: Digitalis Peach, Digitalis Pink, Digitalis Purple & Digitalis White - the purple ones seem to have smaller flowers and wilt over much more than the others)

              rsvp
              cheers
               
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              • wolfie

                wolfie Apprentice Gardener

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                oh btw... i want to add some bleeding hearts to the shadier beds for spring to add some spectacular feature.... does one buy & plant them now or wait & put them in early next year (February or whenever?)?

                also can you suggest any plants? We want to go for stuff that is not too 'council flowerbed'... stuff that suggests semi-wild, woodland-ish.... stuff that'll flower for a long time, chucking up new flowers through summer (or later into the autumn) but will keep on flowering. Also anything of that nature that doesn't need full sun & can stand some shade (2-3 hours of direct sun in mornings only)

                what are some of your favourites?
                cheers
                ??
                 
              • ARMANDII

                ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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                Well, I'll have to leave that to you as my success rate with just the bulbs of Snowdrops is abysmal:wallbanging::gaah: I suffered near enough a 95% failure when planting several hundred of them, so I waited until the Spring and bought several hundred "in the green" and now have several thousand in the borders. So, me, I would have some patience and wait until Spring, buy "in the green" and plant them...........but then I learnt from the experience of success and failure like most gardeners do..........but then that's just me and you might have greater success than I did.

                [​IMG]
                Well, a Shotgun does work, but it doesn't do the plants any good:dunno:. You can use pellets (not Shotgun ones), or go out on night time on Slug patrol to catch them, use Beer in cans in the ground to lure them in, giving them a happy passing away (but that's a waste of Beer). I have around 50 Frogs in the Wildlife pond and they do a good job munching on the Slugs, so I have very few, and the Black Birds do reduce the Snalls.

                If they are biennial (which they probably are).........then correct. If they are Perennial then they flower for several years.

                Correct:dunno: Should they self seed in the troughs, if they are biennials they will grow the first year and then flower the next.

                I'm not sure of the description of "dormant", wolfie. Foxgloves that have flowered are basically, done and dusted, and will not grow again or flower again. All biennial Foxgloves in their first year will grow only and then flower the next. So, I'm assuming that you mean by "dormant" those Foxgloves that are in their first year?
                 
              • ARMANDII

                ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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                Well, if they're good strong plants, you could plant them now, or plant them in the pot
                into the area you've chosen, that leave you the option of taking them out while in the pot should they not like it where you've planted them.


                You have probably gathered by now, wolfie, that I am loathe to suggest any plants as what does good in my sandy soil, area and micro climate might not do well in your troughs and garden and, as I've said, there will be lots of people out there that will suggest plants. Every new plant you buy will be a kind of "adventure"as you watch
                over the seasons how it does and how much pleasure it gives you on flowering. I think you've seen images of my garden, I describe it as being a overplanted, chaotic Cottage Style garden where mostly hardy perennial plants rub shoulders and flower nearly thoughout the year so somewhere during the Winter and very early Spring there is a patch of colour in the borders. Not all are hardy and need some sort of protection but I have found that, over the years, here in West Cheshire, where we haven't had any significant snow for over 20 years, even the less hardy plants get
                through a Winter easily.



                 
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