Suppose you take a barrel made from the best grade of straight and tight grained old-growth English oak. Now you fill said barrel with the finest wine made from freestanding 100-year-old meticulously-cared-for champion vines, and add a drop of sewage.
Know what you got? That’s right, a barrel of sewage…
Now fill that same barrel with sewage and add a drop of the finest wine. And now you have…
Another barrel of sewage!
Where am I going with this? Let’s talk about the difference between soil and dirt, shall we?
If you take the finest soil on our planet and cover (smother) it with “weed barrier” cloth, black plastic sheeting etc. and leave it for a few years, your soil will become dirt!
Besides turf grass, weed barrier cover has got to be one of the worst things you can install within the root zone of your beloved trees. Sure, you can proudly proclaim that your yard is now weed free!
Unfortunately, it is also probably free of alot of other things, namely life within the “dirt” you have created under the barrier. The microbial goodness has left the stage!
Let’s face it, more often than not, if you live almost anywhere in the valley above the valley floor, your soil probably sucks to begin with. Black sticky on top of sandstone is not the best medium for growing champion trees. Decomposed granite is also a tricky site specific, albeit completely different set of problems as water retention is the opposite from clay strata.
The average soil conditions within subdivisions usually are pretty damn dismal. Import a huge amount of “fill dirt” from god knows where, wet it down to mitigate for “dusty” conditions and compact the hell out of it with heavy vibratory compactors for a nice stable building base and voila! Now douse the planting areas with pre-emergent weed killers, plant your trees on top of that disaster and cover the area with weed cloth. Might as well lay a fine layer of decorative bark “mulch” that has the color and texture of orangutan fur to hide the drip emitters that do little more than keep the tree alive long enough for the check to clear.
I’m sure the native forests looking down upon town are shaking their heads…
Adding mulch to dirt makes soil! Getting microbial goodness to frolic in your dirt is really pretty easy. I prefer to add just plain medium wood chips, and aerate or fluff the soil as deep as possible with either high pressure air or water. Adding beneficial mycorrhizae comes next, and may be one of the most effective means of keeping your soil from becoming dirt.
Introducing “good” fungus with the right tools can serve an eviction notice to “bad” fungus and I feel is money well spent. A clue to good plant selection can be while they are still in their container. Is the container completely void of life besides the plant you are buying? If you can (when nobody is looking), pull the plant out of the pot gently and look, smell, and touch. A lot of nurseries want their stock to have that perfect (sterile) curb appeal when they market their wares and there are only two methods of control for “weeds,” pull ‘em or poison ‘em.
Personally, I think we have dumped more than enough toxic crap on Mother Earth, so I am just fine with a few extra things living in my pot or bag when I buy my trees!
If you haven’t wrapped up your conifer pruning by the end of April, you may want to put it off until next winter as spring is about to… well, spring…
Plant high and often….