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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - September 17, 2011

From: mt.pleasant, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Soils, Wildflowers
Title: Need help growing plants in red dirt in Mount Pleasant, NC.
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

I live in N.C. and I have had the hardest time getting plants to grow;I have red dirt at my house. Can you suggest a few colorful plants that would do real well in red dirt? Thank You So Very Much!!!!!!!!!!Sincerely

ANSWER:

Let’s start by talking about North Carolina soils. This link from USDA  tells about state soils, and we learn that the representative soil of North Carolina is termed Cecil soil. Cabarrus County is in a belt of Cecil soils in North Carolina. From the soil profile, we see that there is a 6-8” surface layer of dark sandy loam on top of a subsoil layer of red clay and clay loam that is several feet deep; aka red dirt.

There are a couple of strategies (besides moving) that you could use to allow you to grow plants around your house. The first is amending the soil to increase the amount of organic matter in the soil and improve drainage. This link to finegardening.com has a good article on improving clay soil.

The other strategy is to consider growing plants in raised beds. This link to Popular Mechanics tells how to construct raised beds, and this article from about.com has instructions for growing plants in the beds.

As for the plants, I am going to introduce you to our Native Plant Database that will help you select plants for your situation. The Database  contains 7,161 plants that are searchable by scientific name or common name. There are several ways to use the Database, but we are going to use the Recommended Species List.  To do this, go to the Native Plant Data Base , and scroll down to the Recommended Species List box. Clicking on the map will enlarge it so that you can click on North Carolina. This will bring up a list of 135 commercially available native plant species suitable for planned landscapes in North Carolina. That's probably too many, so you can go to the “Narrow Your Search” box on the right  of the screen and and select for herbs, tress, shrubs, vines etc. to get a list of plants for you growing situation. Clicking the Scientific name of each plant will bring up its NPIN page that gives the characteristics of the plant, its growth requirements, and in most cases, photos. You can get different lists by changing the Light requirement and Soil moisture selections.

For help closer to home, you might contact the folks at the Cabarrus County Center of NC Cooperative Extension.

 

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