• Our good Sierra foothill soil

    by  • April 17, 2013 • Garden, Spring

    Our ‘bad’ soil…?

    I get comments all the time about ‘our bad soil’ in the Oakhurst, Coarsegold and North Fork areas.  Giving this some thought, I’m wondering if gardeners are making use of the natural ‘mulch’ we have in pine needles and oak leaves. After doing some reading on the tannins in oak leaves, I learned that there isn’t enough of it in the decomposing leaves to make any difference to the plants.

    2006- Planting Western sword fern and heuchera

    2006- Planting Western sword fern and heuchera

    Each year, in my planting areas, I add either one of these to start out the new Spring season.  As I weed, I turn over the mulch from last year with my trowel picking up a 1-2″ later of dirt.  This incorporates the mulch into the soil and eventually improves the texture of the soil.  This could be called a form of sheet composting.

    Decomposed granite and clay

    Both clay and decomposed granite have plenty of nutrients for growing healthy plants…I don’t think it’s the minerals in the soil that is the problem.

    Decomposed granite

    Decomposed granite


    Thick clay needs organic matter added to make it plant friendly

    Thick clay needs organic matter added to make it plant friendly

    Soil Texture

    I think it’s the hard texture of unmulched clay or DG, decomposed granite soil, that discourages gardeners and leads them to replace much of the soil in planting beds or cause them to give up entirely an limiting themselves to container gardening.

    The ground is lovely and soft from the rain in Spring and a dream to plant in. If you have areas of clay, cover it with oak leaves and turn the clay over on top of this, breaking up as many of the solid clods as possible.  If you do this methodically, eventually your soil will improve. Rake up oak leaves and use them to your advantage, mixing them into your beds and planting areas. The fact that they ‘never decompose’ is a good thing!

    Mixing in mulch

    After adding and mixing in layers of natural mulch into my soil for the last few years, I now have wonderfully friable and workable soil.  It’s getting easier and easier to plant.  It’s full of earthworms and mycorrhizae, the good soil fungus that helps plants absorb nutrients from the soil. The best thing about adding mulch to soil, is the texture which is loose and fluffy, all the better for plants to grow!

    Autumn sage from the 'Ugly Plant' sale

    Autumn sage with pine needle mulch, stones hold the plant and water


    When planting on a slope, place a rock on the downhill side to anchor it and keep water longer near the roots

    See Wangling wood chips from work crews for how to get FREE mulch.


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.