Thursday, November 22, 2012

A penny for the plant and a pound for the hole

Some revered horticulturalist once commented 'a penny for the plant and a pound for the hole' to emphasise the importance of soil preparation before planting. (Was it the great Capability Brown?) Anyway over the years I have lectured and written many times about the importance of digging, drainage, soil enrichment and so on before establishing new plants. I have made students double dig stubborn clay, (or was it the students that were stubborn) sent surly contractors back to prepare borders again that had been merely tickled with a rotavator and thrown a complete hissy fit when I found a landscaper planting in a waterlogged soil with a post hole borer. It's all in the soil preparation!

New landscape - one landscaper is fitting the irrigation nozzles, the other is filling in the trenches.

Watching some landscapers today reminded me how different it seems to be over here in the desert! The soil is admittedly almost 100% fine sand but I have never seen the soil dug before planting - presumably it's never compacted enough to need this. I've also never seen the use of any organic matter or fertilisers. However what is so essential and always accompanies new planting is the installation of an irrigation system. Older plantings usually have sprinklers which throw copious amounts of water liberally across the beds (and the footpaths). Newer schemes such as the one I saw today have numerous outlets and small drippers or at the most bubblers which feed water to individual plants. Much more environmentally sound.

New irrigation pipes with risers ready for nozzles for each plant.

I have never seen landscapers fertilise any of the plantings here, except lawns, yet vegetation grows at an amazing rate. There is  copious water and year round warmth but no nutrition. Sands are notoriously lacking in natural nutrients. How it works I don't know but it seems to!

Apologies to desert dwellers who may find this very basic but to gardeners back in the UK who are more likely to be struggling with heavy waterlogged clay soils, this will seem very strange!


  1. Perhaps those plants, with ample supply of water, roots vigorously too to find the nutrients much deeper down?

    Different schools of thought from different gardeners. I remember one head gardener of a famous Cornish garden saying to us that he refuses to fortify the soil, and never does but only digs vigorously and aerates the new planting area. I personally swing between both schools of thought, depending mainly on what type of plant I will be planting out.

  2. Generally plants which have a ready supply of water near the surface don't send out deep roots which makes it even more mystifying! Lots of different opinions! I recall hearing that Kew prepares tree planting pits 2m x 2m x 2m - big hole!