Soil amendment for lilies, mulching peonies

Ceridwen Lloyd
Sun, 17 Feb 2013 14:28:09 PST
Hi Jane,
I have mulched my tree peonies with organic compost with no trouble, though the Adelaide hills are waaaay drier than Portland - its not for winter warmth! My whole 'woodland' gets a heap of pea straw while the soil is still moist to prevent the killing evaporation when it's predicted to hit 39C (102F) like today. Each peony has its own raised (limed) bed (above the sour heavy creek-flood clay that has killed a few things) - the rest is built up with purchased very-sandy-loam/compost/peat mixed a wheelbarrow full at a time. Couldn't be tilled in as all the shade comes from established pin oaks that I didn't want to mangle. Asian shade-loving species liliums like it (japonicum, oxypetalum var insignae, macklinae, medeleoides have mostly bloomed every year); haven't germinated any US ones (yet!!) and only 1/3 of my poor doomed Lilium grayi survived. Please send some rain our way. Snow, even!

Sent from my iPhone

On 18/02/2013, at 5:29 AM, Jane McGary <> wrote:

> Gene wrote:
>> If you garden in heavy soil, it might be better to transplant in 
>> Fall, before the soil gets too wet and cold.  Another strategy is to 
>> make raised beds in Fall and cover them with plastic.  That keeps 
>> the soil in perfect condition for planting all Winter long and into 
>> Spring.  But I think the best plan is to improve heavy clay loam 
>> soil with lots of coarse sand.
> Before readers go out and mix whatever sand they can get into heavy 
> clay, I'd like to add this. The crucial word in Gene's note is 
> "coarse." This means sharp, angular  particles of various sizes. If 
> your sand comes from a low-elevation river deposit or worse yet from 
> a beach, it is likely to be too fine and the particles too rounded to 
> be a good soil amendment. Another crucial word in his note is "loam." 
> That is, the clay-based soil already has a fair amount of organic 
> material in it. If you mix sand into a really sticky clay, like 
> adobe, you'll get something that feels like lumps of chewing gum with 
> sand stuck to them. (I made that mistake in my mother's central 
> California garden once.)
> After a quarter-century gardening on gritty upland soil, I recently 
> moved to a lower elevation and confronted heavy clay loam. Except for 
> the bulb house and rock gardens, where I created deep beds of coarse 
> sand and other well-drained components, I had organic amendments 
> tilled in deeply after the existing sod and trash shrubs had been 
> removed. My lilies and other moisture-tolerant bulbs went into the 
> prepared beds and, as Gene suggests, were mulched with a mixture of 
> milled compost and well-composted fine bark (available by the 
> truckload from a nearby supplier). I had the coarse sand brought from 
> the quarry that supplied my former garden: it's high up on a 
> rivercourse and is very sharp and gravelly. The extra haulage was 
> well worth it. The top 14 inches (35 cm) of the raised beds in the 
> bulb house is pure coarse sand, on top of about 6 inches (15 cm) of 
> clay loam with a little well-composted manure added. A woven 
> groundcloth barrier is below that. After planting the bulbs I mulched 
> the surface with pea gravel and quarter-ten crushed rock. Everything 
> seems to like this, but I have to add nutrients via soluble 
> fertilizer; they got their first spring feed yesterday.
> I have been wondering whether to add more mulch to the main lily bed, 
> but am hesitating because I interplanted the lilies with hybrid 
> peonies. Can someone advise whether peonies tolerate an organic mulch 
> over the crowns? I have always avoided it. I suppose I could leave 
> the peony crowns uncovered, not difficult as they are under wire 
> supports, and just add mulch to the rest of the surface.
> Thanks also to Gene for mentioning that late winter is an acceptable 
> time to transplant seedling lily bulbs. I have some crowded pots of 
> them that I should have dealt with last fall. I'll keep them in large 
> pots in a shaded area this growing season and plant them in the 
> garden next fall.
> Jane McGary
> Portland, Oregon, USA
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