Shirley Campbell

Master GardenerS

In Ellis County we have black clay soil. You will hear people say, “We have black gumbo and nothing will grow in it.” Well, that’s not quite true. There are plenty of plants that will grow in our soil. Our rural areas are covered with native plants; and you can have a beautiful landscape around your home if you understand a few things about soils and plants.

Creating a garden soil is physical work and costs money, but is an investment that pays huge dividends. You want to create a garden soil with a minimum depth of 12 inches that should be composed of 50 percent native soil and 50 percent organic matter. 

Soil is amended by addition of organic material. Organic materials can be finely shredded bark mulch, compost, Canadian peat moss, rotted manure and expanded shale.

The organic material will loosen and improve drainage of the clay soil and it will improve the water holding capacity of the sandy soil. Place about six inches of the organic matter on top of the existing soil and till into the top eight to 10 inches of soil. Whatever you do, do not add sand to our clay soil.  Sand particles are too small to help with aeration and are difficult to incorporate into the clay soil. It can make the situation worse by causing the clay to “set up” like concrete. 

It’s a good idea to mix in a slow release fertilizer with your preparation. The 4-1-2 or 3-1-2 ratio turf grass fertilizer that you use on your lawn will work.  (Do not use a weed-and-feed product for this purpose.) This blending of the native soil with the organic material should give you a bed that is about six inches higher than the surrounding area. You have now created an amended, raised bed and the perfect growing medium for most plants.

Landscape trees should be planted in the native soil alone without any amendments. As they mature they will need to grow out into the native soil; otherwise they might want to stay in their own little warm bed with the good soil.

Now that you have created the correct growing medium it is time to select your landscape plants or vegetables. 

The selection of plants is the next major pitfall for the gardener. Choose from plants that have been recommended for this area of Texas.   

What is a

recommended plant?

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service has tested different varieties of plants and rated them on production, resistance to insects and diseases, tolerance to our heat and cold extremes, and water requirements. The TAES is continually evaluating new and different plants. Those that prove reliable are placed on the recommended plant list. The Ellis County Master Gardeners have a list of shrubs, trees, and groundcovers and a list of recommended fruits, nuts, berries, and vegetables. Contact the Ellis County AgriLife Extension Office and they will furnish you with a list of the recommended plants that has been compiled by the Ellis County Master Gardeners.

If you like to gamble, certainly you can try new plants in your garden; that’s the fun part. Those winter catalogs with their enhanced pictures can sure tempt you to try some northern varieties.

Following the recommendation for soil amendments of beds or garden plots and using plants recommended for this area will increase your chances of having a trouble free landscape or garden.

Remember the old saying:  “You can put a 10-cent plant into a 50-cent hole and it will live and flourish; but if you put a 50-cent plant into a 10-cent hole it will die.”

Shirley Campbell is an Ellis County Master Gardener and guest columnist in the Daily Light. For further information, contact the Ellis County Master Gardeners at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 701 South Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie, or call 972-825-5175 or e-mail: