At Designing Eden we pride ourselves on our soil work prior to planting a new landscape.  Why?  Because 90% of plant problems occur below ground.  It’s my feeling that one of the most important parts of any new landscape is the work we accomplish prior to planting.   That’s why our current landscape project in Bridgewater, CT is so troubling.  The new landscape will surround a historic cape with a new addition.  We started this project like all our other projects.  We added our special soil amendments and tilled them into all the beds.  After tilling, I wasn’t fond of the results.  As with most construction sites, we were facing a disturbed, extremely compacted soil.  To make matters worse, the soil we were left with is 100% clay with no organic matter. The original idea was to amended the beds with compost and minimize the properties of the clay.  It didn’t work.  At this point, we typically would continue to build the beds up with more soil until we were happy with the results.  The problem was the siding on the new addition was within 8″ of finished grade.  The site didn’t provide an opportunity to build up the soil any more than it already was.  My thoughts quickly turned to removing 6″ of soil in all the beds and bringing in all new soil.  Although a great idea, it wouldn’t have been cost effective.  There was so much clay and hard pan that I decided the next logical step would be to turn the beds over with a backhoe a foot deep and add some more compost.  After turning the soil and tilling a second time, I still wasn’t happy with the results.  The soil was still too heavy and it was compacting just as fast as we were turning it over.  Should we remove the soil?  There has to be another solution.  Well hopefully I found it.  For the first time I tried a product called Hydrocks.  Hydrocks is a soil amendment used to minimize the properties of clay.  It is best described as a calcified clay nugget similar to pumice.  It has a neutral Ph and is supposed to absorb excess water in the soil as well as minimize future compaction.  Those were the two properties of clay I was most concerned with.  If we can soak up any excess water so it doesn’t linger around the roots and it helps with compaction, we have hopefully solved the issue.  Once the soil drys out, Hydrocks will slowly release the stored water.  I hope it works because it was my only sensible option.

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  • Dave Marciniak

    Rich, sounds like a great solution to the problem. I’m not familiar with the product – is it sort of the next step beyond gypsum as an amendment?

    • Richard Schipul

      I didn’t no anything about the product either. We have a good custom soil distributor in our area. They make all kinds of custom mixes including soil media for roof gardens. I went to them with the problem I was facing and they suggested it. It’s similar to gypsum, but offered more benefits.

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