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Sunday - April 10, 2011

From: Conroe, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Soils, Groundcovers
Title: What will grow in red clay in Conroe TX?
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We just built a new home and the foundation was poured on red clay which is what my flowerbed area is in. Could you please tell me what can be planted that will grow. I am looking for ground cover, flowers, and shrubs. Thank you for your help.

ANSWER:

We are pretty sure that the red clay is the native soil in your area, but if it's landfill brought in by the builders, goodness only knows what it is. However, a plant native to your area if, indeed the soil is native, should grow in your dirt. However, there is no point in buying, planting and caring for plants that are going to die because they simply can't make it in the clay.

From a previous question on what to do with inhospitable dirt, here are some good ideas for you, too.

Here's the thing-start with the dirt. "Topsoil" can mean just about anything. Just because it was the top layer of the dirt in your yard doesn't mean it started with any nutrients or a texture that will permit plants to flourish. While this article, What Is Topsoil?, from wisegeek.com has an inordinate number of ads, it also has some good information on what constitutes real topsoil. Topsoil is not necessarily the dirt scraped off the top of your ground. It may have been fill dirt delivered long ago by contractors for levelling the ground. It may once have had nutrients in it that have been consumed without replacement by grass and weeds. It may be clay that is such fine particles that it compacts, swells when it is watered, and permits little oxygen for tiny new rootlets.

We would recommend rethinking the dirt. We would prefer to think in terms of a raised planting bed, using a perked-up dirt consisting of what you already have, with addition of organic materials, such as compost, to make it plant friendly.  Begin by clearing that bed of weeds, rocks and clods of clay. Apply several inches of compost to that area and start bringing the original dirt in and mixing it with the compost. Yes, this is work, unfortunately that crops up (pun intended) in gardening. You can keep adding compost if you wish, and get the dirt from the pile, compost and the dirt where you are building the raised garden all mixed up.

Whatever you plant, make sure it gets deep watering for the first season, and mulch the surface of the ground with a good shredded bark mulch. This will help keep weeds under control and, as it decomposes, will add organic content to the earth. And you need to either start very soon planting, or wait, especially for woody plants like shrubs and trees, until cool weather, maybe January when the plants are semi-dormant, to plant them.

NOW it's time to talk plants for your newly constituted garden. Begin by looking at this list of plants for the Piney Woods. Note from the map at the top of the first page of that list, that the color coding shows that portion is where Conroe is located. You can follow each plant link to our webpage on that particular plant and learn what kind of soil it needs, if it needs sun or shade, how much water, propagation and benefits.

Next we will go to our Recommended Species section, click on East Texas on the map, which will give us 133 species of plants that are native to that area You can use the sidebar on the right-hand side of that page to select specifications for plants that will suit your planting area. For an example, we'll begin by specifying "Shrub" under General Appearance, but no Light Requirements as you did not say how much sun your bed has. You can use the same technique to select trees, herbaceous blooming plants (herb), vines, grasses, ferns or succulents. Adding more specific light and water conditions will give you a better, but shorter, list. Following each plant link to our page on that particular plant will provide you with projected size, bloom time, speed of growth and growing conditions, as well as propagation instructions and benefits.

Shrub:Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) - 3 to 6 ft. tall, blooms white, pink May to July, part shade, USDA Plant Profile Map shows it growing natively to Montgomery County.

Herbaceous blooming plant:Ipomopsis rubra (Standing cypress) - 2 to 4 ft. tall, blooms red, orange, yellow from May to July, part shade, USDA Plant Profile showing it growing near Montgomery County

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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