By Cheryl Conklin
Say you live in England and you love desert plants, succulents and cacti from South Africa, Baja California, or somewhere really exotic, like Colorado? Your soil is constantly moist, lightly acidic, crumbly with leaf-mould. It’s terrible! What can you do?
That’s right, you’ll have to build your own soil. Make it lean. Make it gritty. Make it quick to drain. Use a little of your garden soil and mix it with equal parts coarse sand and lightweight perlite. That should do it.
Now, isolate the stuff in a pot so you can control how much water it doesn’t get, and so it will dry out fast, like it would in the desert. Then plant it up. Put the whole kit and kaboodle someplace in full sun, but sheltered from the rain, and you’ve got it. Instant, handmade desert.
Sound like a lot of trouble?
It’s the same kind of trouble we semi-arid plains dwellers go through to grow broccoli.
But what if we semi-arid plains dwellers want to grow native yucca, shrubs, sage, cactus, agave, grasses, and wild beardtongues? Should we build the soil?
It’s a great question, and one with no definitive answer.
Gardeners have a hard time resisting compost or believing (at least at first) that anything of value can grow without our TLC. There’s always the thought that a little assistance can’t hurt. Isn’t it what every plant hopes for?
Maybe. Maybe not. Conventional ideas of fertility may not be a great thing for plants that evolved in and for such “poor” soils as ours. There is even research suggesting native plants will form stronger myccorhizal communities, taking up greater quanities of nutrient from mineral-rich soil, if left to their own devices.
However, there are gardens featuring native plants throughout Colorado, in which soils were amended before the plants went in. There is no question these gardens are thriving.
To build or not to build?
Why not join in the great experiment yourself, and try some natives?