Grit Blogs > Rural Adventures

Tree roots and hardpan and rocks, oh my!

Loretta Liefveld 

After we bought our home in Idaho, I just couldn’t wait to start planting. While in Costco one day, I saw several different types of blueberry plants. These were remarkably good-sized plants, not like the puny ones that were available in Central California. So I bought three: Spartan, Duke and Sunshine. Little did I know at that time how hard it was going to be to plant them! Nevertheless, now that I had them, I couldn’t let them die. I started to dig my first planting hole.

The hole needs to be larger and deeper than their existing pot. Here’s a picture of how far my shovel went into the ground on my first attempt to dig a hole. I knew I could ask my husband for help, but this is my project, and he has enough on his hands right now, since we just moved.

 1-20170820 shovel going in cropped

Oh, no! This will take forever. I rummaged through the tool shed to see what kind of treasures might be in there. Aha! I found a post hole shovel that the previous owner left. This shovel has a blade that is much narrower than a normal shovel, and it goes into the dirt much, much easier. Here’s a picture so you can see how much further it went in.

 2-20170820 post hole shovel going in cropped

A spading fork is pretty useful when digging in hard dirt, usually. But take a look at what happened to it when I managed to accidentally get one tine under some roots (of course, I wouldn't give up when it got stuck).

 3-20170820 Spading fork bent tine cropped

Altogether, I used all of the available digging tools on this hole, including the small trowel, which I used to get into small spaces between the rocks in order to loosen them.420170820 different types of shovels Medium

Filling the hole with water softens the dirt and makes it easier to dig. It’s also easier at first to take very small cuts at the edge of the hole.

 520170820Fill hole with water Medium

Unfortunately, after about 6 to 8 inches of topsoil, I ran into hardpan clay and rocks.

 620170831 Hole with hardpan and rock captioned Medium

In order take the above picture, I had to act like an archeologist, going so far as to use a tablespoon and a brush to get the dirt off of the rocks and hardpan. I also squirted water from the hose into the hole to wash the dirt off the rocks, resulting in just covering the bottom inch and a half with water (you can see the dried mud at the bottom, right below the hardpan clay). Two hours later, the water still had not drained.  So, it’s imperative to get past these layers so the plants don’t drown. 

You might not be able to see in the picture, but these rocks are wedged in such a way that it’s sort of like a Chinese puzzle. You have to find the "key" rock and take it out in order to take other rocks out. Of course once you do that, there are a whole bunch of more rocks. The visible area of the larger rock in the picture is about 9 inches by 5 inches. The small rock to the right of it is one of the key rocks. 

To be honest, I still haven’t been able to finish this particular hole. The larger rock and the medium rock next to it are wedged under the tree root that you can see running diagonally next to them.  Digging out the dirt surrounding them, I found a tree root 1 inch in diameter winding it’s way around a rock under the dried mud just above it in the picture. It was literally hugging the rock, encircling it at least on two sides. I’m still working on it. I’m so stubborn that I will just not give up. Stay tuned for the results in a subsequent post.

In the meantime, here is the comfrey plant that I dug up and brought with me from my previous home, along with a container of organic material I gathered to help improve the soil.

720170831 comfrey ready to plant cropped Medium

I have lots of Ponderosa pine and red (Douglas) fir around my home, so I gather the "mulch" and mix it 50-50 with the native soil to put in the hole.

In the picture below, on the left is the ground where I gather the mulch, which doesn’t look like much. But sweep away the surface debris, and there you can see the 2-inch deep mulch of decomposing needles (picture on the right). It’s not yet completely decomposed, so I will add some nitrogen, since the process of decomposition uses up a lot of nitrogen.

 820170831 mulch location and closeup Medium

After mixing the mulch 50-50 with the native dirt, I’ll mix that in with the dirt that is currently in the pot from the plant. 

Here’s the result of planting just my three initial blueberry plants, and a few of the plants I brought with me, lemongrass, peppermint, Lion’s Tail, and lemon balm.

8- 20170701 Front lawn blueberries and plants from 3R cropped captioned

Doesn't look like much, considering the amount of time I've had to spend just to dig each hole. Around each hole, you can see the rocks that I was able to get out while digging. You can see some rather large rocks around the the closest blueberry.

If any of you have successfully conquered this kind of rocky nightmare, please share.