OK, , the hardscape is in…time for the ‘softscape’…what we at Details Landscape Art call exterior decorating. The first step is always soil preparation, which consists of grading and soil amendments. Successful planting depends on the planting medium.

Grading is another of the less glamorous elements in a landscape, and every project does not require grading. But where the ground is lumpy and bumpy, steep and unworkable, or draining in the wrong direction, grading may be necessary. Once graded properly, the quality and consistency of the soil is the next consideration. Details Landscape Art is a landscape contractor, serving homeowners in Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Penngrove, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, Windsor, Sonoma, Healdsburg, Napa, San Rafael and Novato. Throughout our twenty-seven years, we have encountered almost every kind of soil conditions imaginable…heavy clay, rocky, sandy loam. And they all need some form of soil preparation – either to add nutrients or to make the soil more easily workable.

In heavy clay soils, we generally add nitrologized sawdust and/or topsoil. The adobe clay is usually rock hard during the dry season and difficult to cultivate and work in – it needs to be broken up. The nitrologized sawdust serves to provide air in the otherwise dense compact clay. The clay is actually a very nutrient-rich soil, and a great planting medium, once the plant’s root system penetrates the hard crust. So we water heavily for a few days to soften the surface, add the amendments, and then rototill thoroughly as deep as possible. Sometimes, especially when there is no lawn designed in the garden and just plant material, we may amend the soil only in each planting hole.

Sandy soils are usually nutrient deficient, and, although easy to work in, require a good soil mix amendment to give the plants a fertilizer boost when first installed. They will then need a consistent ongoing fertilization program to continue to add nutrients, as time will deplete the nutrients added.

Rocky soil may or may not contain a good nutrient base, but we always add a good soil mix. Since extremely rocky soils are usually impossible to rototill, we amend each plant hole with the soil mix.

We will NEVER ‘scrape’ the existing grade and remove a layer of native soil and then plant in pure soil amendments. Soil amendments such as topsoil are short lived, the nutrients last a short period of time – long enough to give new plants a boost when they are first planted, but long term the plants need native soil, and  the soil preparation serves to provide a fertile, nutrient rich and cultivated planting environment. Once established, the plant roots will take off into the native soil.

There are many many different types of soil amendments available at the various material supplier. There is a special ‘veggie mix’ for gardeners planting vegetable gardens, and various other mixes for other applications. Many contractors take shortcuts and don’t bother to add soil amendments. The plants may survive, but they will grow slowly and struggle.

A well-prepared soil base will reward the gardener with thriving plants!