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Our Good Sierra Foothill Soil

Our ‘bad’ soil…

I get comments all the time about ‘our bad soil’ in the Oakhurst, Coarsegold and North Fork areas. Giving this some thought, I’m wondering if gardeners are making use of the natural ‘mulch’ we have in pine needles and oak leaves.

2006- Planting Western sword fern and heuchera

2006- Planting Western sword fern and heuchera

Each year, in my planting areas, I add either one of these to start out the new Spring season. As I weed, I turn over the mulch from last year with my trowel picking up a 1-2″ later of dirt. This incorporates the mulch into the soil and eventually improves the texture of the soil. This could be called a form of sheet composting.

Decomposed granite and clay

Both clay and decomposed granite have plenty of nutrients for growing healthy plants…I don’t think it’s the minerals in the soil that is the problem.

Decomposed granite

Decomposed granite

Thick clay needs organic matter added to make it plant friendly

Thick clay needs organic matter added to make it plant friendly

Soil Texture

I think it’s the hard texture of un-mulched clay or DG, decomposed granite soil that discourages gardeners and leads them to replace much of the soil in planting beds or cause them to give up entirely an limiting themselves to container gardening.

Mixing in mulch

After adding and mixing in layers of natural mulch into my soil for the last few years, I now have wonderfully friable and workable soil. It’s getting easier and easier to plant. It’s full of earthworms and mycorrhizae, the good soil fungus that helps plants absorb nutrients from the soil. The best thing about adding mulch to soil, is the texture which is loose and fluffy, all the better for plants to grow!

Autumn sage from the 'Ugly Plant' sale

Autumn sage with pine needle mulch, stones hold the plant and water

When planting on a slope, place a rock on the downhill side to anchor it and keep water longer near the roots

Visit Sue Langley’s blog SierraFoothillGarden for lots of timely info on gardening in the Sierra.


  1. I have taken to managing a compost pile the past few years… all of my vegetable and paper Includes paper egg cartons, paper napkins, tea bags, coffee grounds, newsprint, leaves etc… go into a space about 4’x4′ in the garden – there I till it up every couple of weeks. The soil is nice and black, gorgeous and filled with worms. Then I have this to mix in with the clay – creates a wonderful, healthy soil.

  2. Not only the great stuff mentioned, but all the prunings your yard, just break up the sticks a little. AND it does not need to be turned nor tilled. Just keep adding to the top, keep moist and take out the wonderful black stuff from the bottom where you have left a space to remove completed compost.

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