Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rocks Do Not Rock

My crape myrtle order arrived today, along about lunchtime. And any other plans for the afternoon immediately went on hold.

They came dormant in a long box, in pots, and no, despite what one acquaintance warned me, they were not sticks a mere 8" high. Some were a good three or more feet high, depending on the variety.

First thing, made sure all the varieties I'd ordered were present and accounted for. Check!

Then I had a look at the enclosed planting instructions. And found I needed help interpreting them. The generic instructions weren't clear as to whether I could safely plant these things in January in southwestern Pennsylvania. Can I or can't I?

So I called the guy in Florida who sells them and he says, yes, I can plant them now, as long as I mulch them well, like two to four inches. He kept saying that, as though mulching were something problematic.

(Maybe he was thinking of people who don’t have any mulch around at this time of year, and who put off buying any until the little shrubbykins freeze their rootsies off and are goners. Me, I have lots of mulch on hand-- all those maple leaves I ground up last evening.)

So then I asked him how big I should dig the holes.

"You know how big a plastic gallon milk carton is?"


"Well, you put one of those on top of the other and that’s how deep you should dig the holes."

"That’s nearly two feet!"

"Yes, but you’re up by Pittsburgh. You have to do that because of all the rocks in the soil. We lived in Pittsburgh for several years, and that’s how we did it."

And it turned out, he was right. About the rocks, I mean. Which is why it took me over four hours to dig just two holes. It’s like the guy at the local high-end nursery says: This is the Magic Kingdom of Beaver, where anything will grow-- if you get rid of all the roundy rocks first. And there were a lot of roundy rocks in that soil by the steps to the sidewalk.

The second hole was even more rock-bound than the first. I looked at the rock collection I pulled out of that hole, and I wondered how it’d had any room for the red sand. I’d have to measure it to make sure, but I pulled out one rock like a loaf of Italian bread, about ten inches long and maybe ten-eleven inches around. I’d hoped to hit a stratum where it was just sand, as I did with the first hole, but when I got the twenty or so inches down, it was still stones, stones, and more stones.

I gave up. If the roots of the bush get that deep, they can jolly well find their way around the little rocks. The big ones are gone.

Crape myrtle guy also said something about using potting soil. I didn’t have enough potting soil, and I almost drove over to the Agway to get some. But then I decided no, the plants aren’t that delicate, they can get along on the red sand mixed in with the black garden dirt I got for the backyard reseeding last October, and whatever potting soil I have.

Dug one hole, mixed the dirt (the garden soil was still wet and goopy, but the sand helped), watered it in, and dumped the excavated rocks where they'd blend in with the landscape rock that the previous owners paid to bring in. Same process with the second hole. And that’s all I had time for, because the sunlight was almost gone.

As to whether I should plant the two little shrubs I'd dug the holes for this evening or wait till tomorrow . . . I decided to take my chances and get them in.

The four I couldn’t get planted I lay on their sides at the foot of the front, south-facing wall of the house, covered with mulched leaves. Two to four inches deep? We’re talking more like ten to twelve!

And there's now a good blanket of leaves are on the ones I planted, too.

I’ve checked the weather, and we're supposed to have a high of 45 tomorrow, with maybe some light rain. Not the best weather for digging, but there’s worse.

Anyway, I’ve done all I can do on this today. Wish I could have gotten all six crape myrtles in the ground, but when you've got rocks, you've got rocks. And that doesn't necessarily rock.


Jennifer said...

No, rocks do not rock. They ROLL!

Good luck with your holes today!

Aimee "Roo" said...

We have very rocky soil too. It takes a very long time to plant anything!

I hope they make it! :)