Takoma Gardener's been gardening her ass off lately and thinking a lot about telling you about it but too damn busy to sit down and write. But today it's raining - sometimes a blessing for the gardening addict - and I have a chance to catch up a bit.
Now moving a plant doesn't seem complicated but jeez, I've seen some pretty bad technique used by beginners and nonbeginners alike, so I offer a tip or two. A 10-year-old rhodo planted in solid clay just can't be pulled up; it has to be released from underneath and that takes shovels and picks and trowels and an hour or two of back-breaking labor. And in this case when digging was getting me nowhere I resorted to the hosing-down technique seen in this photo - fill hole with water, wait while it soaks in, dig some more. It took THREE hosings to finally release this plant and after it was finally ready to be lifted it was too fricking heavy. Help from a passing (unsuspecting) neighbor taught me it was too heavy for us ladies and a husband had to be called in on the job - and I hate it when that happens, ya know.
Now a word about the "soil" this shrub had the misfortune to be planted in. Because this area was terraced and earth-moving equipment used, there's no topsoil anywhere in sight. It's all clay, baby. Now I've read that after topsoil removal by developers it takes a generation for the earth to heal itself but hey, this damage was done in 1925 and the soil's as bad as ever. Why? Probably because it hasn't been fed with gardeners' favorite cure-all - organic matter. Instead, compost had been spread across the surface once or twice over the last 10 years and I swear to God it only made things worse. Not only has it not been incorporated into the hardplan clay beneath it; it also raised the grade by an inch or two with each application, leaving the rhodo planted too shallow. And most plants hate that, ya know, including this one, and it's just another reason the rhodo was so hard to extricate.
All of which speaks volumes about the difference between compost and mulch. Compost is a growing medium, like soil. Weeds love the stuff! Mulch, like good old leaf mold, is organic matter that hasn't broken down yet but gradually will, improving the soil as it does. Earthworms love it and will reproduce enthusiastically in its presence.* It'll prevent weeds because it stands between weed seeds and the soil they need to germinate. This all seems pretty basic but a nearby town sells their compost as "mulch," so it's no wonder people are confused.
*I have Amy Stewart's wonderful book The Earth Moved to thank for this useful information. Now when I spread mulch every spring I know I'm not just preventing weeds, retaining moisture and improving the soil; I'm feeding the worms and increasing their numbers.