The best way to answer this question is to relate some of my personal experience with just this question. Sometime you cannot learn except the hard way. Hopefully the readers here won't have to go through such disappointments, but like many kids, there may be no other way for some folks to learn a lesson any other way but "The Hard Way" - The right plant in the right soil? Other question also appear, like how can you change a poor soil into a fine one where plants will thrive ???
The question of course is no doubt dealing with soil requirements for which almost every plant may have specific requirements for successful living. My one experience dealing with a small-Medium tree called Tecate Cypress (Cupressus forbesii) which has some important and unique soil requirements if you plan on using them in your urban garden soil. This should be a great illustrative example of what we're talking about with reference to this question with regards what is right as well as wrong.
One of the best ways I've ever found in successfully learning about various plant requirements is to actually go out and visit where they grow in the wild. The make up of the soil where Tecate Cypress grows in the wild is what most home gardeners would consider some of the nastiest soil for gardens in the world. Sure enough, their native habitat's soil is rugged, rocky, decomposed granite and even a fair amount of Adobe characterisitics in this soil which is sticky when wet, but hard as a rock when dry. Yet, Tecate Cypress actually succeeds in this nasty looking soil environment. Actually it thrives there. One of the reasons it does thrive in these type of soils are the mycorrhizal symbiotic relationships for which the subject matter of this particular blog deals with. Yes, even in these soils an underground "Earth's Internet" plays a major role or they wouldn't exist there in the first place. However, there is yet another important reason these plants benefit and indeed actually thrive from this type of soil. It's called foundational structure.
Tecate Cypress for the average gardener in Southern California is a bit of a mystery tree. Very few people have ever seen it and for those who have it is a bit difficult to find at your average Nursery unless that Nursery is specifically a California Native Plant Nursery. One reason most people have never seen it in the wild is because for the most part it is fairly inaccessible in it's native habitat. The terrain is steep and often there are very few trails or roads for which to visit. And if there are roads leading to them, most of these are in closed off wilderness areas and if you do find a way of getting there you must do so through private land and the owner's permission. Yet for me it is one of the most beautiful of Cypress trees. The younger trees have a bright green foliage and the bark is a cinnamon red, much like that of a Manzanita shrub. If I get a good link pic for the bark I'll post it in the future, but you may be able to google image it.
|red bark of Tecate Cypress|
|Cuyamaca Cypress with Chaparral Support System|
|Tecate Cypress with Chaparral Support System|
Sadly in 2006, just before I moved over to Sweden, we had a very windy and rainy springtime storm in April 2006 which knocked over most of those trees. It was necessary to pull them back up and stake them with large posts to keep them upright, but it was difficult and the multiple stakes were aesthetically unsightly. Unfortunately this was necessary if I wanted to save them. There were further storms the following years and sadly that soft sandy loam perfect garden soil just wasn't strong enough to support all that top weight. With the "Earth Internet" planting strategy establishment game, I never use ANY chemical fertilizers what-so-ever. I did inoculate all of the plantings with a mix of both endo-mycorrhizae and ecto-mycorrhizae blended fungal spores along with beneficial symbiotic bacteria in the mix from a company called Plant Health Care Inc (PHC). I also heavily mulch around all of the plants. This not only adds a natural carbon feed to be downloaded by the complex sophisticated mycorrizal network grid which exists underground, but it then is uploaded by the plants which transfer these beneficial nutrients which were made available to them from this grid. Yes you could use fertilizers to accomplish the same thing, but the health content wouldn't be the same and any mycorrhizae will actually disconnect and disassemble the healthy grid in the presence of heavy chemical usage. On an interesting note, it was in 2005 and the mulch I used came from the tree trimmings of some Canary Island pine trees from my work place and for which numerous volunteer seedlings popped up before I moved to Europe. I left them to grow naturally and had to thin the ones I didn't want. The result is that these trees which eventually replaced the Cypresses are now close to 30' high since I left in May of 2006. It's their nature to grow fast as well, but I'll have more on this in a future post.
Here are some helpful ideas and very easy to understand tips on the benefits of an "Earth Internet" mycorrhizal based system by Linda Chalker-Scott an associate professor in the department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Washington State University.
"Why does the myth of phosphorus-induced root stimulation persist? The answer probably lies in theeffect phosphorus fertilizers have on mycorrhizal relationships. When plant roots are in low phosphorusenvironments, they exude organic acids from their root tips. These acids allow mycorrhizal fungi topenetrate the roots and form the networks that assist plant roots in taking up water and nutrients.Mycorrhizae are particularly adept at extracting phosphorus from the soil.""If phosphorus levels are too high, however, the roots do not exude the organic acids and mycorrhizalconnections do not form. This forces the plant to put more resources into root growth to compensate forthe lack of mycorrhizae. So in a sense phosphorus will increase root growth – but at an added cost to theplant. The resources expended by the plant in growing additional roots to take the place of mycorrhizaeare not available for other plant needs.""Shrub and tree species that are mycorrhizae-dependent have a difficult time surviving in soils wheremycorrhizae cannot develop. In particular, seedlings and newly transplanted materials are less efficient inabsorbing water and minerals from the soil and are more likely to suffer transplant shock than plantswhere mycorrhizae are present. Adding mycorrhizal spores to soils where phosphorus is too high isineffective – the spores will remain dormant."
On this same question and subject of soil structure, I had another unique experience in working with the soil on my sister's property in a brand new housing tract built in the year 2000 in Lakeside California. Like most newer housing tract developments in Southern California, most of the good agricultural land like my mother's property which use to be an Orange Grove are just about used up, but these newer tracts are built on steeply sloped hills or mountains. The building plots have certain specific compaction requirements which are necessary in order for the house to have a stable foundation. This of course is only logical given the sad experience by many folks who have homes in older developments which have been lost in well known southern California landslides as a result of poor clay soil accounting or consideration of the soil's structural make-up which no doubt was ignored in favour of making a quick profit in a desirable location, usually somewhere on the sea coasts where there is often a lack of solid bedrock for stability. My sister's property was prepared by the contractors who scraped off all top soil, used dynamite to blast through the granite bedrock and crushed this rock into various sizes only to be formed into the future housing pads and then compacted with heavy machinery for stable building foundations.
|Image - Nic Lahoux|
The bottom line when it comes to soils, you need first to familiarize yourself with you own property and the ground that lays underneath. Clay soils likewise have their own challenges , but there are plants that will work well in these, but you have to know which ones. If the nursery you do business at actually knows it's local business and has done their homework on what works in that area, then you should be able to get some sound advice from them. Also I have found from personal experience that it actually helps to get in your car and drive around the various local neighbourhoods in your area and take notice of the successful gardens/landscapes and ask questions of those homeowners. Again, knowing your soil and what plants will work is the first route to success and by all means DO NOT forget the benefits of establishing your own underground "Earth Internet"
Stay tuned for more articles and don't hesitate to ask specific questions on this.