Down and Dirty

When I was at Purdue University, I am sure that my parents would never have thought that they would be paying for a class in which I played in the dirt. I think that they still can’t believe that I found a career in which I get paid to “play in the dirt.” Granted my job goes far beyond just playing in the dirt all day, but dirt, or soil as we like to call it, is one of the most important materials for a successful landscape.

When planning a landscape, knowing what is below the ground can be just as important as knowing what is above the ground. The Tri-State area has soils that vary widely: heavy clay soils, sandy soils, and even rocky soils. How a plant will grow can depend a lot on what type of soil it is planted in. The condition of the soil not only depends on the natural lay of the land, but other factors, such as construction, can affect the quality around our homes.

Last summer a client had a sinkhole develop in their yard. We eventually discovered that rather than hauling all of the trash and debris from construction, the builder simply dug a large hole and buried all of the trash in the yard. Years after the builder is long gone and our clients were stuck with an expensive cleanup and remediation bill. This is definitely on the extreme end of the spectrum; however, I often come across trash and debris on job sites left by the various tradesmen that can affect the soil conditions around a site. It is important to keep the sites around a new construction as clean as possible and to not bury any unnecessary debris. Soil compaction is also a major concern during any sort of construction project. It is import to watch where trucks are parked, where materials are stored, and where temporary access is created.

To have a successful landscape, you want a well draining soil with a high level of organic matter. It is wise to work in a good-quality compost or manure into the existing site soils before planting. You can always supplement the nutrients throughout the year by adding various fertilizers as needed.

I always recommend installing a hardwood mulch around your plants because as the mulch breaks down the nutrients enter the soil and increase the quality. Mulch also helps to protect the plants during the winter by acting as insulation and helps to hold water in during the heat of the summer.

Brian Wildeman is a landscape architect at Landscapes at Dallas Foster Inc., 825 Canal St. He can be reached at 812-882-0719 and

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