Digging a hole

We bought some crape myrtles and hollies for the yard between the side of the house and the driveway a few days ago, and on Wednesday I started digging a hole for one of the crape myrtles. The crape myrtles are in five-gallon containers, so they need a hole a foot deep by about four or so feet wide. That’s a big hole, but that’s not the whole story.

Here is one of the crape myrtles in the ground. It’s about six feet tall.

And here is the start of a hole for the second crape myrtle.

About half of the dirt taken from the hole is wrapped up in the tarp behind the crape myrtle. I dumped the rest down near the woods because it is too hard to use for planting. About four inches below the surface there is a layer of incredibly hard, almost black clay. It is impossible to dig this soil with just a shovel. It’s not easy to do it even with a pick. The clay breaks into rock-like chunks that are impossible to break up with a shovel. Our regular hard red clay can at least be crumbled with a shovel, but this dark clay is impervious. Our neighbor John, who did the clearing and grading for us, lent us a gasoline-powered auger to use for planting. I tried it. The auger bit dug a few inches into the soil and stopped at the clay level, leaving a nice, polished surface where the auger spun uselessly against the clay.

I take the clay chunks out of the soil and use the loose soil that’s left. There’s no way I can put the hard clay back into the hole with the plant, even amended generously with compost.

Planting guides usually recommend against so generously amending the soil that goes back in the hole with the plant because it encourages roots to stay within that good soil and not penetrate out into the rest of the soil. Here, though, we’re going to have to treat the crape myrtles almost like potted plants because the clay is so hard.

Each of these crape myrtles holes take me most of an afternoon to dig. I have wondered about dynamite.

The ground is especially hard now because we haven’t had a measurable amount of rain for about two weeks. We have watched the weather radar as heavy showers pass north or south of us. A few days ago a good shower passed over town. We could watch it from our front porch.

We got a sprinkle. I assume that at least the rain that passes close but misses us helps recharge the ground water, so maybe our well won’t run dry.

6 thoughts on “Digging a hole

  1. Interesting about your soil there. I guess that’s why clay is used to make pottery. Pretty tough stuff. We have plenty of clay here. It’s why Roger builds the raised beds for our veggies. The soil takes quite a bit of amending for anything to grow at all. Sure hope you got the rain you need, and maybe even more rainbows too!

  2. Robin — And bricks. I forgot about your raised beds. We might have to do something like that to get shrubbery around the front of the house, not so much because of clay but because the front of the house is right at the level of the rock ledge that’s about three or four feet below the ground. We did get some good rain shortly after I finished the crape myrtles. We probably got between two and three inches all in a slow, steady rain. I don’t know exactly how much we got because my new rain gauge is not working. I might have to go back to the old-fashioned glass tube instead of the fancy wireless tipping bucket gauge.

  3. I planted (had planted!) a little dogwood and a little maple in my front yard a year and a half ago, one on either side of the sidewalk. The maple flourished. The dogwood died. It died so quickly the nursery replaced it for free. The replacement started losing its leaves and withering. The nursery guy came to look at it. He said he dug down about three inches and hit ground “hard and dry as a rock” – this was during our drought last summer. The maple was still doing fine. The ground there was not dry. I had to water the dogwood for 30 minutes twice a week until we finally came out of the drought (sorry you haven’t yet!). Weird how just about 9 feet made such a huge difference.

  4. Karen — I have planted some more things around the same area where the crape myrtles went in, and in some areas I could actually dig a hole with just a shovel. Other places not far away had that hard clay layer. I think in our case it’s because of the way the earth moving guy dug out for our foundation and then shaped the earth around the house. In some places the original soil is still there, and that provides a couple of feet of only fairly hard clay, and in some places the topsoil was removed, leaving only a few inches before we run into the lower, hard layer. I wonder how your yard was prepared when the house was originally built.

  5. As quickly as possible, I imagine. It went up during WWII as part of Manhattan Project worker housing.

  6. The house where I grew up back in the ’50’s and early ’60’s was built as housing for Battey Hospital in Rome, which was a military hospital during WW II. According to my parents, those houses were expected to be temporary, but many of them still exist.

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