Clay soil, flower beds, and curb appeal

I have a very pretty before and after for you today! Clay soil can be problematic, and our yard is full of the stuff. Certain spots in particular have become badly compacted over the years and nothing will grow there. In these areas most of the issue is storm water runoff. San Antonio is prone to intense spring storms where the rain comes all at once. I have a spot next to our front entrance that receives the brunt of roof runoff and as a result the soil is so compacted that a leaky garden hose connection makes a lake in five minutes. Imagine what happens during a storm, and right next to the foundation! This area needed some TLC in the worst way.

Landscaping is new to me so this is going to be another iterative process until I figure out how to completely control and channel the runoff, but I thought a good first step would be to “de-compact” the soil and amend it for faster and better drainage. Then I planted a flower bed because what better way to take advantage of the water that area is going to get? Conservation is key!

Here are a few shots of before the flower bed was created.

Front flower bed - straight
Flower bed corner before

You can see here that I have problems with wet soil, erosion, and pooling. The dirt up the sides of the wall is from dirt and water splashing up. The grass can’t move into this area thanks to the compaction of the soil.

First step was just to turn the soil. If you have clayey soil too, the key is to wait until it’s dried out a few days! Clay is tough, especially if compacted, and it has a sweet spot. Don’t turn your soil right after a rain, it will be a sloppy, sticky mess but don’t wait until it’s completely dried out or it’ll be too hard and rocky. Clay soil is a fickle mistress, get in there while it’s somewhere in between.

I went nice and easy and turned the area with a shovel. Turns out we have some pretty nice dirt here, except it spent too long compacted and now lacked any organic matter. So I added some in. Organic matter will help keep the soil loose and improve drainage. I kept it simple with a bale of peat moss (which will also help acidify my slightly alkaline soil, which I am told is good for flowers) and some soil amendment for in-ground gardens heavy with compost.

Flower bed soil turned
Whew! Garden tilled. Doesn’t look like much but it was a lot of work in 90 degree weather. 🙁

Now the fun bit! I picked up flowers on a whim at Home Depot while I was there for something else. All the plants looked so pretty and I threw caution to the wind! I ended up with a trunk full of dipladenia, celosia, and impatiens. I watched the garden plot for a few days and knew what the sun cycle was like, then chose plants that should respond well to the conditions observed. These were all rated for part shade (the impatiens will get a bit more sun than everything else) and should be able to deal with the extra water this area gets. It does dry out, but it takes longer than other areas in our yard.

Front flower bed - detail

After laying down a cover of local cedar mulch, we are done! I love that cute “tiny plants just planted” look.

Front flower bed - straight

It really makes a huge difference in terms of curb appeal! Sometimes it’s the little things.

I still need to figure out a few things about controlling the stormwater runoff. I don’t expect this little garden bed to fix it, just to help. We recently had a big storm and there are still water issues but this bed was a major improvement. While the storm was happening there was water pooling, but it drained so much faster. Baby steps! I think the next step here is to make a small dry creek bed all along the front walkway to divert the storm water.

I’ll leave you with a collection of before and after comparisons, because they’re my favorite. 🙂 Happy gardening!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.