Guest Columnist - Bettylou Sandy
Rocks in the Garden
Gardeners in most of Connecticut often complain about “Connecticut Potatoes”. The rocks are plentiful in the soil and seem to reproduce year after year, as they rise to the surface of the soil through the winter. Having too many rocks in the soil will hurt the roots of the plants, as the plants try to grow around them, but rocks also provide drainage and added minerals for the plants. Rocks also absorb water and save it for future use by the plants to access in dry times.
Good healthy soil is made up of forty-five percent minerals. These minerals are in the form of sand, silt, clay and rocks. Twenty-five percent of good soil should be air, keeping the soil light so the root systems can move comfortably through the soil to make the root system of the plant stronger and access more food and water, as well. Another twenty-five percent of good soil should be moisture. Moisture from rain or watering of our plants is important for plants to be able to take in nourishment and grow well. We need to drink lots of water every day to be healthy, so do plants. The last five percent of healthy soil should be organic matter of decomposed plant and animal material. This organic matter is found in compost and top soil.
The extra rocks in the soil can be saved and used for drainage solutions in the garden. Rocks can be placed along the drip line of a building to bounce the water into a needed area, or channel the water to a better place, rather than eroding the soil. Large rocks can be placed at a down spout to slow the flow of water during a heavy rain to divert it more slowly to other areas. Surface dry wells, called “French Drains”, are valuable additions to foundation plantings to capture the water to feed to the roots of the plantings, rather than losing the water over the surface of the soil and the gardens. These are all some valuable uses for rocks in the garden.
In vegetable gardens, I dig a trench along the edge of a framed raised bed to fill the trench with rocks for drainage in the garden. This drainage stone becomes a reservoir for extra water for the garden, draws water away from the wood of the frame to extend the life of the wood, and is a physical barrier for burrowing animals who would want to eat the crops. The extra soil from the trenches is added to the planting bed to build up the depth of the growing space.
The larger rocks found under the soil could be used as accent stones, edging stones, or stepping stones. Ledge stone, near the surface of the soil, can be uncovered to create a rock garden or accent garden. Rocks that are buried, intentionally, tend to show up years later in various ways. This should be avoided.
Rocks are so valuable and so available when we look around. There are so many shapes, sizes, textures and uses. Round rocks are often from rivers or leftover from glaciers. Jagged edged rocks could have broken off of other rocks. Flat stones are often split from larger stones. Once we start looking at the various rocks around us, there is no end to what we can find! I like to use resources I find on a property and incorporate them into a design. We often have materials in our yards we would not have expected to find. Quite often there is no need to bring in resources from elsewhere. We just need to look around us and find we often have all we need, and more.
I hope the next time you work in your garden and find some rocks, rather than a discouraging discovery; it will be a peasant surprise!
Bettylou Sandy is the owner of Bettylou’s Gardening and a board member of CT NOFA and also an accredited Organic Land Care Professional through the NOFA OLC program.
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© 2011 Bettylou Sandy