Homegrown: How much to compact new garden soil?

I am getting a delivery of Glade Park soil for raised vegetable garden beds. The contractor says in filling the beds he needs to walk on the Glade Park soil to compact it because it is so fluffy.

I thought that you are not supposed to compact garden bed soil. Should I instead tamp it slightly, let it settle, or water it in and add more compost in the spring? Should I cover the natural soil base and line the bed sides with landscape cloth?

— Beryl

Actually, up to a point I’d agree with your contractor.

When a new bed is filled, the soil is quite fluffy. As time goes by, gravity and watering do their thing and that fluffy soil will settle quite a bit, requiring the addition of more soil.

When I’ve filled beds in my yard I’ve walked on the soil to compact it a bit.

Now, having said that, there is a point where you can compact the soil too much. Your concern about over compaction is right on.

When I walk on the soil I’m not jumping up and down. I’m walking gently, letting my weight do the work, not stomping.

Some folks are uncomfortable doing even this and they’ll settle the soil by watering it thoroughly and letting it drain through. This will certainly do the trick though it may take a couple good soakings to get it completely settled down.

The problem I have with doing it this way is the time involved. I have to water the bed, let it soak in completely and then add more soil as needed. Water again, wait and add soil again. And maybe a third time.

Gently firming it with my boots accomplishes the job quickly so I know I have about the right amount of soil in the bed to bring it up to the grade I want. I’ve never had problems with plants growing in an area like that. There’s still plenty of pore space for the roots to grow.

I like lining the sides of the bed with landscape cloth. It allows the exchange of water and oxygen that are good for plant growth but prevents the soil from filtering out of the cracks and seams.

We usually don’t put the fabric on the natural soil base. I like to make a transition zone where I mix a couple inches of the new soil mix with the native soil beneath before filling the rest of the bed with the straight soil mix. This facilitates water drainage out of the new bed.

The only times I would cover the base is if you have high salts in your native soil and need to isolate the new soil mix from that salty junk. The other time I might put the fabric down is if there is a problem with a tenacious perennial weed such as bindweed or Bermuda grass. The fabric isn’t perfect for this but should prevent most all of it from coming through.

What is the large petaled golden colored flower (similar to black-eyed Susan) I see that seems to thrive around here?

— Marion

We call it Gloriosa Daisy. We use the name of Gloriosa Daisy for the species Rudbeckia fulgida, which is a lovely summer blooming perennial with bright yellow-orange flowers and a black prominent cone center.

However, sometimes people are referring to a different species, Rudbeckia hirta, which is semi-perennial to annual with dull hairy leaves and flowers in a range of different colors from golden-yellow to greenish-yellow to varicolored flowers of yellow, orange and brick red.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliff gardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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