Friday puzzle answer

So many interesting answers to Friday’s puzzle – thanks to all of you for putting out the effort!  It most certainly is an abiotic problem – but was it temperature, suggested by Deb?  Water, suggested by Foy, Gayle and Ed?  Light, suggested by Nancy?  My plan was to have an extensive soil test run to address the possibility of pollution (suggested by Jim, Heather and Paul), except we discovered the source of the problem last summer when we finished digging our pond:


As you can see in this photo, we have solid clay about 12″ below the surface.  (And I do mean solid.  I’ve kept lumps of the stuff to take to seminars, so when people say “I have clay soil” I pull this out and ask if this is what they mean.  Usually not.)

So in this area of our yard we have a perched water table: the water percolates through the topsoil, hits the clay, and spreads horizontally.  When we had turf in place, it tended to keep the upper few inches relatively dry, which allowed the dogwood roots to survive.  When we took out the turf and covered it with wood chips (to conserve water!), the soil became saturated nearly year round.  We dug out the tree a few weeks ago, and this is all that remains of the root system; the rest of the major roots had rotted away:

We’ve replanted the tree in another area of the yard with much better drainage, and we’ll keep track of its establishment and leaf size.  I think it will recover, as new roots will emerge from the main root mass.

(Paul, thanks for the kudos on the fence design!  My husband built this, and he’ll be pleased to see your comment.)

Published by

Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

3 thoughts on “Friday puzzle answer”

  1. This is interesting. My yard is one large clay brick with only an inch or so of topsoil. I have a tree that I believe has died due to too much water on the surface of my yard during this very rainy year. I have a question about planting. Since you do not recommend ammending native soil and even removing the container soil when planting, how do I plant in my brick-like ground? I can break the clay into pieces that are only so small. I find when I plant I am leaving lots of air holes and I can’t adequately get enough soil around the roots.

  2. What a good question! What I’d suggest, if possible, would be to pull back the topsoil and rip the surface of the clay (or compacted soil, whichever it is), then pull the topsoil back over. This will help destroy that textural barrier so that air and water can move through more freely. Once that happens, roots can establish better. While you wait, just keep the area mulched well to prevent weed establishment.

Leave a Reply